A love for reading can be hugely valuable for children. The benefits of leisure reading include increased general knowledge, a positive impact on academic achievement, enhanced reading ability and vocabulary growth.
Indeed, research suggests that time spent reading for pleasure could be a key indicator for the future success of a child – even more important than their family’s socio-economic status. It is therefore not surprising that many parents are interested in getting their children hooked on books.
But certain reading practices used by parents and teachers could end up putting children off reading. On the other hand, though, there is compelling evidence that children who may not want to read for pleasure can be influenced to take it up.
My PhD research, which explored the reading habits of a group of children in a book club aged between nine and 12, uncovered ways to entice children to develop a love for leisure reading.
Read aloud (and make it exciting)
Reading aloud fosters a love of books in children, and helps children get hooked on books as they associate reading with pleasure.
My study supports this. Each day, a staff member at the book club read aloud to the children. Most of the children said that they enjoyed being read to, and that having someone read to them stirred their interest in the book. A boy in my study said his parents regularly read aloud to him when he was little, and that this led to his love for reading.
However, some children pointed out that how books are read aloud could affect their enjoyment of the reading. It is important that the reading be done in an enthusiastic way that children find engaging.
Ensure access to books
Children who have easy access to engaging texts do more reading.
Although there were a few exceptions, the children in my study who had many reading materials at home and at school did more leisure reading and were more engaged readers than those who had challenges in accessing books. A little girl said she loved comics but could not get hold of them easily. She believed she would do more reading if she could readily get the books she liked.
Parents who may not be able to buy books for their child could take the child to a public library and assist the child in borrowing books. Another option could be downloading suitable free e-books for children to read.
Create a space for reading
It is important to establish a comfortable space and conducive atmosphere for reading as well as set aside time for leisure reading.
The reading engagement of the children in my study was affected by environmental factors such as noise, heat, disruptions, and uncomfortable seats. The findings also show that children are likely to read happily and for a longer time when they are in a reading environment.
To enable children to fully engage with and take pleasure from reading, parents should create a comfortable and quiet space for reading. This could be as simple as a corner in a room which could be decorated as the reading space. This will encourage children to pick up a book and spend some time in the reading corner.
Let children choose books
In my study, the children better enjoyed reading and did more leisure reading when they chose their books. When forced to read a book selected by a parent or teacher, they did not always enjoy the reading and sometimes did not read the books. A girl complained that she usually did not like the books her class teacher selected for leisure reading. “Sometimes I manage it, sometimes I don’t read it,” she said. Other children had similar complaints.
The freedom to select books leads to a positive attitude towards reading, better engagement with the book, and a more enjoyable reading experience.
Additionally, children should be allowed to read whatever materials they find interesting, be it comics, magazines, or poetry. Doing otherwise may reduce their potential to engage in recreational reading.
Talk about books
Having discussions about books is another way to spark children’s interest in reading and in books. However, these should centre on books that might appeal to the child rather than on the books you as an adult find engaging.
Many of the children in my study said that book discussions with parents, friends, and staff members of the book club had led them to read certain books. Some of the them reported that they enjoyed reading the books recommended by one staff member or the other.
Children who may not be interested in reading will have subjects and topics that they are excited about, such as sports, movies or animals. Discussing books on a topic or subject that the child finds exciting will likely whet their appetite for that book.
When children find reading fun and enjoyable, they are likely to repeatedly spend time with books, become engaged readers, and gain the benefits of leisure reading.