“Help! My child hates to read!"

As librarians, this is one of the most common problems we hear from parents. It frequently hits around third grade. The child has made it through the frustrations of learning how to read, the child is reading within grade level expectations, but the child simply refuses to read. For parents who love to read, this can be heartbreaking.

If this sounds like your child, you are not alone. According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, reading enjoyment declines sharply after age 8. Not every young person will grow up to be an avid lover of great literature and not every person needs to be. However, a love of reading helps children develop critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills that will support them in their journeys through school, work, and life.

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Here are our top 10 tried and true tips for growing a more positive outlook on reading in children:

  1. Establish a reading routine. Routines can soften resistance to unwanted activities, because the activities become naturally incorporated into the flow of an average day. Your child will learn: “I brush my teeth in the morning, I take a bath before bed, I read for twenty minutes before I turn out the light.” Just make sure that your reading routine works for your child. If your child tends to lose focus and become cranky by the end of the day, try to make reading a "first thing in the morning" or Sunday afternoon activity.

  2. Establish a library routine. Pick a day to be "Library Day" and get in the habit of going regularly, relaxing and exploring the library collections as a family. Try putting a basket or tote bag next to each child’s bed for library books, so they don’t get lost and become a point of stress for the family. Give your child his/her own library card and show him/her how to manage their account online and place holds online, so that the child will feel more independence.

  3. Forget about progress. In schools, the focus is on progress and growth, as it should be. When you come to the public library, you will notice that we don’t level our books, and that stems from the philosophy of public libraries being a place of informal learning. “My child is at an M level and he needs to be reading P level books but he hates to read and won’t read anything I give him,” a parent might say. It is natural for parents to want to support progress. However, once reading becomes a battle in the home, our best advice is to take a breath, forget about reading levels, and gently guide the child back to a point where reading is comfortable, relaxed and pleasant again. Your child’s teacher will focus on development and progress. Pleasure reading should be just that: pleasurable.

  4. Withhold judgement. Some parents have fixed ideas about what their children should be reading. Some parents want their children reading their own childhood favorites or classics. If your child hates to read, try giving him/her a little more freedom in their choices. If your child chooses comic books, joke books, or Captain Underpants, take the long view and let him/her have fun.

  5. Try nonfiction. So your child hates fiction and loves basketball? Take a walk through the nonfiction section and grab books like The Science of Basketball with Max Axiom, Super Scientist by Nikole B. Bethea or The Everything Kids' Basketball Book : the All-time Greats, Legendary Teams, Today's Superstars-- and Tips on Playing Like a Pro by Bob Schaller with Coach Dave Harnish. Or look through the biography section for basketball stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

  6. Set an example. Mom is scrolling through Facebook, Dad is watching the game on TV, and the kids are sent upstairs to read. It is easy to see why some kids start to view reading as a punishment. If reading is so great, why don’t Mom and Dad do it, too? According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, seeing parents read for pleasure is one of the biggest correlating factors for children who identify as loving to read. So, don’t forget to pick out some pleasure reading for yourself on your next trip to the library and share with your kids the things in your own books that excite, surprise, or inspire you.

  7. Read aloud. Some parents think that as soon as a child is reading independently, the time for shared reading has ended. However, some of the best picture books are for older children. Fairy tales and folk tales, in particular, are a wonderful experience to read aloud to older children and share as a family. Remember the quote frequently attributed to Albert Einstein: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

  8. Read to discuss. Some children don’t want to put their noses in a book because they love to talk and are itching for some of Mom's or Dad’s attention at the end of the day. For kids like this, I suggest a children’s magazine article. Everyone in the family reads it and then everyone discusses. Not sure what magazines are out there for kids? We have dozens of examples to check out at SCLSNJ.

  9. Try audio books. Some children have difficulty getting into a book because they can’t find the character’s voices, or can’t lose themselves in the story. Try checking out the same book in print and audiobook, and then use one to supplement the other. The library has a wide range of audiobooks in a variety of formats from traditional CD to downloadable audio to preloaded MP3 players called Playaways. Experienced voice actors can bring books to life for inexperienced readers and help pull them into the story and the characters.

Create a positive reading environment. Last, but not least, make sure your child has a quiet, relaxed environment that is conducive to reading. If a large family or a small home make that challenging, try to incorporate reading time into your routine library visit. A quiet corner can almost always be found right here in the public library.