Last year, parents and children from my son's class organised a small get-together. One of the topics many parents discussed was reading, and I shared our experiences. Somewhere around that time, my boys discovered a new evening activity-sneaking flashlights to their beds for some extra reading time. Our bedtime reading routines became too short for them, and they wanted to read after turning off the lights.
One mum asked in disbelief, "But how do you make them read? I've tried so many things to motivate my son to read - nothing works. More video games, more pocket money... Nothing works."
Developing motivation for reading is a process, and here are a few tips and tried-out strategies based on research and our reading experiences.
In this article:
Why Is Reading Motivation Important?
Here are six reasons why reading motivation matters and why parents should help their children develop a love for reading.
- Improved reading skills: Children who are motivated to read tend to practice reading more often, which leads to improved reading skills such as fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
- Better academic performance: Children who are motivated to read tend to perform better academically, as reading is a fundamental skill necessary for success in school and other areas of life. Reading motivation is strongly associated with reading outcomes, such as students' reading comprehension, use of effective strategies, and course grades (2).
- Increased vocabulary and knowledge: As we established, motivated readers read more, which improves their reading skills and makes them good readers. Above-average readers experience a higher rate of vocabulary growth than average readers (3). Simply put, the better children read, the faster they enrich their vocabulary. Reading provides children with access to new information and ideas, which can expand their knowledge and understanding of the world.
- Positive impact on cognitive development: Reading can help children develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and other cognitive skills. As a complex skill, reading involves all of the regions of the brain because it involves all cognitive functioning of humans - verbal and non-verbal (4).
- Emotional benefits: Children who read for pleasure tend to have better emotional well-being, as reading can help children cope with stress and anxiety and foster empathy and understanding. Researchers (5) believe that concentration on reading a good book helps distract the brain away from anxious and stressful thinking, which can reduce heart rate and muscle tension caused by stress by 68%. More specifically, this research showed that reading reduced stress better and more quickly than other methods like listening to music (a 61% reduction), drinking tea or coffee (a 54 % reduction), or going for a walk (a 42 % reduction). Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis, who conducted a study on the influence of reading on reducing stress, says: "It really doesn't matter what book you read; by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book, you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination."
- Future success: Children who are motivated to read tend to have better chances of success in the future, as reading is a fundamental skill that is necessary for success in many areas of life, including education, employment, and civic engagement.
Overall, reading motivation is essential for children; it's a foundation for their academic and personal development and will help them have better future opportunities.
Tips and Strategies for Developing Reading Motivation
Here are a few tips and strategies that worked for our family and contributed to our 8 yo kids sneaking flashlights into their beds to prolong their evening reading time.
- Pixie dust. This is the most important ingredient in the recipe for developing reading motivation. In our case, pixie dust means excitement about a new book, reading in different voices, expressing surprise, wondering what will happen next, asking questions and creating new elements of the story, and imaging what we would do in the situations described in the book, talking about what we find magical and interesting.
- It's never too early to start. And it's never too late. If you're expecting a baby, start reading to them. If you have a newborn, start reading to them. It's not too late to introduce a reading routine with your toddler or even when they start school.
- Create a positive reading environment at home. This can include setting aside dedicated reading time, having regular discussions about books, and providing a comfortable space for children to read. Build a reading tent, sit on big bean bags, and let them sit on your lap.
- Provide children with access to a variety of age-appropriate books and materials. This allows children to find books that interest them and match their reading level.
- Make reading a social activity. Encourage children to read with family members, friends, or classmates. This can create a sense of camaraderie and support for reading.
- Use positive reinforcement. Praise children when they read, regardless of their reading level. This can boost their confidence and motivation to read.
- Encourage children to read aloud. This helps improve their reading fluency and comprehension and allows them to practice their speaking skills. They can read to you, a family pet, or their favourite stuffed animal.
- Provide opportunities for choice. Let children choose what they want to read and allow them to have some control over their reading experience. Of course, you can help them navigate their choices when buying or borrowing books. Especially if your 7 yo decides to buy an 800-page-long love novel because it's the biggest book at the book fair and costs only 1 €. Letting your child choose books can help you, as a parent, see what they like and understand their interests and abilities.
- Connect reading to the real world. Show children how the skills they learn from reading can be applied to real-life situations, such as reading a map, street signs, or a recipe.
- Make reading fun. Incorporate games and activities related to reading, such as word searches, crossword puzzles, or book bingo.
It's important to remember that every child is different and what motivates one child may not work for another, so it's essential to keep trying different strategies and observe what works best for each child. Also, developing reading motivation doesn't happen overnight.
Reading motivation is a vital element for academic success and emotional balance. Children motivated to read faster develop language and communication skills, improve their concentration and memory, and increase their imagination and creativity. Reading to children can also help them learn about the world and different cultures and foster a love of learning and a lifelong appreciation of literature. Reading to children can also be a bonding experience for families and help parents understand their child's interests and abilities.
Suggested reading on the topic:
(1) Gentry, R. (2010). Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write - from Baby to Age 7. Da Capo Lifelong Books.
(2) Guthrie, J.T., Wigfield, A., You, W. (2012). Instructional contexts for engagement and achievement in reading. In: Christensen, S.; Reschly, A.; Wylie, C., (eds). Handbook of research on student engagement. p. 601-634. New York: Springer Science.
(3) Duff, D., Tomblin, J. B., & Catts, H. (2015). The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect. Journal of speech, language, and hearing research : JSLHR, 58(3), 853–864. https://doi.org/10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-13-0310
(4) Kweldju, S. (2015). Neurobiology Research Findings: How the Brain Works During Reading. PASAA Vol. 50 July - December. p.125 - 142
(5) "Reading Can Help Reduce Stress." Telegraph. 2009. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html