How To Motivate Your Child To Read

reading motivation

A couple of weeks ago, I began searching for an article that can help give me insight into motivation and reading. What motivates our children to read for pleasure?” As a child, reading was always a fun activity for me. I loved story time, book clubs and always had a book in my hand from the time that I was in 2nd grade.  When I was growing up, my only real distraction from reading with regard to electronics was my Atari and commodore 64 and after school activities were kept at a minimum. Homework was moderate and never felt overwhelming till I reached high school.

Raising two children now, there are significant differences in the workload expected at school and home. With the increased load of homework for an early elementary school student (including reading logs, quizzes, etc), there seems to be less and less time for parents and children to have “fun reading time”.

I found an interesting article written by Linda B. Gambrell titled Seven Rules of Engagement, What’s Most Important to Know about Motivation to Read (2011). Linda Gambrell is a distinguished professor of education in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson University.

What does it mean to be “motivated to read”? According to Gambrell (2011), “Motivation to read can be defined as the likelihood of engaging in reading or choosing to read”. Linda Gambrell (2011) states that “Engaged readers are intrinsically motivated to read for a variety of personal goals, strategic in their reading behaviors, knowledgeable in their construction of new understanding from text, and socially interactive about the reading of text.”

What are Linda Gambrell’s seven rules of engagement? Her rules of engagement were intended for the classroom. I included her rules of engagement but tailored them more towards how parents can use these tips with their own children in the home.

1. Make reading tasks and activities meaningful and relevant to their life. Linda Gambrell suggests that children keep a reading diary of what they read during a self-directed reading time. Gambrell stressed the idea of “helping students find value and meaning in classroom reading tasks and activities”. Also, providing your child with a book that is relevant in their life increases motivation. For example, if your child loves horses, provide books to read that are about horses. As adults we are more inclined to read material that is more relevant to our own lives which in turn makes it motivating and engaging.

2. Give your child access to a variety of reading materials. Give your child access to a variety of books not only on the bookshelf but on the computer, magazines, newspapers, etc.

3. Give your child ample opportunities for sustained reading during the day. The author suggests giving more time during the classroom schedule for self-directed reading. For the home, giving your child down time without electronics can help meet this goal of increasing exposure to books. If you want to label a specific time as “book reading time”, that could work as well.

4. Give your child choices in choosing books. Provide your child with choices about what book they choose to read for pleasure. For some children giving a “bounded choice” is optimal. According to Linda Gambrell (2011), a bounded choice is when a teacher or parent selects a specific amount of books that relates to the individuals students interest and appropriate reading level. For example, a teacher might choose four books that a student might like at the appropriate reading level.

5. Give your child opportunities to socially interact with others about the text. For example, this would be an excellent time to discuss books during mealtime. “Social interaction includes talking about books with others, reading together with others, borrowing and sharing books with others, talking about books with peers in class, and sharing writing about books with others” (Guthrie, Wigfield & Von Secker, 2000).

6. Give opportunities for challenging texts. Linda Gambrell warns that providing a child with texts that are too easy can becoming boring and he or she might lose interest. Texts that are too challenging will not give a child the success that he or she may strive for and will give up sooner. However, when a text is given that is mild to moderately challenging, the child will feel success in being able to read the text. The author discusses how struggling readers often fail in reading not because of a lack of motivation, but the lack of experience in progress and competence.

7. Give incentives that reflect the value of reading. I found this tip to be the most helpful to me as a parent! The author discusses praise and how the appropriate praise can be extremely beneficial and that other praise can actually decrease motivation. She also discusses how using unrelated incentives (such as material items, money, etc.) can decrease a child’s intrinsic motivation to read. Linda Gambrell (2011) states “Sincere and constructive teacher praise and teacher feedback are always closely linked to the desired student behavior, whereas tangible incentives are usually unrelated to the desired behavior”. However, when a reward is linked to reading it can work to improve motivation (e.g. bookmarks, extra time for self directed reading, more books read aloud by the teacher, etc). Although her statements are intended for the classroom bring some of these tips home! For example, motivate your child to read by offering an extra book at bedtime or a book of their choice at breakfast.

Do you want to read the whole article? Check it out here.


Gambrell, L.B. (2011). Seven rules of engagement: What’s most important to know about motivation to read. The Reading Teacher, 65 (3), 172-178

Speak Your Mind