Convincing children to love activities that are meaningful to their development can sometimes seem like an insurmountable task, but it can be done. Just as many children maintain their interest in athletics as they get older, parents can help their students carry a lifelong joy for reading with them as well. This can begin at any age.
Read with your kids
Children emulate their role models' actions, but not necessarily what their role models instruct them to do. Parents who watch television every night may be less successful in getting their students to read than are parents who use a book or magazine to unwind at the end of the day. And just as with sports, if reading becomes an activity for adults and children to do together, the enjoyment factor increases significantly. Playing catch with a football leads to an increased interest in football, while "playing catch" by reading and discussing books together will lead to an increased interest in reading. Implementing "reading dinners" where everyone can bring a book or magazine to the table, reading a book together before bed or bringing books as entertainment on trips are all excellent ways to begin to read as a family.
Acknowledge that reading is reading
All reading is good for the brain. While parents may wish to complete several Google searches on various books to make sure the content is age-appropriate, what students read is much less important than the fact that they do read. Instruction manuals for science projects, magazines, movie subtitles, newspapers, almanacs, comics and graphic novels — while not canon literature — are still wonderful sources for increasing vocabulary, presenting new concepts and exposing children to correct grammar and spelling.
It's also important to allow students to re-read simple books, as this aids them in cementing concepts and seeing reading as enjoyable rather than as a task. However, it is also important to encourage students to tackle materials that might be well above their reading ability. Even if they don't understand the main concepts, they'll feel accomplished if they complete a more challenging book, and they'll probably come back to the book later when they are better prepared for it. If it is truly too difficult for them, they'll cease reading it on their own.
Make reading a priority
Another way to encourage reading is to position it as a reward — perhaps as a replacement for chores that your children dislike. Especially if your student is falling behind in reading skills, letting him or her trade cleaning his or her room this week for a few hours of reading time is an excellent way to demonstrate that reading is important and fulfilling. It is also all right to reward students for time spent reading, but try to limit this method to the beginning stages, as it has a tendency to encourage students to see reading as something to "get through" and not as a pleasurable activity in its own right.
Utilize school programs
The Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) program that's been implemented by some school districts uses the "reading as a reward" model with great success. Children are permitted to read books of their choice once per day instead of doing another activity at school. There are various school programs that successfully encourage reading, and if your student's school has one, you should get involved. If your student's school does not have such a program, then consider creating one yourself or lobbying for one.
Hilary Gan is a professional SAT tutor and a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona.