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Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

The best way to teach a child how to read, is to make reading enjoyable! When you love reading with your child, your child will know it, and he or she will develop a love of reading alongside you. By creating an environment that encourages reading, filling this environment with quality books, and making reading special, it will make reading happen naturally, easily, and without force.

Creating a Reading Environment

These are the ways that I have created a reading environment in my home.

  • Baskets of Books – I love having baskets of books in every room in the house, and several baskets in our living room areas. I love these cloth lined wicker baskets.

    Organizing My Books

    Organizing My Books

  • Build a Home Library of Books – To get your library started, go to thrift stores and garage sales to build the bulk of your collection. Once you start reading with your child, you’ll learn what he or she is into and get more books to satisfy his or her interests. Once you have a base collection, you can start adding new books that are really high quality, like these books from Usborne.
  • Trips to the Library – The librarians always look at me funny when I ask what the maximum number of books I can check out is (it’s 35). I love letting our kids pick out as many books as they want until we reach our limit. It’s always fun to have a new collection of books to read.

    Ruby Reading at the Library

    Ruby Reading at the Library

  • Little Chairs and/or Couches – Making little reading stations with small chairs, bean bags, or little couches makes reading so much fun and encourages children to read independently.
  • Comfy Reading Spots to Read Together – I love pulling my little ones onto my lap while sitting in a comfy rocking chair or snuggling up next to them on the couch. Near these spots, I make sure to keep baskets of books, blankets to snuggle up in, and maybe some water too!

    My Reading Chair

    My Reading Chair

  • Make Reading Special – If you begrudgingly set a timer and say, you have to read for 15 minutes right now, it takes all of the fun out of reading. Do whatever you have to do to make this a special time. Maybe have milk and cookies while you’re reading or purchase some new books…whatever you have to do to get excited about it!

    Reading with Ophelia

    Reading with Ophelia

  • Books in Bed – Bedtime reading is a favorite part of our day. Each of our children have baskets of books next to their beds that are their personal favorites. We always read books at bedtime, and it is a special way to end the day. Also, since these books get read over and over and over, they are usually the first ones our little ones read since they have memorized all of the words. (Yes! Memorizing words is part of reading!!!)

    Bedtime Reading Routine

    Bedtime Reading Routine

How to Teach

When children are familiar and comfortable with reading, they will show more and more signs that they want to get involved. I believe that the gradual release of responsibility model of teaching is phenomenal because it slowly builds a child’s confidence until they are ready to do it on their own. First, they start out watching you as you read, then you start to get them involved in little ways, and finally they will be reading completely on their own! Here are some of the ways you can slowly get your child involved in reading.

  • Turn the Page – I like to lift up the next page just a bit until my little ones grab on and turn the page. It’s amazing how much they enjoy this!
  • Interactive Books – I love reading books that have flaps, sounds, and more so that my little ones can see that books are meant to be engaging.
  • Pointing to Words – I don’t do this every time I read because it would get tedious and boring, but on occasion, I like to point to each word as I’m reading. This shows children how reading works and helps them to memorize new words in the context of a book.
  • Leaving Out Words – I love reading the same books over and over and over again with my children until they are practically memorized. Then, I start pausing at the last word on the page for them to say. I find that if I pause in sort of a questiony way, they will say it on their own. When they do, I point to the word as they are saying it. Once they’ve mastered reading the last word, I also like to incorporate leaving out other words in the book.
  • Picture Reading – I like to show my little ones how to “read” a book without any words by just talking about whatever I see in the pictures, and then I like to encourage them to do the same.
  • Repeated Reading – Whenever a child shows special interest in a book, I like to read it over and over as much as possible. This repeated reading will help children to memorize words that will become part of their word bank that they use for speedy reading.
Elliot Reading in Bed

Elliot Reading in Bed

Usborne Books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

Build Your Library with These Books

In the previous blogs in this series, I have linked to my favorite books and resources that matched each category, these books that I’m suggesting now are examples of QUALITY LITERATURE that you can use to reinforce all of the skills they have learned so far. I have geared my recommendations here for young children ages 4-6 who are ready to take off with reading!

  • *My First Reading Library – This is the best set of books you could ever buy! I have totally used all of these books to teach my children how to read from a young age. I love how each book has two layers of text. One page has minimal text for the child to read, often in the form of a word bubble, and the other page has more text for the parent to read.
  • Phonics Readers (20 Book Collection) – These phonics books blow anything I have ever seen out of this world! In some phonics readers, they focus so heavily on one certain sound that it overpowers the text. Not so with these! If you flip to the end of the book, there’s a section for parents that explains what the focus is and how to use the books which is great! Every book in this series is so well done. I mean, this is quality literature for sure that your little readers will learn how to decode with repeated reading. The rhyming text makes figuring out the last word very predictable. I like pausing to give my little ones a chance to say the last word as they are learning how to read.
  • Peek Inside Books – This boxed set includes six beautifully illustrated lift the flap books that children can interact with to discover what goes on at the zoo, in animal homes, on the farm, in the garden, at night, and inside the world of dinosaurs. You can get the box set here.
  • Pop Up Books – What better way to bring a book to life than with colorful pop up pages that move with these garden, dinosaurs, and jungle pop up books!
  • Look Inside Board Books – Children are so curious and love to learn how things work. In this series about castles, airports, food, computers, our world, space, the jungle, your body, and more, children will be engaged as they learn about their world while learning how to read.
  • Lift the Flap Questions and Answers – Inquisitive children will love the simple answers to their complex questions hidden behind interactive flaps. This is a great way for children to learn!
  • Picture Books – These picture books take classic old stories and retell them simply and from a childlike perspective. They would make a great addition to any developing library. You can get the box set here.
  • Books by Age – Browse Usborne for some AMAZING and QUALITY books!

Additional Resources

Building your library with quality books will ensure that not only will your child learn how to read, but he or she will ENJOY reading! These are the books that our children have loved through and through that helped them become readers. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

  • Elephant and Piggie Books – We love ALL of these books! Elliot was a bit of a “late reader” (reading at age 5, everyone else was reading by 3, but that’s another story…) in our family and he LOVED books like: We are in a Book, The Thank You Book, There’s a Bird on Your Head, and I Broke My Trunk! These books are the new and improved Dick and Jane books from the past revamped with engaging text that is simple, easy, and fun for new readers.
  • Book Box Sets – There’s something super fun about getting a set of books that fit into a cute little carrying case. If children have favorite characters and then can read multiple books about those same characters, they are bringing a lot of background knowledge to the table. These phonics boxed sets are a great place for children to start reading.
  • Ready to Read Books – I love the large print and simple text using characters and settings that children are familiar with for children who are beginning to read independently. Here are some sets of Ready to Read books.
  • Books About TV Shows – We LOVE connecting reading with our kids’ favorite TV programs because it gives them a HUGE wealth of background knowledge to read the books on their own. Often times, books about TV shows will have way too much text for a new reader, but our children have enjoyed picture reading or reading them repeatedly with us until they’re ready to read them on their own. We’ve enjoyed Dora, Backyardigans, Maisy, Daniel Tiger, and more.
  • Shel Silverstein – We love reading Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic as read alouds and our kids (once they’re about 3-4 years old) LOVE them. They are so funny!
  • Captain Underpants – These books are not what is typically considered “quality” because of the potty humor, but kids LOVE them, and I think that is most important. Our son Elliot was a bit reluctant to start reading, and these books gave him the final push and motivation to start really reading when he was 5. He LOVED reading the little cartoons and pictures, doing the flip-o-rama pages, and all of the potty humor.
  • Share Your Interests – I’m mostly a nonfiction reader, and I really enjoy learning about biology and how the body works, so I LOVE reading these Basher Books about chemistry, biology, the periodic table and more. My husband really likes reading illustrated classics like Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, and Swiss Family Robinson as well as anything by Neil Gaiman.
  • Follow Their Interests – Each of our children have expressed different interests at different ages, and we make it a point to purchase books for them that match their interest. Right now for example, our son Julian (2) is really into cars and trucks, our daughter Ophelia (4) loves Daniel Tiger, Elliot (6) is really into Pokemon, and Ruby (7) devours chapter books at an amazing rate and right now is learning about Manga.

In Conclusion

What is the point of teaching children how to read? I’ll tell you what it’s NOT…it’s not so that children can perform well on tests, it’s not so that children can read a certain amount of words in a minute, and it’s not to get 100% on worksheets. The point of teaching children how to read is so that they can learn about their world on their own terms. At first, we are the ones filling their brains with lessons about the world, but once they know how to read, they can access everything and anything in the world that they seek. By creating a fun reading atmosphere, making a reading a special priority, and filling your house with quality books, not only will children learn how to read easily, but they will be able to navigate the world through their own lens, on their own terms, and follow their individual passions along the way.

Check out the next blog in my Teach Your Child to Read series: Reinforcing Reading with Writing

My Favorite Books for Babies

Best Books for Babies

These are the books we have loved reading with our four children when they were babies.

embracing motherhood how to raise children who want to read by surrounding them with books and cuddles

How to Raise Children Who WANT to Read

Teachers, librarians, parents, politicians…we’re all guilty of saying it. Our intentions are noble and so we say, “Read, read, read!” Or, “The more you read the better you’ll get!” But it’s not about setting a timer to read for 15 minutes every day, it’s not about filling up a monthly reading calendar to get a prize, and it’s not about reading because someone told you to. It’s about igniting a passion within your children for reading so that they will be inspired to read because of their own intrinsic motivation. It’s about getting them to choose reading on their own because it is something they want to do.

In order to build a positive relationship with reading, we need to create memories of reading that evoke emotions of love, joy, and happiness. By following these steps, you can ensure that your child will build a positive relationship with reading.

1. Start Young

As soon as they are old enough to hold their heads up, stick a book under them! I started doing this with my not even three month old, and I was flabbergasted when he started to smile and look at the book. I use the same two or three books when he does tummy time, and he loves it!

3 month old baby looks at a book while doing tummy time

3 Month Old Julian Looks at a Book

Babies are definitely ready for some real reading routines by six months old. (Check out my blog :How Children Really Learn to Read to see how you can teach your baby to read.) We have always enjoyed incorporating story time before bed at around this age. This is also when we really start talking about letters, watching word videos, playing with ABC toys, and sitting them on our laps for story time. (Check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think to learn about one of the biggest precursors to learning how to read and Tips, Tricks and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to learn about how to give your child the foundation of reading.)

2. Go to the Library

It is very interesting to me to watch other families at the library who don’t share the same love of reading as we do. They come into the library with a very specific agenda, they let their child check out two books, and then they are out of there as quick as can be. With us on the other hand, going to the library is a special event! We get comfortable and enjoy the library atmosphere by playing with the magnets, using the chalkboard, playing with blocks and puzzles, and snuggling up in the chairs to check out a few favorite books. (Our library is VERY small, but we still enjoy it to its fullest!) Meanwhile, I am combing through each aisle finding books that I know my children will love.

Ophelia Playing with Magnet Letters at Our Library

Ophelia Playing with Magnet Letters at Our Library

Elliot is Busy Searching for Books

Elliot is Busy Searching for Books

Ruby Reading at Our Library

Ruby Reading at Our Library

I like to find short books that will appeal to all the kids for bedtime reading, longer books to read while snuggled on the couch, and books for all levels and interests of the readers in our house. When my children are ready, I help guide them towards picking out their own books. I teach them how to look at the spine for the title, how to choose interesting books based on the cover, and how to flip through the pages to make sure it’s a “just right” book. When our bags are full of the maximum number of books (35, but sometimes they let us go over), we check out. Also, I’m not afraid of a few late fines or lost or damaged books; it’s a small price to pay for such a wonderful service.

3. Build a Library of Books

Going to the library is fun in order to get some new books to read, but even better than that is having an eclectic collection of books at home that you can read over and over again. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to start a home library, but you have to start somewhere! My favorite place to get books is at thrift stores and garage sales (that way you don’t have to worry if they get ripped, damaged, or torn…which they will). I love it when I can find garage sales where the people are transitioning away from younger children and are getting rid of everything in one massive dump. Getting piles of quality books for 10 cents each is the best, and I totally stock up! The collections you’ll find at thrift stores are more hit or miss. It definitely helps to have an agenda and know what you are looking for here, but sometimes you just want to add a little “bulk” to your library and this is a great place for that.

bins of books for children

Building a Home Library Full of Quality Books

Once you know what kind of books really intrigue your children, you can start building Amazon wish lists for birthdays, Christmas, and anytime you have a few extra dollars. You can even buy used books on Amazon that are in pretty good shape. (Although I’d recommend staying away from the used books if they are the lift the flap kind, I haven’t had the best luck in this department.) For some book suggestions, check out my Amazon stores: Best Books for Babies, Best Books for Toddlers, and Best Books for Kids.

4. Make Books Accessible

Once you have books, you’ll want to make them easy to access! I love having books on bookshelves, but those are easier for storage and for adults to access. Kids like to see books displayed in a way that makes the books easy to see and easy to reach. My favorite method of storage is baskets. Here are the wicker baskets that I like to use. They are a nice way for me to keep the books organized with the covers facing out, and then I can strategically place them in places where the kids like to read. I love putting baskets next to little chairs and couches, near their little potty chairs, by their beds, and at little coffee table reading stations throughout the house. I’m pretty sure that every single room in our house has baskets and piles books!

toddler reading to herself from a bin of accessible books

Making Books Accessible

I have also screwed gutters (found at Lowes or Home Depot) onto the walls to store books. They looked really cool, but didn’t get used as much as I thought they would. Plus, the kids would sometimes pull or hang on them and they weren’t super sturdy, but if put a tacking strip behind it and found some studs, it would probably hold up really well!

Using Gutters as a Bookshelf

Using Gutters as a Bookshelf

gutters as a bookshelf

3 Year Old Elliot Loves His New Bookshelf

There are also some cool book storage racks that display the book covers all facing forward. I liked having things like this in my classroom when I was a teacher. You’ll have to find the perfect way to make your books accessible based on the needs of your children and the design of your home.

5. Make Reading Time Special

During the day, we love snuggling up on our big soft couch to read piles of books. I store new library books in our coffee table and I keep baskets of books nearby. But I will usually set up a little pile of their favorite books that I know they will want to read before I sit down. Then I track down their silkies, pacifiers, and anything else they like to snuggle up with. Sometimes I’ll grab some milk and cookies or some other tasty treats before we begin reading. Then, we all snuggle up close together and enjoy some fun cuddles and special reading time.

reading cuddled up with mommy and baby

Reading Time is Special

Before bed at night, we always read books in our oldest daughter’s room. We have a big full size mattress on the floor that is covered with blankets and stacked with pillows. There are baskets and piles of books strategically placed nearby and we all enjoy cuddling up at night while Daddy reads stories.

Bedtime Reading Routine

Bedtime Reading Routine

I have some old Christmas lights stapled near the ceiling that create a nice soft glow perfect for night time reading. After that, we read to our older children (or they read to us) while they are tucked into bed, and then we read to our littlest ones in rocking chairs before putting them to bed.

Reading Rocking Chair

Reading Rocking Chair

6. Carve Out Time for Reading

I am always ready to drop everything and read books when my children are ready, but I also like setting aside special reading time during the day. Either mid morning or after lunch are my favorite reading times. I like to read after my kids have eaten, had play time, and are changed, dressed, and ready for the day. We enjoy cuddling up for nice long reading time and it’s really fun. I know that our days can get busy, but I think that just like we make time for eating every day, we need to make time for reading every day too. If you always read books at bedtime, you’ll always have reading as at least the end part of your day. Reading before bed is one thing that we never ever skip. If we’re in a hurry, we have a basket of little mini books that we can read in a hurry, but we never skip reading time.

7. Pick Interesting Books

When you sit down to read with your children, start by reading the books you KNOW they will enjoy rather than introducing something new. After you’ve read a few favorite books and you’re in the rhythm of it, then you can introduce some new books.

Each of our children have been into different types of books at different ages and stages. Our babies have really liked Sandra Boynton, touch and feel, ABC, and lift the flap books. When both of our girls were younger, they REALLY liked Dora books, and our son has always enjoyed books about superheroes and anything funny or gross. Whenever we know that our children are really into a particular type of book, we look for it at thrift stores, garage sales, Amazon, and the library, and we keep those favorite books stocked nearby. These are the books they gravitate towards and start to read independently. The cutest thing is seeing our toddler picture read the books we have read over and over.

8. Have Fun With It

If you get books that you really enjoy and really truly have fun while you read, your little ones will be able to tell, and it will make it a fun experience for them too. When I was taking classes while in pursuit of my teaching degree, I had one class about teaching reading that really stuck with me. The teacher did something truly remarkable and seemingly unorthodox…she read to us! And she didn’t just read the words on the page, she made them come alive. It felt so strange to sit in a class with a bunch of young adults and have a children’s story read to us, but I felt myself getting lost in the story as she read using different voices for the different characters and read with lots of expression and passion. Ten years later, I still remember the first book she read to us. It was Buzzy the Bumblebee. I bought that book, a nice hard cover copy, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it to my class and then later to my children. Because I love it and read with lots of expression, they love it too.

9. Involve Your Children

Children love to be involved in reading. Before we start reading a book, I like to spend a minute looking at the cover. We read the title, look at the cover illustration, and make predictions about what we think the book will be about or what will happen in the book. As we are reading, I like to involve the children in little ways by having them help me turn the pages, lift any flaps, or point out simple things that they notice in the pictures. For more of a challenge, I ask the them open ended questions about what they think will happen next, why they think a certain event happened, how they think the character is feeling, or if the story reminds them of anything that has ever happened in their lives.

I also like to involve my children by getting them to read parts of the text whenever I can. One of my favorite ways to get them to do this is with books that we’ve read over and over. I pause at certain words I think that they’ll know or at the last word in the sentence (especially if there is a rhyming pattern) and let them fill in the blank. This is a gradual release to the time when they will be reading independently.

10. Be Silly

Most of the time, we read the books as they are written, but sometimes, it’s fun to make the book silly. We do this by making up words to make the story silly. Potty humor always gets a big laugh (Poophead!) and so does saying the opposite word that will give the meaning a silly twist. We also like making songs out of some of our favorite books and using silly funny voices. Our kids beg Daddy to read books the “funny way” especially when it’s bedtime; using humor is a great way to get through any tired fussy moments.

11. Don’t Force It

The worst thing you could do is treat reading like a mandatory time of the day that you must “get through” in order to reap the benefits of the results. If you’re not feeling it one day, skip the reading. If you’re skipping the reading every day, figure out what needs to change in order to make it a fun part of your routine. Are you feeling uncomfortable and unsure of your reading abilities? Don’t worry! Your children won’t judge you, and the more you do it, the more comfortable it will feel. Are you having a tough time getting your children to sit still long enough for story time? This happens with my rambunctious son from time to time, and so I have found that he LOVES it when I read books with interesting figures like these Basher Books and make them “come to life”. I kind of skim and scan the book and make the characters talk to him and he interacts with them. This even carries over into his imaginative play. Do whatever works for you!

In Conclusion

If you make reading a priority in your life, and if you make it fun, your children will grow up having a love of reading that will last a lifetime. I think it’s also really important for kids to see that you enjoy reading as well. My husband really enjoys fiction and he’s always introducing our kids to his favorite books. Right now he is listening to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with our oldest daughter on their way to school every morning.

I personally like reading nonfiction and doing research for my blog, and I love sharing what I am learning with our kids. Reading is an amazing and wonderful skill, past time, and family event. If you help teach children how to read (Check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read) and show them how fun it can be, you will be amazed to see what they choose to do with their love of reading as they grow. One of my favorite things in the world is seeing our children choose to read on their own. When you see this happen, you know you have succeeded!

toddler reading to herself

Ophelia Loves Reading

3 year old reading to himself

Elliot Loves to Read

5 year old reading to herself in bed

Ruby Loves to Read

Check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think to learn about one of the biggest precursors to learning how to read and Tips, Tricks and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to learn about how to give your child the foundation of reading.