Keeping Kids Motivated to Read this Fall

Simple and creative tips to help encourage your child to read

Fall is a busy time! Your family calendar might be filling up with back-to-school activities, fall sports, and events that help you make the most of the remaining summer weather. 

It can be hard to find time to keep kids engaged in reading. However, it’s vital to support your child’s reading development as they come back into the school routine. Time spent reading increases literacy skills, so keeping your children engrossed in books and other texts can help ensure a smoother and more successful start to the year. 

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation 

When thinking about supporting kids’ reading time, extrinsic motivators like prizes or sticker charts might be your first thought. 

Many programs use these devices to keep children reading over the summer, and they can be effective. However, less attention is given to intrinsic motivation. While extrinsic motivation is supported by outside forces, like rewards, intrinsic motivation is an internal desire to read. 

Intrinsic motivation is important for a simple reason: kids who want to read are more likely to read. While extrinsic motivation can fade when the opportunities for rewards are removed or run out, intrinsic motivation tends to keep kids reading through even the busiest times. 

A child who is intrinsically motivated often reads because they want to, not because they feel that they have to. Therefore, they might be more willing to make time for reading.

Below are three ways to support intrinsic motivation with your child (or children). 

Offer Choices

Choice is one of the easiest and most effective ways to support reading motivation. You can provide your child with choice in different ways.

First, you can allow them to choose the type of book they read. If your child loves chapter books, that’s great! But many readers prefer comic books, graphic novels, picture books, and/or non-fiction reference books, and these are very beneficial as well. 

Opening the door to all kinds of reading can allow your child to find something they really enjoy. In addition, books that include visuals are helpful for comprehension and offer important support to children with vision needs.

Second, you can allow your child to choose where and how they read. This might mean they read under the bed with a flashlight, in a blanket fort surrounded by snacks, or outside on a sunny day. Coming up with fun and comfortable places to read can make reading a positive experience that your child will look forward to!

A few suggestions for offering reading choices to your child include:

  • Speed Date: Set out a variety of texts (different formats and also different genres), either at home or in your community library. Give your child 2-3 minutes to look over each book, setting a timer to add an extra sense of excitement. Once your child has looked over each book, ask them to pick their top three favorites to read. 
  • Photo Safari: Take your child to a library or other place with a large variety of books. Allow your child to use a phone or camera to wander the area, taking pictures of books that catch their attention. Once they are done, look through their pictures together and decide on one type of book they want to try (for example: graphic novel fantasies, beginning readers about their favorite TV show, or adventure-themed chapter books). Check a few out from the library and give them a try. 
  • Cozy Place/Silly Space: Challenge your child to choose a cozy place or a silly space to read. If your child chooses to be cozy, they might wrap up in blankets with a special treat and all of their stuffed animals. They might even put on their favorite pajamas and slippers. If they want to read in a silly space, let their imaginations run wild! They might fill a bathtub with pillows or perch on top of the table wearing their Halloween costume. These choices can add an element of comfort and fun to their reading time. 

Read to Succeed

Another way to support your child’s intrinsic motivation to read is to help them feel successful. We are all more likely to enjoy a task we feel we can do well. 

Unfortunately, however, not every child sees themselves as a strong reader, so it is important to provide our children opportunities to succeed. 

There are several ways to help your child feel more confident in their ability to read, and this confidence may allow them to better enjoy and participate in reading. A few ways to help your child feel successful are: 

  • Audiobooks: Don’t be afraid to stretch the traditional boundaries of reading. Audiobooks allow children to engage with stories that excite them, regardless of reading level. Audiobooks are also a great way to build comprehension by learning about story elements such as characters, setting, and plot. Although audiobooks can be expensive, most libraries offer ways to borrow audiobooks for free (such as through the Libby or Hoopla apps). 
  • Building on Strengths: Celebrate your child’s strengths by finding books that match their interests and abilities. Whether your child excels at soccer, loves Minecraft, or is passionate about nature, finding books on these topics allows your little one to use their background knowledge to make sense of the book.  
  • Reading Buddies: Reading together allows you to help your child in real time as they read, and the extra support can boost your child’s feelings of success. However, it can also help to put your child in the literary driver’s seat. By asking them to read to a younger sibling, a pet, or even a stuffed animal, you center your child as the expert reader. 

Provide a Purpose 

Reading for a purpose can help literacy feel relevant and authentic to children. A child who might not pick up a book just for the sake of reading may feel motivated when they are investigating a question or reading for an audience. 

In this way, reading can become part of a bigger activity in which they feel excited to participate. There are many ways help your child set a purpose for reading, but a few suggestions are: 

  • Inquiring Minds: One way to create a purpose for reading is by giving your child a chance to investigate. Allowing kids to come up with an exciting question and research the answer helps them feel like they are solving a mystery. The best part is that they can generate the question themselves based on their interests, which increases their enthusiasm even more. 
  • Connect with an Audience: Does your child have family or friends that they don’t see every day? Or do they enjoy making or watching social media outlets such as YouTube? Make technology your friend by helping your child read to others using these apps. Having an audience gives your child a purpose for reading and encourages them to practice with their books so they can do their best possible reading. 
  • Create: Challenge your child to create something new, and provide them texts (such as books or online articles) to help them research and plan their creation. This strategy harnesses creativity and will be especially beneficial for kids who thrive with hands-on learning and building. 

Author: Alyssa Whitford is a former K-12 teacher and current professor of education at Hope College in Holland, MI. She is passionate about literacy, social studies, and all things elementary! She is also a proud parent to two children of her own.