Encouraging children to read! Here are ten tips.

Encouraging children to read_1

Both my oldest children are avid readers. Especially Sara is the kind of person who reads everything she can get her hands on: novels, series, educational books, newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal boxes — you name it. So recognisable: I was exactly the same as a child. (I always thought it had to do with the fact I am an only child, and reading a book is obviously easy solo entertainment, but that is apparently not the case!)

Pim is a bit more reluctant to get started in a book, but once he’s in, he’s hooked. He’s especially fond of series: currently he is reading Harry Potter for the 4th time, but he also loves series like Percy Jackson, Spy Kids, The Hunger Games, etc. It’s so fun to see Sara and Pim sharing their excitement over books and series!

Ava and Casper have also caught the reading bug. Casper only learned to read quite recently but he’s so in to it now. I love that moment when children suddenly discover the magical world which only reveals itself to the eye of the reader!

Recently I was asked if I could share my tips and thoughts on encouraging children to read. I have never really thought about it before, but it was an interesting exercise to sit down and write down my ten tips. I hope you find it useful (and as always, I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the topic as well!)

Encouraging children to read

Encouraging children to read. Here are ten tips:

1. Read to your children.

Start reading to your children at a young age. Have your baby on your lap and look at board books together. Use an interactive style when reading: point out animals, help your baby turn the page. I find that tactile books are fun to read with babies (in our family, the Usborn series ‘That’s not my dinosaur/baby/hedgehog/etc’ is a huge favourite!). Activity / lift-the-flap surprise books are fun too (like Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell). The attention span of babies and toddlers is obviously very short, but don’t be discouraged. You don’t really have to read the entire story. Just see it as a flexible game, there’s no need to get through the book, or even the page! What counts is that your baby realises early that books are an important and integral part of your life.

When your child is a bit older, you can start reading picture books and short stories together. I like keeping a stack of currently favourite books in the child’s bedroom. Reading to your child before bedtime is a wonderful way to calm down and connect.

From around the age of 4 it can be fun to start reading chapter books. Slowly, the stories can become more complex and exciting. Involve your child in the story: ask questions (‘What do you think happens next?’). Explain new words and concepts. Talk about the way the characters behave, and use different voices for each of them. Let them be carried away with the story! Be not afraid to make things extra exciting — even a little bit scary!

Try to connect the child’s experiences and everyday life to the books you are reading together. When you see something which reminds you of a story, point it out to your child. And vice versa, when something familiar happens in a book, mention that to your child (‘Remember when we did something similar?’ etc).

When your child is starting to read by him/herself, do not stop reading to him! Involve him: follow the text with your finger, so he can see where you are. Let him read some words or sentences to you as well.

Keep reading to your children, all the way through primary school and beyond. Even teenagers love to be read to!

2. Book series. (Harry Potter!) 

When your child is ready, read Harry Potter to him / her. I have read the entire series to Sara and Pim. It took me over two years, but I’m sure this has helped so much in getting them to become avid readers. By the time I finished the final book of the series, they both read the entire series again, by themselves. And after that, they were hungry for more!

I feel series are a great way to keep children motivated to read. Of course, you want to find out what new adventures your favourite characters are up to!

3. Cut back on screens, turn off the television.

We are pretty much a screen free family, which I am sure helps so much. Our children don’t have iPads or a game station to engage themselves with. We don’t even watch television very much (with the exception of wintery Friday evenings, when we don’t cook but eat yummy snacks in front of the television and watch a fun series of a film together).

When our kids are in need of some downtime, when they are tired or bored and when they want to be carried away on adventures in made-up worlds, they curl up in a corner and read. I’m not saying you should take away all screen, but cutting down on your child’s screen time will directly be beneficial to his/her reading, I’m sure of it!

Of course, it is important to realise that reading takes much more patience than the relative ease of being entertained by watching television or playing video games. So some extra encouragement and persistence might be needed!

4. Create a cosy reading corner.

Children generally like to be around their parents. I have given up on the idea of a playroom a long time ago — toys live in our living room, and so do books and magazines. We have a big and cosy corner sofa in our living room with tons of pillows and blankets. It’s a very inviting space to curl up and read, and still be part of the hustle and bustle of family life.

Creating a reading nook is fun. In summer, you can even set up some pillows and books outside. If your kitchen is big enough, it is a great idea to have a reading corner there as well.

5. Let your children choose their reading.

When your child hasn’t yet ‘fallen’ for books yet, do not give up. Keep motivating them to read — magazines, joke books, cookbooks — anything, really! I remember, when I was young, comic books were not considered good reading. But honestly, my children love comics, and if that is what is needed to get them to read — fine! Reading should be fun!

Motivate them to read something new as well. It can help to find reading materials that reflect your child’s passions and piques their interest — be it knights, sports, dinosaurs or princesses. Make sure the book is not too difficult — if it is beyond their reading ability, they will loose interest altogether.

Magazines can be good reading material as well. Our children each have a subscription to a (children’s) magazine. And each week we get a special junior newspaper edition which our kids love!

6. Have easy access to reading material at home

Surround your children with good and attractive books! Visit the library and go to bookshops. Take your time there. Look at books together, sit down on the floor, forget about the time. Being surrounded by books is such magic. Bring home books and be excited!

My children can each pick out a book when they get their final school rapport of the year, and it’s such a highlight for them. (Plus — it keeps them entertained when we’re traveling to our holiday destination!) They love getting book vouchers for their birthdays too.

I think it’s important for children to have easy access to books in different levels and themes. We have books in the children’s rooms and on display in the living room, there are piles of books and magazines next to our bed that we like to read from on weekend mornings… You honestly can’t get around books in our house!

7. NEVER watch the movie before reading the book.

It’s just the rule. (Each time when we finished a Harry Potter book, we watched the movie together. Fun!)

8. Make time for reading.

When schedules are full and lives are busy, make sure to carve out time to relax and read. Make it a priority! (This is not always easy for me, and I admit that the past year has been so busy that our bedtime reading has suffered. Not good!)

9. Talk about books, share your enthusiasm!

Share your own love for reading, and be interested and involved in what your child is reading. Talk about great authors and great illustrators. Discuss classics. Get crafty: create pretty bookmarks and ex-libris together. When your child has a friend over, read to both of them so they can share the enthusiasm!

10. Search help if needed

When you feel you have tried everything and your child is still reluctant to read, you might want to talk to a teacher, paediatrician or an education therapist. Perhaps there is a physical problem (hearing/vision) or your child has a learning disability and therapy can help.

Good luck!

xxx Esther


Comments (19)

September 3, 2019

Another tip which I heard and which makes a lot of sense to me (although I have yet to see it working in our house) is to let them see you reading.

Esther in Amsterdam
September 3, 2019

Ha, I’m sure that is true, but I don’t really read as much as would want to these days (I simply don’t have the time!)!

September 5, 2019

I helped develop “Arthur” for television and in the course of our research we learned that yes, absolutely, modeling is critical. If young kids see their parents and older siblings reading, they will not only be curious and want to take part, they will absorb the idea that reading is fun and natural. The photograph you shared, Esther, of Bram toddling around with a book in his hands says it all. His brothers and sisters are reading, so he wants to do it too.

Esther in Amsterdam
September 12, 2019

Yes, I think in our case, the younger children seeing their older siblings read, really helps to form their curiosity! x

September 12, 2019

Claire, that is 100% true!

My child was an early reader. He was reading without anyone else when he completed prekindergarten. He went through about fourteen days in kindergarten before the school educated us that since he was reading so easily, they needed to propel him to the 1st grade.

How we got there? As you and others have stated, I read to my boy much of the time. Books are constantly present in our home.

My better half and I both love reading and composing, so we read to him continually, including books that represented the letters of the letter set, so he took in his letters and how they functioned.

All things considered, when they do make sense of how to read, even a piece, let them read ANYTHING. In case they like comic books, get them comic books. Do whatever it takes not to push that they aren’t reading noteworthy composition, the huge thing is to make them read… whatever it is, even magazines, on the ipad, etc. At last, they will get various sorts of books.

Be that as it may, all the more significantly, I unquestionably imagine that each parent needs to look at the website “TeachYourChild2ReadQuickly.com” in case you’re not kidding about giving your kids a head start throughout everyday life. Simply start there and you’ll understand…

Good karma to y’all!


Alison McCaw
September 3, 2019

We gave up on the playroom too and replaced with cosy sofas and toys everywhere 😂 the sofa is now a good location for practicing gymnastics 🙈 Great tips to help encourage reading. Thank you. Have you any thoughts on children reading books which are really sad and what to do if then that puts then off reading certain types of books?

Esther in Amsterdam
September 3, 2019

I love the idea of a sofa for gymnastics! 🙂
Sad topics, if written well and age appropriately, can be a great way to prepare children for bigger or littler life events. However, it’s not good if it puts them off reading all together! I would give it a bit of time, so the child can process the emotion and give it a place (which of course you can help with!), and then start a new book — a very light and cute and funny one! xxx

September 3, 2019

Great post Esther! Totally agree on point seven. From a teacher point of view – a joke book is the best source of reading for a reluctant reader! It always works a treat. And I’d advise not to rush into the huge chapter books. Reading Harry Potter at the age of six is not gaining anything for the little ones heads. There’s plenty of time to read these bigger books. And finally, read picture books for as long as they’ll take them. Kids get SO much from a picture book and there’s some amazing ones out there! X

Laura Amiss
September 3, 2019

I have one book worm and one that after he’s finished all the “funny” books aimed at 9/10 year olds just can’t get in to anything. Also both my kids can’t bare Harry Potter 😂 If you’re not in to fantasy novels I find it hard to find stuff for my older son, but autobiographies of his favourite sporting people have been good. I’d also add it can sometimes take a long time to get in to reading, I remember being the same until I really discovered something I loved.

September 4, 2019

This is such a good idea – I’m far too snobby about books, I fear and have never really thought about sport autobiographies. My sons are not keen on Harry Potter/fantasy either.

Lizzy in Minnesota
September 3, 2019

I love these! As an avid reader, one of my parenting goals is to share that love with my children. We’ve been reading to our kids before they go to bed each night since they were tiny babies, and make books as accessible as possible (lots of open shelving and baskets of books by our beds). As a bi-lingual household, all of our Italian books are also an important way to share that part of our culture with our children. I’m also a big fan of library runs (free “new” books that you can constantly change out!), and we always mention books as a first priority when we’re asked for gift ideas. An aunt gifted us with a monthly book subscription box a year ago, and it’s such a fun, special event to see our box outside our house, and adds another level of excitement to reading!

September 3, 2019

I did all the things in your excellent article, but I think what really made my daughter determined to learn to read was when she saw me roaring with laughter over a book when she was only 2-1/2. She peered inside to try and find out what was so funny and after that, nothing could hold her back!

September 3, 2019

We are a family of readers too! Any suggestions of early chapter books to read to a four year old? We started with Stewart Little but would love other ideas!

Esther in Amsterdam
September 12, 2019

Perhaps this post is helpful: https://babyccinokids.com/blog/2014/06/18/quins-favourite-books-great-for-ages-4-to-8/ I’ll think of more! xxx

September 4, 2019

We like to make regular visits to the local bookshop and the library with our children and let them choose their own books. Often very interesting choices!

Carleigh in Canada
September 7, 2019

Thank you for this wonderful post, Esther. A book I thoroughly enjoyed recently is “The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction” by Meghan Cox Gurdon, 2019 (https://www.harpercollins.ca/9780062562814/the-enchanted-hour/). She recounts fascinating research findings about reading aloud that echo many of your tips. Michele Landsberg’s Guide to Children’s Books is an incredible resource offering guidance on how to select excellent books for all ages, and also delves into topics such as censorship of children’s literature. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4535523-michele-landsberg-s-guide-to-children-s-books

Esther in Amsterdam
September 12, 2019

Thank you Carleigh! x

September 12, 2019

What age did you start reading your kids Harry Potter? My son is 5.5 and desperate to start, but I think he is a still a little young for the first book in the series.

Esther in Amsterdam
September 12, 2019

Sara was nearly 11, and Pim 9. It’s my feeling that your son might be a bit young, but I guess it depends. (I think Ideally, you read HP when your child has HP’s age — also, because the complexity of the story and the relationships between the characters develops with each book — and the older HP gets…) xx

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