How to Encourage Reading

Encouraging children to read should be a simple task, as easy as offering them a book, but in this day and age, where screens are king, it can seem almost impossible. So what do you do?

First, my tips consider starting with very young children, but don’t fret, even if your children are older. The important thing here is to make sure your children don’t despise you, which will obviously lead to defiance, but more importantly make your children understand that reading is the key to all knowledge, and learning is a lifelong activity. It is not just “for school”.

So how so we do this?

1. Get rid of the screens

No, not literally, but they should be strongly limited to specific times (and even seasons of life). I’m sure I probably don’t need to say this, but if children have the option, movies, TV, and video games will win every time. 

So, make a rule for your home that works for you, but make sure it gives ample time for imaginative free play as well as for reading. 

Our strictest rule that we have implemented, and actually achieve most of the time is: screen time is only on Saturday and then only for an hour or two. This has been in place for about the last ten years, and is the basic rule most of the time. We have a family movie night, and occasionally have had a week or two of more screen time (like around Christmas), but for the most part, screens are for the weekend and only for a short amount of time.

We have had seasons where we were more lenient, but I think that because of the strictness we have set forth with regard to screens, the children understand how special screens are and also how special books (and puzzles and games) are.

We sometimes have screens now during the day for a short time for the little ones with special needs who need some entertainment occasionally so we can get some work done, but the older ones only have screen time on the weekend.

2. Read yourself

If you expect your children to read, you need to set the example. Just like everything else in parenthood, you can’t expect your children to see what you do, but only do what you say. Learning is lifelong, and reading is for adults and children. Read, and show them how much you enjoy it. This point cannot be overstated.

3. Read aloud to your children

Reading aloud, as mentioned in my article on phonics, is an essential part of your children learning to read. If they are poor or slow readers, they will be discouraged and find reading to be drudgery instead of enjoyable.

Read to children from infancy on into the teen years. Do not stop reading aloud just because they can read. Reading aloud to your children gives them many more books and stories to think about and be interested in than if they were just to read books on their own. It also gives them a better understanding of advanced vocabulary. Children can understand and enjoy books far above their reading level. So read to them what you are interested in. If you show interest in the book, more than likely, they will to. 

This can also be accomplished by older siblings reading aloud to younger ones, and, of course, by audio books, but do not let these entirely replace you, the parent, reading to your child. Children need time with you, and reading aloud good books, especially with snuggles, is the best quality time to be had.

4. Give your child a strong phonics foundation

Again, poor, slow readers with limited reading comprehension will not read on their own. They need much encouragement, and also remedial training if they are past the age of phonics as a subject. See my phonics post for more information on how to teach phonics well.

5. Buy good books

To be a good book means that it has beautiful illustrations, a good moral element, a good plot, and is well written. Get rid of what Charlotte Mason called twaddle: insipid, dumbed down, poorly written, poorly illustrated trash. If you want your children to read, you must give them something they will enjoy.

If you would like a list of good books, there are many available in the internet, like this site from The Good and The Beautiful, or this site which lists 1000 good books for children, organized by age groups. Another place to find good books is in the read-aloud sets or the literature selections available for each grade level at Memoria Press.

6. Organize your books

We all know the saying, “have a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Nowhere is this more important than in encouraging your children to read. When your children, especially the youngest ones, want to find a book, they need to know where to look. Having a place for your books where they are organized helps them to find the book they are looking for.

As a side note, when children love books, they recognize their favorites easily. They do not need gimmicks such as “the rotating book basket” or the narrow shelves and bookcases that display books with their covers showing instead of their spines. Even my one, two, and three year olds can find the books they are looking for just by seeing the spine. Normal bookshelves work just fine if you actually read the books to the child!

7. Create your own library

I have been in many libraries, having lived in many different places in my adult life, and I have to say, you never know what you’re going to get; some are decent and some are really bad. Also, at all the libraries I’ve been in, it is extremely difficult to find good books if you don’t already know what you are looking for.

Modern libraries are full of modern books, and modern books are full of the twaddle mentioned above. Go with a book list, or expect to spend a lot of time trying to find good books. Better yet, build your own library. Yes, it takes time, but your children will treasure the books and will appreciate having books on hand to choose from instead of having to wait for a trip to the library.

8. Offer incentives

Try all the above tips first, but if all else fails (like with older children who are coming into reading late), incentivize! Remember the Book It! program from Pizza Hut? Try something similar of your own making. Reward reading by having ice cream or a pizza party or buying a book!


Last, but not least, don’t use gimmicky “reading is fun” type posters. The internet is filled with them, as I’m sure the elementary schools are too; do not be fooled into thinking you need them. Your children will see right through them.

Remember that turning off the screens and reading to your children are the best ways to encourage them to read by themselves. Letting your children see and hear what you value (which is, hopefully, reading) will help them to value it, too.

If you like what you’re reading, share this with a friend, and don’t forget to subscribe so that you don’t miss my next post on why workbooks should be done orally! As always, love your children, give them a Fundamentally Classical education, and make sure to read … a lot!

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