How do I “get” my child to read?! (Part 1)

You’ve noticed by now that the questions the parents here at Gracepoint Berkeley church ask me are pretty much permutations of the same central question. But today I want to focus on the “getting” your child to read. But before you read on, be sure to watch the video from the post about Daniel Pink’s book Drive. You’ll see that my list today focuses mostly on the principle of “autonomy.”

Here is my super long list of ways to get your child to read:

#1 CHOICE. Allow them to choose what they read. If you want them to develop a love for reading, they need to read what they love. Telling them, “Read this. It’s a good book.” will rarely work. Consistent with the human condition, most (if not all) children, especially teens, will not want to read it simply because you recommended it. EVEN if they were thinking of reading it before you said anything. (Even when kids ask me what they should read, I usually give them a stack of books to choose from.)

Resist the temptation to say, “That’s too easy for your grade level” or “You should be* reading _____ by now.” Your child is forced to read books with his or her class, and their teachers are choosing books they deem appropriate for their developmental stage. If reading a book you think is “too easy” for your child gets him or her hooked on reading, maybe even FOR LIFE, it’s totally worth it, wouldn’t you say?

Your child is apt to read more if they feel confident as a reader, so give them the time and space to develop their confidence through reading what they choose. Trust me that in time, they’ll push themselves to read more challenging books. It’s in our nature (future post to follow).

#2 FLOODING. As in a “book flood.” One of the reasons I invested hundreds of dollars (if not more) in my classroom library was because I firmly believe that if kids are surrounded by reading materials of all genres, they are more likely to find something they like, and therefore more likely to read it. What this means for you doesn’t necessarily mean spending hundreds of dollars on books! It might mean making trips to a local bookstore, used bookstore, and/or library, and making that a “thing” you do together.

As a side note, this is the reason I have worked pretty hard at creating a space kids want to be in over at Bibliopolis. I want them to love being there, and definitely want them to be surrounded by books so they’ll always associate books with something special or even slightly magical, or at the very least, something positive!

#3 MODELING. The more your child sees YOU reading for pleasure, they will see reading as a pleasurable activity. You know by now that your kids notice everything you do and say. Sometimes they can even imitate the way you do and say it!  This means that they are aware of your relationship (or non-relationship) with books. Studies around kids and technology reveal that one of the biggest frustrations they have is that their parents are hypocrites when it comes to technology.

The same goes for reading. Your kids know if you’re just telling, or even forcing, them to read, but you never do it yourself. Even though we’re all super busy, please believe me when I say that developing your own reading life, and sharing that with your kids, is one of the most powerful ways you can influence your child to be a reader.

You don’t always have to read aloud to your child, which some feel too pressed for time to do regularly. But what I’m suggesting is a win-win! You can read whatever you’ve been meaning to read** — fiction, non-fiction, apologetics, biographies, poetry — and you can spend time with your kid while they’re reading their book too.

And there you have it. That’s my list. My teaching colleagues often asked me how I got my students to be such book nerds. And I always tell them the above three things. I let my students choose what to read, out of a gazillion books that they have access to right there in the classroom, and I constantly talk about the variety of books I’m reading, regularly doing book talks, asking them about what they’re reading, encouraging lively conversations and even arguments around books, and making it a priority to set aside “sacred time” for silent reading all together (including me) every day.

What strategies or practices have you tried to “get” your child to read? How did you become a reader yourself? Looking forward to sharing our reading successes!




*We impose our “should be’s” on others!

**Try to read something that’s in physical book form.

Online Bibliopolis Schedule & Library Patron Agreements

A quick post to update all of you on a couple resources you can find on this site:

#1 — I’ve added a page called Bibliopolis Fall 2015 Hours. And you guessed it, you can find the Bibliopolis schedule for Fall 2015 there. You can find it at the top next to the About tab.

#2 — Next to that tab, you can find the Library Patron Agreements. It’s a bit of a misnomer, since I made them up, and everyone else is simply forced to agree with them! But it sounds friendlier than “rules.” It’s really the basic stuff like be safe and nice while in the library. But an important thing to note is that patrons may check out up to 3 books at a time for up to 3 weeks. After the 3-week due date passes, there is a $0.05 a day overdue fine. It’s a truly negligible fine, but its purpose is to teach the kids to be responsible and accountable for the books. (If we were to collect any sort of sum of money, it would be used to purchase books for the library.)


Harry Potter Books & Movies Age Guide

As promised, I shall tackle the most commonly asked question from the parents of Gracepoint Berkeley church: “At what age is it ok for my kids to read Harry Potter?” One resource I check for age recommendations for books and movies is Common Sense Media, which is pretty fair. However, I’ve learned that I need to read more carefully as to the reasons for their recommendations. And in the case of Harry Potter, we diverge quite considerably, as you will see if you compare my thoughts with their Harry Potter Age-By-Age Guide, which has them starting at 6 years old.

Going by straight reading levels, some kids might be able to read them starting in 2nd grade, but the question is regarding the themes and content. You know your child the best, so you’ll need to exercise judgement, and consider their reading level, their temperament, how scared they get, how comfortable you are with some mature themes, and so on.

So please regard these as general guidelines to help you in making those decisions.


#1 – Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone: 3rd-4th grade (8-9). This is mainly because it’s a slippery slope, and once a kid starts the series, they’ll want to devour the rest!  Harry and his friends are 11 years old in this book. (Each book covers the duration of the school year.)





#2 – Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets: 3rd -4th grade (8-9). Again, this recommendation is mainly because once a kid reads #1, they will immediately want to read #2, but I would caution every parent to be mindful of book 2. While the book overall remains magical and wonderful, the fact remains that Tom Riddle possesses Ginny, and that’s super scary. Parseltongue can scare kids too. I’ve surveyed some of the older kids, and one said, “I actually thought book 2 was the scariest of all of them.”



harrypotter3#3 – Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban: 4th grade (9-10). More of the same, thematically. The Marauder’s Map is nifty. On the scare alert, dementors make their first appearance in book 3. In general, I encourage you to talk with your kids often about fantasy books they read, so they get a clear sense of what is fantastical (i.e. shape-shifting) and what is realistic.




harrypotter4#4 – Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire: 5th grade (11ish). Harry and his friends are now 14 years old. So while the main plot centers around the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the series takes a decidedly “teen” turn in this book. Harry has a major crush on Cho Chang, and Rowling does a good job describing the overall awkwardness of adolescence. But there’s a whole lot of excitement about who’s going with whom to the Yule Ball, and people getting in trouble for kissing and stuff. And while there are deaths in each of the Harry Potter books, this book has the first death of one of the friends. It’s different from a nemesis being vanquished; this death is really sad and upsetting for readers as well as for Harry and his friends.


harrypotter5#5 – Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix: 6th grade (12ish). As I vented about last week, this book has 15-year-old Harry in the throes of of some teenaged angst and anger. This is also the book where Dumbledore’s Army starts, and the kids get serious about fighting Voldemort. Harry has his first kiss in this book.




harrypotter6 #6 – Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince: 6th-7th grade (12-13ish). Harry and his friends are 16, so expect teen drama. There are “love triangles” and lots of “snogging.” (Which the movie makes the primary focus, rather than the entire story line of the half-blood prince, but I digress.) There are two super sad deaths of beloved characters in this book. And you learn about horcruxes and soul-splitting, so that’s pretty scary, and also an opportunity for interesting conversations with your kid.



harrypotter7 #7 – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: 7th (13ish)Similar to book 6, except more. More deaths. More romance. (And a very memorable, directed swear word that is used to communicate the ferocity of a mother’s love.)




I know that realistically, once a child starts the series, it’ll be hard to stretch it out for five years, if you go according to my age suggestions! So it’s really up to you as a parent, and I strongly recommend having conversations with your child about the books throughout. NOT quizzing them on the books, but just talking about characters and what they’re like, or interesting plot devices — would you want a time-turner? What about Felix Felicis? What do you think about the patronus thing? You could talk about any of the myriad themes around friendship, loyalty, honesty, loneliness, revenge, home, and more.

As for the movies, bear in mind that movies #1-3 are rated PG, and #4-7b are rated PG-13. But I would recommend 3rd grade and up for watching even film #1, since there are frightening elements from the get go. There are adults I know who couldn’t watch any of the films because they would keep replaying some of the scarier scenes, and have trouble sleeping. (Personally, I can’t quite look at Voldemort straight on without cringing. The no-nose thing.)

Again, every child is different, so I hope that this helps a little.

I’d love to hear from some of the parents. How did you determine what age was appropriate for the books and/or movies for your child?