How to Train Your Kids to Love Reading

Young boy reading

Training kids to love reading is far easier than you may think. With a little consistency and patience, you can absolutely train your 4- and 5-year-olds to quietly read by themselves for up to 30 minutes at a time, and 6-year-olds to read for up to an hour. I know, you’re suspicious and doubtful of our claims. I get it. But follow along as we break down the clear and direct steps to train your child to love reading.

Build a Reader This Winter Break

Winter break is upon us. This means that for approximately three weeks, all our kids will be out of school bucking around like little ponies. Or more likely, staring at some screens and playing video games until they’re glassy-eyed and mean as snakes. Probably whining about how bored they are, too. Instead of wasting this precious holiday break by watching your kids lose an autumn’s worth of learning, consider helping them get smarter and more pleasant by building up their love of reading.

Why Bother?

Reading improves memory, concentration, and reduces stress. Frequent readers have much higher vocabulary skills and are measurably more empathetic. Studies show that children who read for pleasure have higher academic success and prove to be more successful in the future workplace. Parents, spurred by these facts, work to immerse their kids daily in a wide variety of literature and cultivate a culture of reading in the home. So, how do you do it? I’ll lay it out in some quick steps. Soon your kid will be reading silently for 60 minutes a sitting!

Know Your Kid’s Reading Level

Lexile Reading ChartIf you have a kid in school, then their reading level has already been assessed. Most likely, your kid’s teacher and the school reading specialist have this information at the ready. It’s yours for the asking. Getting it is a quick email or phone call away. These educators will be thrilled by your interest. And, unless they’re jerks, will compile a list of books at your child’s level upon request.

You can also use THIS CHART to match your child’s school-based assessment to their Lexile number (yet another reading measurement). Armed with that number, you can get a very free and comprehensive list of great books in your child’s reading range RIGHT HERE. Bring that book list to any public library and you’re set for check-out. Or simply bring your child’s reading assessment to the public or school library for help. Librarians know all about reading levels and where all the good books are hidden!

Get the Books They Want to Read

Go to the library and get your child their own library card! Borrow a heap of books on the weekly. Consider ordering a stack of cheap books from Scholastic or getting your kid a Kindle and a subscription to Kindle Unlimited for a paltry 10 bucks a month. Subscribe to high-quality kid magazines like Ask, Brainspace, or Chickadee. Whatever you need to do, start building up that collection of varied and interesting reading material. Your kids are much more likely to read if they are part of the literature selection process. Children read ravenously when provided books at their reading level and in areas of interest. They are similar to grown people that way!

Set the Right Environment

Does your house have a library corner, nook, teepee, or shanty? A comfy and quiet place with books, maybe a couple pillows and a lamp? If not, know this place is necessary. (My kids’ current reading spot is composed of an Ikea rug and some old apple crates, so no excuses). Go look at your kid’s classroom library for ideas. Or take a look at these amazing kid-friendly reading spaces for inspiration. Remember: the more inviting and cozy, the more likely your kid will read there.

Build Stamina

If your child has not been independently reading at home on a schedule, start with 10 minutes. Establish a consistent reading time at the same time every day if possible. This could be before school, after school, in the friscalating dusklight, or whenever. Set a VISUAL timer in your child’s reading space. (I can’t endorse sand timers enough!)

Initially, your kid need only remain in the reading space for the 10 minutes. No pressure and no forced reading necessary! The first few times, your child may throw a fit and that’s ok. She might cry and kick, maybe even try to make a run for it. Whatever the response, keep the timer going and remain cheerful. Move the child back to the reading area if she wanders away. After 10 minutes, thank your kid for virtually any level of compliance. Stay positive!

"Thank you for staying in your reading nook for 10 whole minutes."
"Thank you for staying in the reading area after I carried you back there three times."
"Thank you for reading your books so quietly today!"

After a few days, your child will understand that 10 minutes is not a death sentence and that it is also non-negotiable. In this time frame, he will relax and begin to leaf through the books he helped choose at the library. The timer will run out, and he may still be reading. That’s when you pop your head in and say:

"Reading time is up. You are free to leave whenever you wish."

Like a true addict, he may make a mad dash toward whatever screen he can get blazing. But, you will be surprised over time. Kids soon realize that reading is fascinating and will keep at it just for the fun of it even when allowed to stop. That’s when you’ve grown yourself a lifelong reader.

Extend the Time Over Time

Add two or three more minutes of independent reading time per week. Enthusiastically praise your child for their improved stamina, concentration, and focus.

"I notice that you read four whole books today! Amazing!"
"You have really been challenging yourself with some great books!"
"Last week you only read for 5 minutes, this week you read for 15. That's awesome!"

Max out at the reading time at 30 minutes for kids 5–6 and roughly an hour for kids 7–10. Not possible? I taught 2nd and 3rd grade for a good long while. After a couple months of practice, my whole class could read silently for an hour. Send me cruel emails if this doesn’t work for you! But, it will. You have to be consistent and cheerful and continue to provide the space and time, but if you do, it’ll work.

Be An Independent Reading Model

Kids will read if and when you read. If you pull out a book and read silently then your kid is far more likely to do the same. I started doing this in my classroom and student reading stamina doubled in half the time. I also got to read a bunch of great books during the school day on the taxpayer dime. Everyone wins!

To Recap

Independent reading for pleasure makes your kids smarter and better people in a heap of ways. You can get your kids quietly reading for 30 to 60 minutes in a short stretch by following these simple steps.

  1. Get your kid’s reading level. Your kid’s teacher or the school reading specialist has it and will also be full of book title suggestions. Look online for just-right books and check with the librarian too. Librarians are smart.
  2. Get books from the library, Scholastic, or grab a Kindle. Order interesting kid magazines. Do whatever it takes to ensure a stream of varied interesting reading material makes it into your kids’ hands.
  3. Set up a great reading area just for your kid. Beanbags, li’l bookshelves, and soft-light lamps all suggested. The cooler the spot, the more they’ll read.
  4. Start your child reading 10 minutes to start. Increase this by 2 or 3 minutes a week. Stay positive. Notice and praise your children for any amount of time they may read.
  5. Kids will read if you read. Take out a book and read on your own for 10-minutes. Chances are, they’ll follow suit.

Have any questions? Let us know below and we’ll help you sort them out. 

Mostly Team Effort

Mostly Team Efforts are collaborative articles that often bounce between experts, our own Chris Sullivan, questions from parents (ourselves, or friends of ours), and our advisors. But we love your questions and suggestions, so please let us know what you think.

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