I have Julie Gardner this week! Yes, I’m bragging. Julie is one of my blogging and writing idols. She has such a loyal following and for good reason. If you haven’t read her blog, please take my word for it and click through her archives. She’s truly an original with her blend of humor and insight. We’ve developed a wonderful and supportive writing friendship off of our blogs, which is kind of amazing considering we’ve never met.

Julie brought her more serious side to my “Hobbies and Habits” guest series to tackle a problem we share. We are both English teachers (well, I was an English teacher), and we each have a child who doesn’t love to read. We’re like the shoemakers with the barefooted children. Luckily Julie has had some success, and that’s what she’s going to share with us today.


Every year, the parents of my students sat listening to my Back-To-School-Night presentation. And every year, when I finished, their hands shot up.

  • How can my son improve his SAT scores?
  • Will studying word-lists in isolation increase my daughter’s vocabulary?
  • What writing methodology do you embrace?

Varied topics, all worthy of concern; and my recommendations always circled back to one core belief:

The more we read, the more we learn. Period.

Then I became a parent.

I fostered a literature-rich environment for both my babies, born 24 months apart. Their father and I read to them from an evolving selection of age-appropriate children’s books and by pre-school Jack and Karly had well-used library cards.


My son devoured reading from his first taste of board books. The minute he learned to sound out words, he insisted on independent reading. Soon he was tackling Harry Potter with a dictionary to check unfamiliar words. At fourteen, he still needs reading limits set so he can complete other homework.


My daughter disliked reading from her first taste of anything else. The minute she could crawl off my lap, she preferred activities that didn’t involve books. At thirteen, she’s creative; loves art and fantasy and stories; just not those written by other people. (There. I said it. Without crying, even.)


I’ve had to learn to make reading a non-negotiable (non-torturous) pastime in our home; and today I’m sharing some tips for instilling in reluctant readers the habit of sitting down not just with an open book, but also with an open mind.

#1. If your pre-readers are averse to passive listening, have them illustrate scenes or let them act out the story as you read. Before beginning a passage, offer to have them re-tell what happened in their own words when you’re done. Your child may pay more attention if he/she feels like an active participant.

#2. Yes, go to libraries and bookstores; but also Play LIBRARY and BOOKSTORE at home. Sounds contrived, right? But when they were young, my kids loved sorting through our books selecting several for the “librarian” or “bookseller” (me) to read. They invited stuffed animals as co-patrons, made signs and decorated for Story-time. This activity emphasized the playfulness in reading.

#3. As your child learns, take turns reading pages out loud. This practice rescues young mouths, tongues and brains from long stretches of oral reading. Plus you’ll model fluency and inflection. When they make mistakes, ask questions instead of pointing out the words they misread. “What did Kimmy give Kate?” If they discover the correction on their own, they’ll feel empowered.

 #4. Do not ask if they want to read; ask where and what. Ask who will go first. Resist the urge to set a time – “just ten minutes” – so they focus on the clock, not the experience. If reading’s a consistent part of every day, they won’t question it.

#5. As they become independent, read the same books they do. (Hello, Hunger Games!) If buying two copies is burdensome (yep) try the library, share with friends or catch up when your children aren’t reading so they see your interest. Then engage in conversation about the stories.

#6. As a free bribe, I sit by Karly in the spot of her choosing and tickle her back or feet while we read because she loves it. Ideally, she’ll associate books with pleasure, a physical reinforcement of mental enrichment that satisfies us both.

#7. Set an example by reading, too. (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) I know it’s tempting to check dinner or email; to sneak in a quick text. But if your kids see you treat reading as an impediment to “more important things,” you’ll lose them.

#8. Outside of schoolwork, let them select their reading content (even magazines). Karly’s re-reading The Hunger Games series for the third time; but she’s improving her comprehension, making new discoveries and gaining confidence with each round.

#9. Don’t compare your kids’ reading abilities or interest-level. (More advice from Captain Obvious!) But I highlight this because the “competition” might be unintentional. If one child is a quick-study when it comes to reading, be mindful of public praising; your other children might feel ill-equipped to compete. I believe I inadvertently discouraged Karly by making Jack appear to be a seemingly-impossible act to follow.

#10. Be flexible when carving out reading time for your family. Parents are conditioned to think bedtime is optimal, but morning or after school may better fit your schedule. Make reading a priority but be realistic. Kids sense adult frustration and won’t enjoy the “togetherness” if you don’t.

The truth? Karly still doesn’t love to read; but I’m doing what I can to promote a positive attitude about books in our home and I’d welcome any advice that you can share.

I’d also like to hear your opinions about the impact of e-readers on kids’ reading habits. Are they positive additions to their technology-hungry brains or do they detract from the beauty of bound books with pages and spines?

What do you think? How do you encourage reading in your family?


Follow Julie on Twitter and check out her blog!

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Kveller.com and Greatnewbooks.org. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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