What To Do When Your Kids Won’t Read

I recently had a friend ask me if I had any suggestions for enticing/encouraging her sons to read more. My friend knows her sons CAN read well, they just don’t choose to do so, not even when bribed with money to buy more LEGOS. I started out my response to her by addressing the matter of currency.

“Currency,” as it has long been used in our home, is anything that entices or encourages your child to do a less-desired activity. For example, when my oldest son was learning how to communicate through picture exchange, we knew he would do just about anything for an M&M. When J handed me a picture indicating, “I want…” then I happily handed him an M&M. He would scour the page of picture squares until he found the card for Blues Clues and when he handed it to me, I would praise him, hand him another M&M and immediately turn on the Blues Clues DVD. Any parent who has used animal crackers, Fruit Loops, or skittles to encourage your child to use the potty roughly understands the concept of currency. Let’s be clear that currency doesn’t have to food either! Currency can be time spent doing an activity together, time spent watching a show he/she loves, or even money can be your child’s currency.

Once you have identified their currency, you can adapt a plan to use it as a reward to get the behavior or action you desire. My friend wants her children to read more. Simply paying children for books read might not be a practical solution for you and in my friend’s particular case, that didn’t seem to be working. First, consider rewarding time spent reading rather than books completed. This breaks the task into manageable pieces, especially for reluctant readers or readers who struggle. Second, define a daily goal or expectation for reading, and then work toward a long-term goal. This not only teaches your child the value of being faithful in the small things, but it also teaches deferred gratification. A great example of this strategy can be found in any local library summer reading program. They almost always have students read their way to larger goals. The daily reward may be a sticker or stamp on a chart, but the larger goal is the prize at the end of the month when all of the stickers or stamps have been achieved!

Here are a few more ways to use currency and creativity to help your child read more frequently.

Marble Jars

Marble jars are great tools because they have a tactile element and a visual   element. Kiddos who love to wiggle can’t wait to earn their marble so they can take it to the jar and drop it in! When so many marbles have been earned, a larger prize is awarded. A variation on this theme would be use clothespins on a strip of felt or a laminated chart hung vertically. When the child has done their reading for the day, they get to move the clothespin over to the other side of the chart, or even just return it to a pocket at the bottom of the chart. The child knows they have earned their reward when all of the       clothespins are relocated to their “Done” location.

Popsicle sticks and Bingo Boards

Sometimes kids need more than just a visual incentive to read. Kiddos who struggle with trying new things or have perfection issues that prevent them from even getting started may not be motivated by marble jars or clothespin charts. For these kinds of learners, I like the idea of giving them controlled options that give them a safe sense of choice that also encourages variety.

For this option, you can write different reading activities on the popsicle sticks and have them in a jar for the child to choose from when it is time to read. Options may include “Read a story to your younger brother,” or “Read inside of a blanket fort.” One of my personal favorites is the “read outside,” or when my boys were young, “Read outside in your tree house.” Changing up how they read and where they read may be the perfect motivator for some children.

Reading Bingo is also a great way to encourage kids to read a variety of genres or even just to see reading a new light. For instance, squares in Reading Bingo can include “Read a magazine article,” or “Read a recipe out-loud to mom before dinner.” Teach children to read from a variety of genres by using options like, “Read poetry by Shel Silverstein” or “Read a non-fiction story.” The idea is to give kids choice when it comes to how, where and what kind of reading they do.

Brag Boards

Not all children are motivated by external currency. Sometimes, all the currency they need is for us to notice their accomplishments. The idea of a brag board can be used on its own, as well as alongside any of the other ideas provided here. Brag boards allow kids to share what they have done with everyone in the house! Cut out shapes (or purchase pre-made die cuts from school supply stores or even the office section at Wal-Mart) and have the child write the reading activity they did and for how long on the shape. Create a special place to display the brag board. You can use your refrigerator, a hallway, the back of the door in the mudroom, or even the child’s bedroom door. Make sure to tell the other members of the family to “Check out what J did today” so they can all have a chance to encourage your child to keep reading!

On a final note, I implore you to model good reading habits. Let your kids see you reading and make reading a priority in the house. Even after kids can read to themselves proficiently, reading to them at bedtime or in the afternoon can be time well spent together. Hearing you read teaches them to read fluidly, with expression and inflection. Auditory learners may enjoy reading more when someone reads to them, as opposed to always reading silently to themselves. Reading together also gives you the opportunity to talk about the book, the characters, and the situations presented in the book. In a world filled with screens and sound bites, encouraging meaningful time together reading can be a priceless gift to give to your children.

I will be uploading printable reading bingo boards, and charts as well as lists for popsicle sticks soon!  Stay tuned! 

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