For some children, a love of reading is ignited as early as Green Eggs and Ham. These kids go on to devour books, and the biggest challenge for parents is keeping up with overdue library fines.

Other children would rather do anything but read. If this sounds like your child, the first step is to find out whether she has trouble reading, just isn’t interested in it, or both. You can then work with her to strengthen her reading skills and to make reading more fun. While you won’t need a degree in education, you will need a positive attitude and plenty of patience.

Younger Children

A few kids pick up reading as naturally as they learned to feed themselves finger foods, but most need to be taught.

Approach the task as your child’s friend, advocate, and cheerleader, advises Peggy M. Wilber, author of Reading Rescue 1‑2‑3. Avoid coaching or criticizing your child. “Make sure you keep reading fun,” Wilber says. “Never lose your cool, lecture, or make kids feel shameful.”

Wilber, who shares her teaching strategies at www.succeedtoread.com, offers the following tips for parents of younger children.

In preschool and kindergarten, focus on helping your child learn the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes.

  • Make an alphabet book for your child. Ask her to draw pictures of words that begin with the sound of each letter. Encourage silly and unexpected words like “anthill” and “boom,” not just “apple” and “bear.”

  • Teach your kids the sound each letter makes, being careful not to add an “uh” or “ah” sound at the end of consonant letters. For example, you want “s” to sound like a hissing snake (“sss”), not “suh.” Your child should be able to identify letter sounds in random order and without picture clues by the time he enters 1st grade.

  • When you talk with your child, encourage him to share as many details as possible. A child with a rich spoken vocabulary will be familiar with more words and be a stronger reader, Wilber says. For example, if your son mentions that his class read a book about a pet dog, you might ask him the color of the dog and details about the dog’s family.

  • Rhyme with your child. Some kids need to be taught that rhyming words have the same ending sounds. You can rhyme in the car and while you’re standing in line at the supermarket. You might find yourself rhyming at work when there isn’t a kid in sight.

If your child struggles to learn letter sounds and to say rhyming words, she could have a reading difficulty. Don’t panic, but seek help sooner rather than later. Your child’s teacher is a great place to start.

Early elementary students need a lot of practice reading words. Those who struggle may need encouragement to keep trying.

  • You can help build your child’s confidence by teaching her lists of sight words or other frequently used words. Soon she’ll be able to read at least half the words she comes across without sounding them out.

  • Use Wilber’s “to, with, and by” method: First read the story to your child, then read the story with her, then have her read the story by herself.

  • Make your child an author. Have your child dictate a story to you, and ask him to illustrate his story. Then have him read his story several times.

  • Find books your child can easily read even if they are below his grade level. If your child gets stuck on more than one in 20 words, the book is too hard. By reading books he can get through quickly, he can practice reading more words.

If your child struggles with reading, help him find something else he is good at, such as dance, fine arts, or judo. Never take away that activity as a punishment for not reading. (Video games, however, don’t count as your child’s special talent. They are too passive, Wilber says.)

Tweens and Teens

Once students hit 4th grade, they are reading to learn rather than learning to read. The transition can be hard for the ones who are still trying to master the basics. And as kids move into middle school, they are increasingly distracted with their social lives and activities. Making time for reading can be tough even for a child who reads well.

Laura Candler, a North Carolina-based teaching consultant, taught older elementary school students for 29 years and won a prestigious Milken Educator Award as well as other honors. Candler suggests that parents help students in 4th grade and above learn spelling, vocabulary, and grammar as well as encourage reading for pleasure.

Older elementary and middle school students should be reading for enjoyment for 30 minutes a day. This includes text read on the computer or in books and magazines. Candler offers these tips:

  • Subscribe to magazines. If your child loves sports, try Sports Illustrated for Kids. If he loves cooking, try a cooking magazine.

  • Supply your child with nonfiction books. Don’t worry if she doesn’t love To Kill a Mockingbird like you did at her age. Not all children are crazy about fiction, but many will enjoy reading about a subject they care about.

  • Use audiobooks along with print books. It may feel like cheating, but using print and audio books together can help kids read better. “They are hearing fluent readers read well,” Candler explains. Series books are especially fun to read with audiobooks.

  • Use free websites to help your child practice spelling and learn new words. Online games give your child the screen time she craves and help make reading fun.

Teaching your child to make reading a fun part of everyday life is a marathon and not a sprint. The options for books are endless, as are the strategies to help your child want to pick them up and read them. If you make reading a priority and stick with it, your kids will come around.


Promote Reading at Home

  • Read in front of your children.
  • Let kids choose their own books to read for fun.
  • Keep books at home that are interesting to your kids.
  • Limit the time your children can use electronics and watch TV.
  • Look for books based on TV shows or movies your child likes.
Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.