15 Ways To Encourage Kids Who Don’t Like Books or Reading

“Nobody hates reading. Some just haven’t found their book yet.” @KarimShehimi

Would that every such book-begone person find their book. And when they — including our kids — find one of “their” books, especially when young, they’ll have learned the amazing fact that there are zillions more where that one came from, just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed for the rest of their lives.

Reading for enjoyment is one of life’s all time best activities ever. Nothing else opens the doorway to imaginative worlds quite like a good book! But given the solitary nature of reading a book by oneself, sometimes kids can have a reluctance to the activity. Initially it might feel lonely to have “only” a book for company if one was hoping to climb on a friend or play a game with a group. This is where we parents can pull out all the stops and show our children how awesome books are any time, anywhere.

I spent some time thinking about what might be a more valuable or fundamental skill to help your child learn and enjoy.

I couldn’t come up with one.

Values of integrity, such as being loving, sharing, and other virtues are in a classification of their own. But I couldn’t think of a more primary skill to model and teach than reading.

Certainly a main reason for this, setting the enjoyment factor of fun reading aside, learning anything else – any other subject in school or subject in life – is going to involve reading of some kind. Even in today’s media-obsessed world where TV and videos surround us, the ability to read remains a central and necessary function for learning.

The learning part speaks for itself, but simply because reading is a necessary life skill doesn’t mean junior or juniorette will automatically get excited about it. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself before you “get it.” But we can help them get there.

Kids might feel about books like they feel about vegetables. “Forget the broccoli, I’ll take candy!” is a sentiment we can all relate to. So the key is to helping kids come to view books as the sweet little gems in life that they are.

I’ve listed some ideas below that have worked for me and my son (though it took some time). Other lists of suggestions abound online as well.

Before getting to the list, I thought I’d list a few reasons why kids might resist books or not see reading as a fun way to spend time. Having these objections in mind can help us turn their reluctance to willingness and eventually enthusiasm.

Why might some kids say they don’t like to read?
“Books are boring”
“Books aren’t fun” or
“Books are for grownups”

Kids can feel this way if they haven’t discovered the right books for their age and that suit their taste. The old saying noted above, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book yet,” can be as true for kids as for adults, and might be their reality thus far. Unless someone (you) invest(s) time and effort into helping them find their “right books” in life, they could grow up never catching the wonderful reading bug. Worse, if this experience doesn’t happen in childhood, it can be much harder to discover it later in life. I have a couple friends who have never enjoyed a book of fiction, largely because they never read any fiction outside of what was required to get through school. School reading lists include awesome books, but it’s just a drop in the bucket. Going through life having missed the friendship books offer us is too sad to even think about.

Other objections kids might raise could be:
“I’m not a good reader” or
“Reading’s hard” or
“Books are for school”

If your child struggles with reading, pay attention to her complaints and find out the root of struggles before frustration takes hold, which only makes the task that much harder. Learning to read is hard and is filled with many things to remember and get used to. It takes time. Check to see if your child is trying to read books that are too old for him and find ones that are a more comfortable fit. Find books with lots of amazing illustrations! The book Hugo by Brian Selznick includes large sections of the book told by pictures. It’s brilliant. Teachers and librarians are great resources for advice. The goal is simple — to help kids learn and overcome challenges in ways that are supportive and fun versus pressurized or frustrating.

Kids might also say:
“I’m too busy” or
“I’ve already got homework” or
“I just don’t feel like it”

Many kids won’t figure out on their own that diving into a good story is a good break for the brain. Unless they are encouraged to make that discovery, the realization won’t magically happen. But once learned, they can intersperse an evening of study with a chapter here or a chapter there of a good, fun book of the child’s choice. This actually gives the brain a rest, provides a fun break to look forward to during their study efforts, and can help them be more refreshed to resume studies or other tasks.

Those are some of the objections you might hear from kids. And here are some ways you can tackle these objections and help build a positive outlook toward books, starting from infancy on into teens.

15 Steps to Encourage Love of Books and Reading
1. Let kids pick books and subjects they are interested in and offer books with their favorite characters, animals, or adventure activity (Spiderman, Hello Kitty, Thomas the Train, Ninjas, Dora, trips to the zoo, space travel, mystery solving, and so on.)
2. Find books that have an accompanying audio CD where a narrator reads the stories and/or which have accompanying music and songs kids enjoy singing along with.
3. Choose books that go with a movie that’s age appropriate for them to watch after reading the book. If you’ve seen the movie first, then read the book and talk about the differences and similarities.
4. Leverage a couple of friends your child plays with who like to read and ask them to share why they love reading with your child. Get several kinds of books they like, invite a couple friends over on a rainy day, set a big bowl of popcorn in front of them and let them read. Tell them afterward you want to hear a favorite part from each one. Or, read a few chapters to them from a book of their choice.
5. Offer a variety of reading materials, from books to magazines to comic books to flashcards with pictures – whatever medium tells a fun story or captures interest.
6. Visit the library regularly and check plenty of books out. Are libraries not the best invention ever?! The library holds unlimited quantities and assortments of books you can take home for weeks at a time for free! What could be better than that? Can you imagine a toy store with such a policy? Yet books are priceless gems available to us all the time. I sometimes marvel such a thing as a library even exists, it’s so wonderful ☺. To top it off, for younger kids, most libraries have fun reading and story programs and activities for kids to help them “catch the book bug.” (Free tip: keep library books in a central basket at home so when it’s time to return them, you can find them! I’m just sayin’….)
7. A companion idea to the library, visit used books stores and scout out book sections in thrift stores. If you enjoy scouting through thrift stores and used books stores, you already know you can find treasures there. You can also often recycle your own books to them (as well as to libraries sometimes) in exchange so your house doesn’t become wall-to-wall books! Making such stops a part of every day life, and even on road trips, opens many doors of discovery to your kids.
8. Join the activity yourself. Odds are high they’ll welcome your 1:1 attention with them focused on a storybook. Choose some books to share that you loved yourself as a child and read them aloud, a chapter a night or whatever suits your schedule. Make traditions by re-reading favorites over the years.
9. Have books around the home in easy places to access and included with favored toys.
10. Suggest kids create a book of their own – a picture book or with words as age appropriate. Suggest it can be about themselves, pets, friends, school events, as well as imaginary tales involving all of the above.
11. Let books fill times that might otherwise be “boring” such as waiting rooms and car trips. Books are great companions in the car on short or long trips. Audio books are wonderful to pass the time as well. My son and I have listened to many books in the car – Fablehaven, The Hobbit, Dear Mr. Henshaw, and more. Great fun.
12. Always keep the experience positive, which may mean keeping it short as well. If your child is struggling with reading concepts, get help.
13. When old enough, watch the movie “The Book Thief” with your kids.
14. Don’t give up. Life gets busy and even good things get squeezed out sometimes. Kids may resist sometimes. My son often did, so I kept following the above until he found books that really hooked him. The first one that came close was Captain Underpants series. Girls might not love these as much, but I haven’t found young boys who aren’t entertained by the unabashed burping, farting and snorting that goes on throughout! This series helped my son meet his reading requirements at school. Later, he really liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid – he couldn’t wait to get the new ones when they came out!

These books offer simple, short reading and illustrations that are hilarious – they cracked me up too. Thanks to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, he was finally permanently hooked. (I should really send Mr. Riordan a thank you card one of these days!)

Now, at last, I no longer need convince my son that reading is awesome. And I too found some gems along the way – like the Fablehaven series. I was so sad to finish book 5 of that series! So persistence pays off. And later in life when school really “forces” kids to read, they will feel right at home and comfortable diving in.
15. Offer positive benefits or rewards (within reason). This might sound like bribery, and I’ve read the arguments of those opposed to this approach. But my personal view is when rewards are used appropriately, they can be highly beneficial and successful. I have found several things that work well as rewards and I’ve offered them happily. My son went through phases where he said he was tired of reading and didn’t like it anymore. That was laziness and not even true! So I would make deals with him that he needed to read 2 chapters of a book before doing another activity. I either let him choose the book or I would chose one certain not to disappoint…and it usually worked. If it didn’t capture him, I didn’t force it, but continued onto another option. When budget allowed and if he was doing well on his schoolwork, I let him choose a Scholastic book to order, which he loved doing. Some of my best school days were the days the Scholastic book order arrived!
Rewards can also have the double advantage of being handy tools for parents – for example, using reading as a way for kids to “earn” video game time. Many times, I’ve struck the deal that my son needs to spend an hour of reading time – or even outdoor playtime – to earn equal time playing video games. I’ve found my son is highly motivated to cooperate, at first because he thinks he only wants to play the video game so he complies for that reason. But lo and behold, he sooon discovers he’s had fun reading a good book too. Score! Not to mention, it’s entirely realistic in life to be rewarded for doing something you might not otherwise be inspired to do on your own. This might be giving an allowance in exchange for doing chores. For many of us, later in life this system is called a paycheck! And when you’re a kid, it works for providing motivation. You can try different approaches to see what works well for your family.

Here are some reward ideas you can consider as age appropriate:
o Take an outing to a park with books in hand and read together for awhile before playing
o Play games that involve words in the game – Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Clue
o Get to stay up an extra half hour in their room if reading
o Earn video game time, hour for hour
o Get to watch a movie based on a book they’ve read

When we first truly discover the wonder of books, we are like Lucy when she steps into Narnia through the wardrobe and her life is forever changed. We too can discover our own “other land,” made up of all the books, characters and worlds that we carry in our minds and hold in our hearts as we journey through life.

Drop me a line and let me know what’s working best for you and your kids!