How to get your kids to love reading

Members of a local book club for teen girls explain what parents can do to encourage their kids to read.

The benefits of literacy are plentiful, and widely-researched—kids who read have larger vocabularies and better literacy and math skills than kids who don’t. If they read fiction, they’re likely to be more empathetic. Research even shows that reading, and being read to, rewires kids’ brains to improve their mastery of language.

But there’s a hidden benefit to reading that we don’t always think about: the fact that it’s empowering, says Tanya Marie Lee.

Lee is the founder of A Room of Your Own, an interactive book club at the Toronto Public Library aimed at teenage girls from underserved communities, and she knows what she’s talking about. “I came from a dysfunctional family, and I would read to escape all the trauma that was happening around me,” she says.

Knowing that she wasn’t the only one who had experienced abuse or trauma, she launched the book club to give at-risk girls a safe place. A Room of Your Own meets once a month to discuss a book with its author. (One recent author attendee was Jennifer Niven, who was there to chat about her bestselling YA novel, All the Bright Places.) But perhaps more importantly, the girls use the books to discuss what’s happening in the world, and their lives. They touch on everything from body image to mental health to abuse—and they gain strength from those conversations, and the act of reading itself.

That’s what happened for 13-year-old Rida Ahmed. “In the book we just read, All the Bright Places, I learned that you’re not alone when you have certain problems,” she says. “I have an anxiety disorder and I’ve suffered from it for three years now and it’s been really bad. It puts you in a dark place sometimes. But by reading this book, I got some inspiration and hope that I’m not alone.”

If your kid isn’t a reader (yet), Rida says the best thing you can do is cater to their likes and dislikes. “Know your kid first,” she says. “See what they’re interested in. Maybe they’re interested in mysteries, action, adventure… Then just tell them, ‘Hey, you like mysteries, here’s a [mystery] book.’”

And the girls were unanimous on what not to do, too: avoid putting pressure on your kids. “Parents shouldn’t force it on their kids,” says 13-year-old Preity Sundar. “They shouldn’t tell them to read a book because of all these reasons. They should just let them like [a book] out of interest, not out of, ‘Okay my parent’s telling me to do this, I have to do this.’”

Instead, model the behaviour you want to see—so make sure you make time for reading yourself!—and offer up a range of books on topics that your kids are already interested in. One key way that reading empowers kids is to teach them about the world, so make sure you’re offering up books with characters who look like them and characters who don’t.

And above all, make time to talk about what your kids are reading, so kids can ask questions about things they don’t understand, talk about how their own lives are reflected in the story and think about solutions or strategies for the problems the characters are experiencing.