Getting Kids Excited About Books

The post that follows is a guest blog from Elaine Hirsch.  Elaine is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames.  This makes it difficult for her to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

I was happy to see the topic that Elaine chose because I think that it is a nice compliment to the last post I wrote about how I struggle reading books in an era of blogs, twitter, and TED talks. Elaine offers some insight into the value of having kids become avid readers, and offers some suggestions of how to encourage them to read. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

In an era of unprecedented access to digital texts, it’s becoming less and less common for young people to actively engage in reading books. This is unfortunate for a variety of reasons. Books require a level of attention and long-term commitment absent among the growing variety of digital media sources such as Facebook, online schools (including even PhD programs) and the Blogosphere. While this is perhaps the greatest benefit of the book as an literary medium, it is also one of the factors contributing to young people’s aversion to them.

Easy access to internet-based text media has created both an explosion of access to information and a convenient way for people to distract themselves from information they are not necessarily interested in. This fact, coupled with the unfortunate truth that the American school system has consistently undervalued literacy in its educational focus, has led many young people to completely abandon recreational book reading in favor using text for online social interaction with peers. It’s not hopeless, however, to get young people to read books, and the benefits for doing so are immense.

According to Kim Medaris of Purdue University, children who read books recreationally display superior writing skills. Greater writing ability leads children to higher achievement academically, and professionally later in life. The question we must ask is: what is the most effective way to interest children in books?

Introducing books to children in their earlier years can be extraordinarily important and not terribly difficult. Before children achieve basic literacy, it’s a huge benefit to read to them whenever possible. Children are masters at learning by imitation, and if you read aloud to them on a regular basis it will encourage them to follow your example. It is also greatly advantageous to acquaint children with libraries at an early age. With a library card, books are one of the few sources of absolutely free entertainment, and this can help encourage children to continue reading later in life.

Some libraries have had success organizing children’s book clubs, and these can provide a fun environment where children not only develop literacy but also socialize with peers. another important factor in developing a child’s interest in reading is simply having books around the house. Books can inspire curiosity in young children, and even before they can read there are great benefits to exposing children to the look and feel of books. After literacy has been developed, however, the strategies for keeping children hooked and reading change from merely encouraging learning how to read to encouraging children to find reading exciting and stimulating.

Getting children hooked on popular book series has proven very successful in the past. Young readers develop relationships with characters as the series progress that lead them to be more interested and keep them reading further. As children’s reading skills improve this will lead them to explore other, more challenging books to seek ongoing literary satisfaction. Like any skill, literacy becomes stronger with practice and continuing to read opens access to successively more rich and valuable texts. Knowing this, it is certainly not impossible to elevate a child’s comprehension from Harry Potter to Hamlet over the course of a few years.

Ultimately, however, the decision of whether to become an active book reader lies with the children themselves. It is the responsibility of parents and communities to develop environments where reading books is encouraged and rewarded. If good reading habits are instilled in children early on, particularly in a sociable and fun way, it will be nearly impossible to stop them from becoming engaged readers for the rest of their lives.

Image Credit:  ooh_food


  1. I love this post so much! It speaks so much truth in it. Not only is reading time with children an imaginative time but bonding time as well that so many are missing these days. I live in a very small area where not a lot is available at libraries so it’s hard for me as well as my children. My son desn’t like to read near as much as my daughter, but I still try with him. Thanks so much for this!


  2. sarahthompson51 December 1, 2011 at 2:36 am

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  3. When I went to observe a school in St. Paul, Minnesota I found there are some schools trying to make reading the focus once again. I was assuming I would hear the clamor of children shuffling about when I opened the doors to the school. Instead, I found, the whole building was silent. When I met with the contact teacher who was to give me the tour, I asked, “Where are all the students.” He said to me, “You will see them in the rooms, it is Independent Reading Time right now.” When I asked more about what this meant, he explained and it was absolutely breathtaking. Every day, for thirty minutes, every student independently (silently) reads to themselves. It was a program the school was initiating in the hopes to get students to “enjoy” reading again. I have learned it is very successful. Yesterday, I found out the school I am student teaching at is going to be doing something similar. It is a program called “Action 100: Response to Intervention Accountability Program.” I write all this to let you know, there is hope…and there are schools that are trying to bring reading back the way it should be- ACTIVE. 🙂


  4. I think schools these days are moving back towards longer literacy blocks that include stamina building in independent reading time. The county that I work in has adopted the Daily 5 and CAFE structure that encourages students to have more independence during the reading/writing block, but requires students to read to self every day without any interruptions. Even though schools and teachers understand the importance of independent reading, I don’t feel that parents always do. I would love to see more education for parents so that they can understand the importance of reading independently, often, and with a variety of genres. Until parents encourage the love of reading at home, students won’t be able to read enough in order to fully develop themselves as readers at a young age.


  5. What a great post! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I really agree with the last comment as well that it is so important for students to have uninterrupted reading time. I am using the Daily Five structure for the first time this year, and I have been amazed at how quickly the children’s stamina has increased. Daily Five is their favorite time of the day. I think a huge part of this interest in reading this year is the aspect of choice. The students get to choose what and how they read. The students have book bins with a variety of texts, so they have lots of variety in what they read.


  6. This is such a great post! I agree with the other posts as well. For children to love reading they need to be given time to read at home and at school. The love of reading has to be shown to students through family members and teachers. When parents ask what they can do to help their kids be better readers I always say let them read more and read to them- no matter what age!

    I agree that getting students hooked on popular books is a sure way to get them to read more and be more successful at reading. I firmly believe that the best way to motivate a child to read is to show the children how motivated you are as a reader. Once you get the students on board, it is much easier to help guide them in the right direction of reading.


  7. I think your last paragraph really sums it all up – even though the decision is ultimately that of the student, parents and teachers can do a lot to lead by leading by example and providing students with encouragement and variety. I think giving students options that are interesting and relevant to them can do a lot to engage them. There are also so many ways to pull children in using technology — especially parents and schools who have nooks and iPads and laptops. One website in particular that seems to have a lot of success in classrooms is TumbleBook Library. It requires a subscription, but offers a variety of picture books and novels for students at different reading levels with different interests.


  8. I really enjoyed reading your post. I especially liked your idea of setting up book clubs for young readers. I had a child in my class last year who was a member of a book club with other first grade girls and their mothers from the neighborhood. Each month one of the girls got to choose the book that the group would read. They would then host the book club meeting at their homes. The mothers would provide treats and an activity that went along with the book. The child in my class would always be so excited to attend her book club meeting. I only with the rest of my students had access to something like this!


  9. What a great post! I really believe in uninterrupted reading time and see it as a valuable component of our readers workshop. This chunk of time is one my students look forward to daily and is a block where I really get to understand who my students are as readers. I really believe that for students to reach their full potential as readers, reading must be done outside and inside of the classroom.


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