4 Ways to Motivate Kids to Read More

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They say that the apple never falls far from the tree, but in my son’s case that’s not always true. And I mean that in a good way. Currently, he’s in the Army’s JAG program. Sadly, I didn’t serve a single day for Uncle Sam. He was a literature major in college, doing his senior thesis on Milton. I can’t remember, but I doubt I read a single book in college that wasn’t on some type of required reading list. But when it comes to books, I’ve been doing a lot better the last few years. I mean, right now, I’m 160 pages into a history of the Incas. C,mon, that ought to count for something!

One thing’s for sure, I’m about as committed to the concept of reading as one can get. That’s why, when a few years back we had the opportunity to combine Thriving Family’s book reviews under the Plugged In umbrella, I jumped at the chance. Hopefully, the fact that “we” have book reviews is old news to you. But if not, allow me to introduce to you my colleague, Sheila Seifert, who almost single-handedly has championed Focus’ book reviews. In her free time, I might add! Sheila, a mother of three, is the editorial director of parenting content for Focus on the Family magazine and FocusOnTheFamily.com. She’s written more than 20 books, and most recently co-authored Focus on the Family’s “Bible Kidventures” series, called Bible Kidventures: Stories of Danger and Courage. Clearly, reading is a passion of hers. And in the following blog, she gives us a little advice how parents can turn their kids into passionate readers, too.


My three boys loved to play video games so I made a rule. However long you read is how long you can play. Two of them grudgingly accepted the challenge, because they wanted to game, and my third son learned to play outside a lot more.

He taught me that not all solutions work for all children, and one’s motivation to read stems from the reward a child receives from reading. Sometimes the story itself or nonfiction knowledge is all that’s needed to encourage children to read. The availability of a book or a simple suggestion, “Would you like to read about . . .,” motivates them. For other children, external encouragement — money, activities, gaming — is needed. And for some, the promise of ice cream, a brilliant future or even a trip to Disney World may not be enough.

The question isn’t whether a child likes to read but what motivates him or her to read. As a parent, I’ve tried different tactics to help raise my children’s motivational levels and have found four ways that seem best when encouraging interaction with the written word.

Their interests
When choosing books for kids, we as parents are responsible for monitoring the content’s developmental appropriateness and moral integrity. Fortunately, sites like Plugged In are available to help us. We are not responsible for dictating what our kids should enjoy.

My oldest son loved watching movies. Whenever he was interested in watching a movie (which can be vetted at Plugged In), he knew that we’d let him watch it only after he’d read the book. Because of his interest, he was highly motivated to read.

As parents, our job is not only to supervise the content of what they read but also to encourage our children to find reading materials that they are interested in or subjects they want to know more about. After all, what interests us may not be what interests them.

Not overwhelmed
Some kids get overwhelmed at the thought of reading a whole book. When my youngest son saw how much he would have to read to finish a standardized reading test, he opted to race his classmate to see who could fill in the dots in each section on the answer key the quickest, without reading a word. Needless to say, he set a record for how poorly he did in reading that year.

For these children, you can find ways to set smaller goals. Instead of reading a full book or even a full chapter, consider offering a set amount of playtime for each page read, or take turns and alternate reading: He can read a page, and then you can read a page. These kids seem to do better with individual small goals — and not one large reading goal.

Another great tool for kids who get overwhelmed are books that are more interactive. Instead of just reading a Bible story, you might want to find books like Bible KidVentures: Stories of Danger and Courage (which I co-authored), where the reader is the main character and decides what happens next. They witness Bible history unfolding as they make choices and follow their own path.

Together time
Kids consistently crave one-on-one time with their parents. Asking open-ended questions about a book that relates to your child’s life can make the reading material come alive. After my middle son read an adventure novel that included much sacrifice from the hero, I asked, “What would it take for you to give up everything to save people you didn’t know personally?” Not only did this gives us something in common to talk about, but it gave my son the motivation to read more so we’d have additional talks, just us.

If you and your children read the same book, you can use “Reading For Fun,” a free resource to talk about the book together. This parent-child book club download can be used with any book of your choosing.

Visible achievement
Too often, reluctant readers see only the arduous task of deciphering a word or phrase, and avid readers never stop to appreciate what they’ve accomplished. Both types of children can be further motivated from visible achievement, a concrete way to measure how much is read.

My youngest son, who likes to make things, and I made a reading castle tower. It was created so kids would receive one block of the castle tower for each five minutes they’ve read. This free motivational tool (search “reading castle tower motivate kids to read”) gives kids a tangible way to keep track of minutes and literally “see” a reason for reading.

Visible achievements are also found in library reading programs, homemade charts or activities such as taking a picture of children holding a book they’ve read and placing the image on a bulletin board. Eventually all these photographs help kids understand the big picture.

So what motivates your children to read? Only you can uncover that answer because each child is a complex set of God-given mental, physical, emotional and spiritual gifts. Once you find what motivates your children to read, probably through trial and error, you will help them unlock not only their imagination, but also reinforce their academic skills. Not one of my three boys liked to read, and my husband and I struggled to get them to read throughout their school years. Eventually, each went to college, and read well enough to be successful. And now, one even reads for fun in his free time.