I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, waves of heat blasting toward the hair fluttering in my face, when I saw my 9-year-old waving wildly to get my attention.
“Mom, what are you doing?” she asked when I turned off the dryer, nose wrinkled.
I paused and looked at her blankly. The high-pitched whine of the blow-dryer seemed pretty self-evident. But then I realized she was gesturing to the open book resting snugly under my knees.
“Why are you reading right now?” she asked.
Honestly, I’m surprised it took my kids this long to ask about my odd habit. As a mom, I sneak in reading whenever I can: In the school pickup line, waiting at the dentist’s office, or while eating lunch. I’ve always loved reading, but if I don’t find time for it in the small gaps in my day, reading sessions become few and far between.
In the last decade of motherhood, I’ve had to get creative in adapting my reading life to mom life. And as my kids grow, I’ve often found that I must be just as flexible in finding ways to encourage them in their own reading life.
Here are some of my best tips for encouraging kids to read:
- Curate an intentional bookshelf. Create a list of topics or ideas you’d like to focus on. You could choose one per month or one per quarter. Recently, I searched topically on our library’s catalog for “kindness,” ordered in a slew of books, then spent time looking them over. This is a great approach for younger children.
- If reading feels “boring” to your kids, try something new. Create a blanket fort and let your kids read with flashlights or throw a blanket on the grass and have a reading picnic. Place a small bin of “car only” books for kids to read while they’re in the car. If you have more books than shelf space, rotate them every month or quarter. Let your kids order in some new books from the library online or wander the aisles themselves on your next in-person visit. Or, reconsider what you want your reading life to look like: I love the reading life challenge from The Modern Mrs. Darcy. Her printable list is a fun way to figure out what kind of books you want to read more of (plus there’s something infinitely satisfying about crossing items off a list).|
- Incorporate a family devotion or time spent reading the Bible together. Most nights, we read a family devotion at the dinner table. Sometimes we do it right away while everyone is still scooping food on their plates, while other nights we don’t get to it until dessert. I love to hear my kids take turns reading and asking questions. A recent favorite is the Faith Forward Family Devotional, created by my friend Ruth and her husband Patrick. It’s written with a kid audience in mind but offers deep, heartfelt questions that always spark conversation.
- Try an audiobook. Not everyone processes ideas easily by reading written words; many learn best through listening. Even as an adult, it’s much easier for me to understand difficult nonfiction titles as audiobooks rather than struggling through the hardcover version. Audiobooks are also a great way to make classics—like Anne of Green Gables or The Chronicles of Narnia—come to life. If you’ve never tried an audiobook, car rides are a great opportunity as kids are a captive audience.
- Read with your kids. I love to read side by side with my daughters. Sometimes we quietly read our own books, while other times we read something aloud together. As my oldest daughter heads toward middle school, one of the things we’ve focused on is what makes a good friend and how she can be one in return. One book we’ve been reading together is 100 Daily Acts of Friendship for Girls. Each day includes a story and questions to consider. We’ve also worked through books on being brave and overcoming worry, and I always treasure our time together.
- Celebrate successes. Keep track of how much kids are reading by joining your local library’s summer reading challenge (our library even gives out small prizes when milestones are met). You could also gather popcorn and movie candy and host a movie night to celebrate finishing a book (this is especially fun if the movie is an adaptation of the book you’ve just read).
Books are one of the most powerful tools we have for encouraging conversation and engaging in certain topics with our children. Sometimes a gentle nudge from an author can help my child consider an idea in a way that’s new and different (and more well-received from the book than it is from me!).
Though the pull of technology can sometimes make it challenging to keep our kids engaged in reading, it’s worth it to keep trying. A little adaptation can go a long way toward helping our kids cultivate a rich reading life.
A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She now is an author of five truth-telling books, including the latest 100 Days of Kindness, and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin served as a newspaper and magazine editor and her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including USA Today. She still works behind-the-scenes as an editor for others while writing her own series on kindness, friendship, and living with intention. Find more from Kristin at theruthexperience.com.