From my experience, it’s all about engaging them in the experience. Interaction is a key component to any successful activity. The more involved you feel, the more you want to participate. The same is true of all ages, especially little ones. They have such short attention spans and everything is new, i.e., distracting. The key is to work with those “limitations” not try to squash them. I witnessed a most unengaging book reading one time that made me, who loves books and reading almost more than any other leisure activity, want to run screaming from the room.
A teenage girl was trying to read a short board book to three preschoolers. Now, Sammi can sit through long picture books, so a short board book should have been a piece of cake for these kids. But they were sitting in a row facing the girl and she was sitting up on a chair reading the book to them. Anytime they fidgeted at all, she stopped reading and told them to sit still. At the end of every sentence she stopped and asked them a question about that sentence. Then she demanded the correct answer before she moved on to the next sentence. There was no flow to the story, no magic floating out from the book to capture the interest of these three little ones. It was pure agony. The girl was obviously frustrated by the behavior of the children and they were obviously bored with the experience, yet they pushed on. If this is the perfect example of how not to get kids interested in reading, I’d like to share some tips to turn this exact situation into the perfect way to get kids interested in reading.
6 Tips to Get Kids Interested in Reading
Get close. Be on the same level as the kids. Let them climb in your lap or on your back as you read. Let them sit as close as they can get so they can see the illustrations and let the magic of those pictures bring the story to life for them.
Accept age appropriate behavior. It’s not feasible for a 1 year old or a 2 year old or even a 3 year old to be perfectly still. They wiggle and fidget because that’s what they do. It doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Because, believe me, they are. As long as they haven’t wandered off into another room, they are still listening and will probably protest if you stop reading. It’s okay that they aren’t able to give you their undivided attention for the length of the book. It doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for it or don’t want it. It just means they can only process so much at a time and the moving around may be a coping skill to help them get the most out of the experience.
Answer questions. Something like 90% of questions little ones ask about a story come from the illustrations. It’s a visual way for them to understand the story. Take the time to answer those questions and bring it back to the words of the story. Sometimes Sammi will ask a question from the picture that hasn’t been answered yet in the story. I usually say, “We don’t know that yet. But if we keep reading, I bet we’ll find out. Let’s listen for the answer.” And then once we’ve read the answer, we talk about it again.
Have stacks of books available in all play areas. Anywhere the little ones are free to be and play, have books visible. They will be more interested in them if they seem them often. It’s also a lot easier for you to just pick up a book and read with your little one if you don’t have to go find one.
Let your kids see you reading. I have a few things around the house that I read: a book, magazines, scriptures, the computer. Sometimes when Sammi or Elli want to get on my lap while I’m reading I’ll read out loud to them. They love being involved in that moment with me, but they usually get their fix and then move on, which gives me time to read one more page/article/post.
Extend the reading to other activities. Do a craft, make a treat, dress up, get creative. Anytime something relates to the story, tie in that connection so they can remember the book and build their background knowledge. There are tons of blogs that have examples of ways to extend a book into other activities.