How To Raise a Reader in a World of Digital Distractions

It’s the second week of spring break and my son actually asked if we could go to the library to get more Beast Quest books. I never thought this day would come. He’s devoured 3 books in 3 days. Last year at this time my son would groan if I even mentioned an outing to the library. I consider this a huge parenting victory.

Raising a reader is not the luck of the draw or the result of passing on book-loving genes. I deliberately set out to instill a love of reading in my son and the techniques I used have finally paid off. It is possible to raise a reader in a world of digital distractions.

Why Raising a Reader is Difficult

Digital distractions are everywhere. Games display videos promoting newer and even more exciting games. Children must watch these if they want to level up. TV shows have amazing special effects that make my 80’s cartoons (Jem and the Holograms, anyone?) look tired. Phones beep, ding and ping to remind us to check our notifications. So, why is raising a reader in the modern world still important?

The Importance of Raising a Reader

boy reading magical book

Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures.

In fact, reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.”

So, how do you raise a reader in a world full of digital distractions all vying for our children’s limited attention?

The following techniques are strategies I’ve adapted from my time as an elementary school teacher and through trial and error. While you do not have to start your reading routine at birth, the earlier you start, the better.

Don’t worry if you are beginning with an older child. These strategies will still work, but they may be met with resistance at first. Stick to your guns and before you know it, you’ll have an enthusiastic reader in the house.

1. Set up a reading routine with your baby/toddler

Make reading a routine part of your day. Do not skip it, even if you feel like your baby/toddler is getting nothing out of it. First of all, you’re setting the stage for the future. Secondly, babies and toddlers absorb much more than we realize.

I used to read 2–3 books before naptime and then 2–3 more before bedtime. As my children grew, this routine never varied. Now that they have dropped their naps, we still read before bed. My children have never questioned this routine because it has always been a part of their lives.

There has never been a better time to read to babies or toddlers. A dizzying array of board books with sensory and tactile features fill the shelves of all the local libraries and superstores. These days pop-up books are well-crafted paper masterpieces. You’ll enjoy them, too. Well, maybe not after reading That’s Not My Monsterfor the 100th time.

Here are some of our favorite board books for babies and toddlers:

2. Go To The Library

library bookshelves full of books

Make trips to the library a regular occurrence. Attend the singing/story time sessions. You’ll learn some great songs to sing at home and the librarians often choose really good stories for the age group.

I know how difficult it can be to go to the library, especially with an active toddler, but don’t give up. I almost lost my youngest once when an entire preschool class came into the children’s area at once. One moment, my son was at my side looking at books, and the next moment, he was gone. Panicked, I looked for him among all the other children. He wasn’t there. So, I ran for the front door. Sure enough, my 18-month-old was already out the door and headed for the street. I scooped him up just before he stepped into traffic. After that I didn’t stop our library visits, but I did opt to go to a different library that had its children section at the very back.

If you make library attendance a priority, one day the library will be a magical place for your child. I still remember how excited I was to go to the library to get the next book in the Nancy Drew series. When your children experience this excitement, you can pat yourself on the back. They now have access to books that will teach them empathy, help them develop a moral code, allow them to escape from the reality for a time, and even allow them to experience battling a scary monster or two along the way.

3. Encourage Your Early Reader

When your child transitions into reading, make it less of a chore by taking turns reading the pages. I especially love the Usborne My First Reading Library for young children. These books have a child’s part and an adult’s part. The adult reads the small print and the child reads the large print. The stories are more interesting than most early readers because the adults are able to provide additional backstory and the children enjoy the novelty of reading with a parent.

If your child is a reluctant reader, read the story to him/her first. This takes the pressure off. Sometimes, I pretend to really struggle with sounding out a word. I make each sound slowly and then try to blend it a few times. Finally, my son can’t stand it anymore and he tells me the word. I thank him and have him ‘help’ me read more words on the page. This practice gives him confidence and helps break down his resistance to reading.

If your child is learning a certain phonics pattern at school, go on a ‘book hunt’ for words with the same pattern. A book hunt is just opening the book and searching for certain words on the page. Teach your children how to skim the page for these words. Skimming is a really important skill. Good readers do this instinctively while reluctant readers often remain fixated on reading text word for word. Reassure them that they don’t always have to do this. Sometimes we just skim to locate information.

For early readers, make sure the reading session is not too long. Young children have short attention spans. If they stop focusing, end the reading session early. You can complete the book for them and tell them you are sure they will be able to read a few more pages the next evening. Go with your instincts. You don’t want to make the before bed routine painful and frustrating.

Finally, continue to read aloud to your child. After they have read their early reader, go on to read 2 to 3 more books for fun. This ends the reading routine on a positive note and allows your child to just enjoy good stories.

When my husband is away both of my sons climb into my big bed for a joint reading session. They look forward to this and there is usually a lot of laughter. When my husband is home, we split up and read with each child separately because they are at different reading levels and my eldest enjoys stories that are way over my youngest’s head.

4. Check Your Proficient Reader’s Comprehensionchild reading book with pictures

“Reading comprehension is important for understanding the content that is actually being read; otherwise, readers can’t make sense of what they read and will have problems succeeding in academics, notes Penn State. Having strong reading comprehension skills is also necessary for passing academic achievement tests and for being able to read effectively for one’s career.”You must check your proficient reader’s understanding to ensure that he/she comprehends the story’s content. If the story content is too difficult, your child won’t enjoy the book.

When my son became a more proficient reader he was invited to participate in a reading scheme at school. While he was able to decode well, I found him racing through the reading scheme books to try to move up to the next level. Often, he didn’t understand what he was reading. I put my foot down and made him read me the first two pages of the story to make sure it was at an appropriate reading level. Sometimes, it wasn’t so I sent the book back to school.

Once my son read me the two pages, I let him finish the chapter on his own. Afterward, I asked questions to make sure he wasn’t just rushing through the book. Since he knew I was going to ask him comprehension questions, he had to read carefully.

Continue to read aloud to your proficient reader! Don’t stop once your child can read.

Each night I read a chapter of a book above my son’s reading level. We both look forward to the story. We are reading the Percy Jackson series now and I often have to make myself stop after a chapter because I want to keep reading. Reading above your child’s reading level will help his/her vocabulary development and allow you to have more sophisticated discussions about the characters and their motivations. My son loves to predict what will happen in the story. Sometimes, I throw out wild predictions myself and my son is able to refute them by using evidence from the story. I know his high school English teachers will appreciate this skill one day.

5. Use Psychology to Motivate Independent Readers

These days my son reads me a couple of pages from his school book so I can check in with his reading. Then, I read a chapter from our shared read aloud. When I finish, I grudgingly allow my son to stay up an extra 15 minutes to read on his own. Because he thinks I’m letting him stay up extra late to read, he is really enthusiastic about it. What 8-year-old doesn’t want to stay up past his/her bedtime? In reality, I stop our read-aloud 15 minutes before I want him to go to bed, so he just thinks he is staying up extra late.

During this time, I let my son read any book he wants (even if it is not my first choice). Last year, my son loved the Captain Underpants series. He read these over and over again. This year he’s moved onto Beast Quest. Some nights, he just wants to read his Pokemon handbook and that is okay, too.

Conclusion

It is possible to raise a reader in our world of digital distractions. Start early, introduce a reading routine and stick to it, make library visits a priority, and continue to read aloud to your children even when they are old enough to read on their own. Before you know it, you’ll have an enthusiastic reader in the house!

14 thoughts on “How To Raise a Reader in a World of Digital Distractions

  1. As an educator I want to commend your efforts. It would be much easier for us if more parents would adopt this clinical approach to getting their children to read and so develop fluency. Helping them at home is paramount to their literacy success.

    Thank you!

    Claudia
    PS. Will be checking out those books for my kids!

    1. Thank you for your response, Claudia. I especially appreciate it coming from an educator. I hope your kids enjoy some of the books from the post. My sons love them.

  2. Great stuff here Becky. You really had good foresight to have a plan for how to develop a love of reading in your kids. I think most parents want that, of course, but sometimes don’t know the best way to instill it at their kids’ age. Your suggestions for how to do that as kids progress are excellent.

    And, I can tell you that your last point about “tricking” kids into thinking they’re getting to stay up later to read still works with older kids, in a modified way. My son just turned 10 and my daughter is 14, and even though I’m not fooling them anymore, they still like that they can read for an extra 15 minutes in bed.

    Anyway, really interesting post – look forward to reading more here.

    1. Thank you, Jordan. I’m glad your 10-year-old and 14-year-old still like to read in bed. I’m hoping my sons will still enjoy this even when I’m not tricking them into it anymore. I appreciate your feedback.

  3. Hi

    This is a very timely post and I think a must read for every parent. In todays time its not just kids but even elders are victims of digital distractions. If I have to pick out two important things from this post, i would say it is “starting early” and forming a “daily routine”. These are indeed great suggestions which every parent should experiment with their kids to inculcate reading habit from an early age. Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. It is so true that children aren’t the only ones who are victims of digital distractions. I would love to get more adults reading books to escape from screen time as well. I appreciate your feedback.

  4. Dear Becky.
    Thank you very much for your fantastic website. It is amazing that you show people where to start and what steps to make towards their perfect parenting. I hope more people will know about your website and follow your guidance.
    Kind regards,
    Andrey

  5. Hi there, I really enjoyed this post. I don’t have young children but I have have a young nephew and cousins so I can use some of these tips with them. I think it is very admirable that you are emphasizing reading for your sons as many people leave them to their digital devices and overlook reading. I grew up reading extensively so I can definitely appreciate it as it’s a hobby I really enjoy. I get antsy if I go too long without reading for pleasure. Are both you and your husband avid readers?

    1. My husband and I both love to read, too. This definitely helps because we model reading at home. I hope you are able to inspire your nephews and cousins to read. It is so nice to escape reality and immerse yourself in a good book. I want to help the next generation develop this ability.

  6. I’m glad to see something dedicated to reading instead of computer or other things that distract from reading. Children especially need to read more. Enjoy the reading of this advise and things that will help promote reading for children. I think it is challenging at times to try to encourage children very good discipline to get children’s imagination to grow where don’t get this in TV or movies.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post, Dan. Children still love books if they are exposed to them from an early age. I love your point about how reading helps children’s imaginations grow. This is so true.

  7. This is a great article. Raising our kids is so difficult as it is. Raising a reader is way more difficult than before. Humans are more into visionary things than reading. Teaching our kids to love reading is something so important in their life for many reasons. They just need our guidance to show them that books are our closest friends.

    Thank you for this good article, I hope more people notice the benefits of books.

    1. Thank you for your feedback Mohammand. I like how you refer to books as our closest friends. That is a great way to look at them.

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