Developing a reading habit in elementary-age children

There’s a discussion in the Reading Spaces about reading preferences, and it depends on that: it’s totally okay not to like to read. It makes me nervous. Not because I don’t believe it’s true – of course, not everyone will enjoy reading as an adult. But because many people have such a narrow definition of “being a reader” that they might not give themselves enough credit. It is only recently that librarians and educators have realized that many things “count as reading” and have started to shed the controlling negativity around things previously considered to be adjacent reading. In this essay, I’ll remind you about audiobooks, comics, game books, and magazines: Yes, it’s reading. Yes it does. And it’s very possible that many people, if exposed to these different avenues from childhood, would have developed a healthier relationship with Capital-R Reading.

What is a reader?

A reader is someone who reads. Full stop, no patronizing parameters allowed. Hearing a story read by someone else, reading long novels, reading small paragraphs at a time, choosing books with more pictures than words – all of this is done by one reader. A lot of people have an image of a reader like someone wearing glasses, hunched over a book with three others stacked beside them, the titles of “classics” floating around their heads – but it is 2021. It’s 2021. there are so many more ways to read than ever before, and all of them are valid.

With young children, it is imperative that adults and educators work very hard to identify positive reading experiences. Literacy skills develop at different rates. Around school age, children begin to separate into groups of learners with different strengths, and children who struggle with the mechanics of reading may retreat into shame and frustration. This is a time when many children stop identifying themselves as readers. This is also around the time when many teachers and parents are starting to demand that students put away comic books and picture books and only choose “real” novels to fill their reading journals and their books. DEAR time. A not-so-sweet reminder: it’s all real. We spend a lot of time teaching young readers the mechanics of reading without devoting a lot of instruction to pleasure reading. If a young reader chooses a book he doesn’t like, does he think he doesn’t like reading? These suggestions should help develop a reading habit that allows for many possibilities for enjoyment.

Celebrate a reading habit with audiobooks

It’s one of my favorite ways to build a reading habit with kids. When you listen to an audiobook, your hands can do so many different things. Many adults tend to listen to audiobooks while doing household chores, driving, or exercising. With children, the possibilities expand from there. As an elementary librarian, I like to prepare building materials and coloring sheets, then read an audiobook for students to listen to while they work. Despite the fact that the reader does not manually decode the phonetics or chain sentences, listening to audiobooks strengthens expression aloud and increases vocabulary. Most importantly, it allows readers to enjoy a story, regardless of their current literacy skills. Check out the audiobook archives to find so many great suggestions.

Celebrate a reading habit with comics and graphic novels

Graphic novels are by far the most widely distributed books in my elementary library. Over the past four years, I have had to design a completely separate section of our piles to meet demand. In correlation, I have also dealt with many teachers and parents who wish to limit the frequency with which children consult graphic novels. It opened my eyes to hear phrases like “below grade” and “too old for pictures”. Adults who use these phrases have good intentions and honestly believe that they are directing the children in their lives to more appropriate choices. But if a book doesn’t make a child uncomfortable or scared, then there is no inappropriate choice. Comics and graphic novels are captivating, enthralling and precious, and if they get kids excited to read, how can anyone frown on it?

Celebrate a reading habit with magazines

Print magazines are certainly less important than they were a few years ago, but there are still plenty of great children’s titles that make for an exciting reading time. With very little commitment, young people can flip through a magazine and browse articles or even small snippets on a page. This helps readers develop a sense of what interests them, and allows them to dive in and out of the topic without tedious bookshelf markers and carts. Magazines are designed to be exciting and eye-catching: display them where kids can see them and watch them gravitate.

Celebrate a reading habit with game books and encyclopedias

Video games are huge, and that sometimes comes at the expense of a reading habit. This is simply not the case. Gaming-themed fiction and non-fiction books are huge right now and don’t motivate reluctant readers much like something with Minecraft or Fortnite in the title. I really appreciate the fact that there are fiction series at many different literacy levels that draw inspiration from video game universes, but non-fiction textbooks and encyclopedias are equally in demand. It reminds me of how there was always a clamor to check the Guinness Book of World Records when I was in elementary school. It makes sense! Interesting images, a topic with built-in background knowledge, and easily recognizable short blocks of text. It’s another chance to attract a kid who doesn’t feel like a reader’s image. Don’t miss it.


It’s okay not to like to read. Reading a book is not inherently better than watching TV, just as it is not inherently better to eat salad than a sandwich. If young people have benefited from a variety of interesting and personalized literacy options and are still not drawn to reading as a hobby, it is fine. Preferences are preferences and knowing what you really value is a powerful thing in this world. When it comes to reading, remember to keep an open mind and have fun. Make sure you give yourself and the people you influence a healthy dose before you cancel it altogether.

For more help motivating kids to read, check out these kids reading games and tips for promoting children’s literacy at home.

About Marion Alexander

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