Why Kids Don’t Read

…and What You Can Do About It


There is no easy solution for kids who don’t read, but there are things you can do which require effort, not only on the child’s part, but also on your part. The earlier these actions are taken, the better.

Our modern world provides many quick and pleasant distractions for both children and adults.  The enjoyment of reading is an acquired skill which requires time and energy. Following are the fundamentals of reading motivation and some ideas to implement them. We hope you will try a few, and we hope your child or student learns to love reading.


You must set your priorities and give free reading the time it deserves in your schedule.  It is very important that children see parents (and teachers) reading for pleasure and for information.

Rearrange schedules so that the child sees you laughing at a comic strip, welling with tears at a sad part of your novel, reading a recipe, discussing a local event from your community newspaper.

Laundry, vacuuming, even after-dinner clean-up can wait until after a child’s bedtime.  During elementary school (before teen years), it is very important that children see their number one role models actively engaged in various acts of reading. It is difficult to plan, but teachers must organize free reading time in their classrooms, and they should actually read for themselves during this time!

Turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone for a while. Set a schedule that includes homework time, pleasure reading time, exercise time, and then, maybe, a few, good TV shows, social media, video or computer games.


Most often good readers find pleasure in reading. Never punish children by telling them, “Go to your room and read!” or “Go back to your seat, and read a book!”  This connects exactly the wrong feelings to reading.  Tell them, if you must, no TV, cell phone, or computer, but let them figure out for themselves that reading something might be a somewhat pleasurable solution to the unhappy predicament of being punished.

Curl up close to share a good book sometimes. Even older elementary students can enjoy a good picture book with a universal theme. These books are often meant to be read to children. Award-winning picture books can be enjoyed by all ages. They win awards because they touch hearts and souls!

Ask the librarian for suggestions; tell her the ages of your children, or your students, their interests, and their reading problems, if they have them. Read, laugh, cry, enjoy together!

With our busy lifestyles today, great picture books usually only take 10 minutes or so to read.  Check out the Caldecott Medal award- winning booklists.  All librarians are familiar with them. There is a list of these books in a pin on Reading Spotlight’s Pinterest Board: Encouraging Lifelong Readers.The Newbury award-winning books for middle-school readers are listed on the same Reading Spotlight Board. Love of a particular book is often contagious with children.  Ask your children what their classmates are reading. Good teachers often include the simplest of book reports in their classes—one minute summaries of what students liked best in the books they have read. Research has proven that oral peer reports are highly motivating.

If you have particular interests, try to find children’s books on that subject. Say, for example, you like to fish.  Ask the librarian to find picture books, story books, informational books on fishing.  Spend some time reading and looking at these books. Add information that you already know, and point out something you didn’t know.  Then take your child on a short fishing trip, or tell your class about a hilarious or exciting fishing adventure. Have fun with the information you have read about together.

If you share a book together with love or enjoyment, those good feelings become connected to the act of reading.


Many parents often say, “My child has a lot of books but never reads them”. It could be that the child simply is not interested in the subject of those books.  The content might not fit his or her present needs or interests. Just because they are kids, don’t assume they will be satisfied with any old book.

Mail order books are often ill-conceived or boring. Classroom book clubs are a little better because they are usually age-appropriate as far as interests, but sometimes they are not on the correct reading level for the child.

That is another reason why we strongly encourage using the library. A child usually can borrow 5-10 books at a time. If (s)he decides that it is not interesting after a few pages, no harm done. Guilt is not then associated to lack of desire to read a book that a parent spent hard-earned money to buy. Be sure to check out Reading Spotlight’s Blog Post about why using libraries is the best way to find books for independent reading: Summer Reading; What’s Hot? What’s Cool?

Use a child’s interests as a guide in choosing books—favorite TV shows, foods,  places, sports, hobbies, activities.  Ask the librarian for help. Librarians are much better sources than most book store clerks or mail order titles.

Use the QRLE (explained in our free Tip: Choosing Books) to quickly assess a child’s ability to read it.


We must also respect a child’s individuality. Once you establish the rule that a child should read daily for pleasure, and it becomes accepted, children’s freedom and opportunity to choose books for themselves should be developed.

This means, of course, that (s)he is actually reading, not just looking at pictures. Ask the child his or her feelings and/or opinion about what (s)he is reading. Various studies indicate that reading motivation is improved when children are asked what they think and feel about what they read.


If your child cannot walk alone to a local library, you must find a way to get him or her there. Try carpooling with a neighbor if necessary. Use a bookmobile where available. Plan a regular “field trip” to the school library! Make a special treat out of the visit with time spent with you afterward, maybe with a simple packed lunch or treat together.


Everyone likes to do what feels good. If a child is struggling with decoding, fluency, or comprehension skills, (s)he might not want to spend time in such a frustrating activity.

If this is the case, then it is important to help the child read free time books that are at or below his or her actual reading ability. Some picture books for children have very high reading levels; they are meant to be read TO children BY adults. Use our QRLE (Quick Reading Level Evaluation) which is explained in detail in our free Tip: Choosing Books .

Once again, a librarian can be of great help if you explain that your child is having difficulty reading grade level texts. (S)he can point your child toward books with easier readability.  There are many!!!

You usually don’t have to worry that a book is too easy.  Easy reading builds confidence and fluency, helps a child to enjoy reading, and increases motivation to read more.


Many parents tell their children that reading is important, but they don’t illustrate that by what they do.  The motto “actions speak louder than words” is applicable here.

Parents and teachers are children’s first and most important role models.  If (s)he doesn’t actually see you reading to find information that you need, or spending an enjoyable half-hour reading novel, a newspaper or a magazine, everything you say about reading is not very effective.

As you prepare dinner, read the recipe again, even though you may know it by heart. Read the cereal box, the junk mail, the newspaper ads before you shop.

Turn off the TV and spend YOUR free time reading and sharing your ideas and feelings about whatever you are reading.

Creating a literate environment in your home or classroom will reap unimagined rewards in a child’s future.

In today’s classroom environment, there are so many required activities for students, but children MUST be given time to practice the skills teachers are teaching. To become a good golfer, one must practice. To become a good knitter, one must practice. To become good readers, kids must…practice.


It would be nice if all children were motivated from within, but that is simply not the way it is.

Offering incentives is a good way to start the process of reading motivation for a child.

At bedtime parents might allow an extra 15 minutes for reading only.

If the child asks for a certain toy while shopping or watching TV, and parents are inclined to buy it, then tell him or her that it will be purchased when a certain book is finished.

Never underestimate the power of your own time and presence.

Read the first chapter of a book together.

After (s)he reads most of the rest of it, ask the child to summarize for you what happened in the book, and then read the last chapter together.
One study reported that 9-12 year olds find extra credit, free time, and money as the best incentives.

Asking your child’s teacher for extra credit might be a good way for both of you to motivate a reluctant reader.


Trust yourself that you can do these things.

Parents know their children best. Teachers are next.

With help from teachers, librarians, and other family members, everyone CAN improve a child’s motivation to read. Bottom line though, parents must demand limits on cell phone use!


Be sure to check our FREE Independent Reading Packet for more ideas.


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