This is Part 3 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information where I have them.
Tip #3: Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. When kids are reading (outside of assigned school reading), the important thing is that the reading is a pleasurable activity. The best way to make this true is to help them to find books that they are interested in. Not books that are good for them. Not books that teach them a particular lesson. Not books that are someone else's favorite (like the parent's favorite). Just books that the particular child eagerly wants to read.
This is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).
A related point regarding book choice is the question of reading levels. Pam suggested in a post from earlier this fall that children benefit from reading a mix of books, some within and some outside of their comfort zone. She also said, strongly, that it's important for parents to avoid playing "The Reading Game". You know the one. Where parents speak loftily to one another about their children's advanced reading levels. Don't get sucked into this trap. The important thing isn't that your third grade daughter is reading a sixth grade book. The important thing is that your third grader is avidly reading ANY book. She'll get to the sixth grade level book eventually, if she enjoys reading. But if you pressure her to read harder and harder books all the time, you're likely to turn her off of reading altogether. And that is a tragedy.
For more on reading levels, see my earlier post about discussions in defense of escapist summer reading, which links to several articles in defense of letting kids read what they enjoy. I also had a two-part piece (part 1, part 2) early last summer about reading levels, and the defense of kids reading books that they enjoy, even if they are capable of reading more challenging books.
It's simply, really. If you want kids to learn to enjoy reading, you have to give them time to read things that they like, and that they choose. The choice itself is empowering, and leads to a positive association with reading. Your son could choose fiction or nonfiction, graphic novels or poetry, magazines or car manuals. He could read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones or 100 different Magic Treehouse books. He could read the comic pages of your newspaper, all of the Harry Potter books, or the Guinness Book of World Records. What he's reading doesn't matter. What matters is that he is engaged in what he's reading, and wants to read more. Because that's what we're after here. As long as kids keep reading, something, anything, they'll become more proficient. And that's the way to make them readers for life.