Turn reading from homework to a hobby with fun, engaging ideas for encouraging reading in kids and teens.
Reading books empowers kids to imagine what’s possible. They see fellow young people as heroes, survivors and shapers of their own destinies. They see themselves, too — coping, learning and persevering. Reading teaches youth how to solve problems, embrace their emotions and picture life in someone else’s shoes.
But not every kid is born a bookworm. Only 1 in 3 students in the U.S. are proficient in reading according to The Nation’s Report Card, continuing a decline exacerbated even more by the pandemic. This is because school can sometimes turn reading into a chore, and many young people lose interest or lack confidence in their abilities. They may start feeling antsy or their minds wander while staring at blocks of text, reading the same sentence over and over....
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Creating opportunities for kids to discover the power of a good story and change their attitudes about reading just takes a little effort and creativity, starting with a few small changes adults can make at home like:
Now that you’re in the mindset of setting youth up for good reading habits, it’s time to get creative. Here are five activities to encourage reading in kids and teens that you may not have tried before.
If reading a book feels like homework to kids, try taking the pressure off and bringing in the fun by “gamifying” their experiences.
Set up a scavenger hunt or escape room based on themes from the books they’re reading. Host reading competitions during the summer or school breaks that offer prizes to youth who meet their reading goals.
Actual games work, too, when it comes to developing a love of narrative. Role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, can help teens connect with stories by immersing themselves in the worlds of the books they’re reading and engaging with familiar characters in game.
At Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio, the Page Turners program gets hundreds of elementary schoolers in Texas excited about reading. Through spelling puzzles and word-matching games, their littlest learners have fun while developing language and communication skills and reading proficiency. Within its first year, over 300 kindergarten-through-third graders were reading at or above grade level!
While libraries and bookstores are wonderful resources for finding children's books, not everyone lives within easy access of one. If you’re living in a “book desert,” build your own reading oasis at home by signing up for a monthly children’s book subscription box.
Delivered right to your door, these subscription boxes allow caregivers to choose kid-friendly books based on age, reading grade level or preferred genres. They’re also great for recommending books to kids who don’t know what they like to read yet and introducing them to characters with different life experiences and identities from their own.
Having diverse books for kids by multicultural authors at home allows more young people to “find themselves” within the pages of the books they’re reading. It also builds their empathy and understanding for others and the world we live in. Find options worth exploring with Hello Subscription's roundup of the best diverse children’s book subscription boxes.
For youth who have shorter attention spans and prefer to stay on the go, structured reading time might lose their interest fast. But audiobooks can help bring stories to life by having kids listen to characters speak and interact in real time.
After all, young people hear stories all the time — whether it’s a friend telling them about what happened on their summer vacation or following the narrative in a song. Audiobooks mimic these familiar interactions that involve youth learning through listening, which helps keep their attention and investment in the story.
Audiobooks are also a more passive form of reading and can be enjoyed while doing other activities, such as riding in a car, doing chores or getting ready for bed. Listening to audiobooks as a family is a great way to spend a road trip while bringing families closer together.
Sometimes a disinterest in reading can stem from a child’s self-confidence. For young people who feel insecure about the strength of their reading skills, reading books for school let alone for fun can be a big stress-raiser.
But without the comparison of their classmates, kids often realize they’re better at reading than they think… and they just might have a captive audience right at home to practice reading with!
Little siblings often admire anything their older sibling does, and that includes reading books. Letting older kids lead “story time” with younger siblings can help build their confidence and strengthen their skills, and younger siblings will appreciate the time together. Reading with a pet can also create a relaxing environment where kids can snuggle up with a furry friend while building reading skills.
Many schools and Boys & Girls Clubs have mentoring programs where older kids can read aloud to younger kids, giving them the chance to grow their confidence and skills while being a role model.
Students don’t often choose the books they read at school, and if they don’t like the books they’re assigned, chances are their motivation for reading will be lackluster. But book clubs hosted by organizations open after school, like Boys & Girls Clubs or public libraries, can give youth more freedom in exploring books outside of English class.
Afterschool book clubs meet regularly and expose youth to a variety of genres that may not be on their school-assigned reading lists — like fantasy, mystery, recently published books or comics and graphic novels.
They also offer safe, inclusive spaces where young readers can speak freely with each other about the books they’re reading in a casual, grade-free environment. If you’re unaware of a youth afterschool book club near you, consider starting one at your school or local Boys & Girls Club!
Raising a child who loves to read is one of the best gifts you can give them. Encouraging kids to read develops their imagination, vocabulary and critical thinking skills. It also helps them de-stress and broaden their worldview. No matter how old they are, it’s never too late to help the young people in your life fall in love with reading books!
Boys & Girls Clubs of America supports young people and communities year-round through safe and inclusive places, caring mentors and life-enhancing programs. Consider making Boys & Girls Clubs of America part of your giving this holiday season: