Discussing Books with Kids: How to Foster Valuable Conversations

a dad holds a yellow book while smiling at his young daughter

Have you ever had a conversation like this in your home? 

Parent: How’s your book?

Child: It’s good. 

Parent: Why is it good?

Child: I don’t know. I just like it. 

Talking with our kids about a book they are reading can peter out before the conversation even starts. Why? The questions we ask, what we know about the book, and the way we hold discussions all matter. Good discussions are all about connection, and if there is one thing we homeschoolers do well, it's connecting with our children.

Looking for ways to having rich, meaningful discussions around the books your homeschoolers read? Here are some of my favorite ways to create conversations. 

1. Read the Books Your Kids are Reading

It’s pretty hard to have a conversation about a book you don’t know anything about. We can ask questions, but the heart of a discussion lives in everyone being somewhat informed. 

If you can’t read the books your kids are reading, find summaries. The more you know about the book, the richer our conversation will be. 

2. Ask Open-ended Questions

Questions that have a right or wrong answer, that elicit a one-word answer, or that don’t spark interest will not get our kids talking about books. The questions we ask need to invite them to think about their opinions, the world around them, and who they are as a person.

Try questions like these:

  • What do you like about this character?
  • What is something that annoys you about this story? 
  • Why do you think the character made that decision?
  • What would you have done in the character’s place? 

3. Use Reading Strategies

Reading strategies are tools that help readers think beyond the basic plot of a story. Use reading strategies to craft your questions and discussions: 

  • Predict: Discuss what is going to happen next. Find evidence in the novel to support your predictions. 
  • Connect: Discuss how you each relate to the characters, conflict, or setting. 
  • Question: Discuss what you’re wondering? What doesn’t make sense? What does the author not tell us?
  • Comment: Discuss your opinions. What do you think, like, dislike? 
  • Infer: Discuss what you know by reading between the lines. What are the clues that support your findings? 

4. Model Excitement About Reading

Modeling excitement is one of the best ways to create conversation because the more excited we are about reading, the more our kids will be. 

This next tip may sound silly, but it works! While you’re reading in earshot of your kids, react audibly to your book.

  • Laugh loudly when you get to a funny part.
  • Gasp loudly at a scary part.
  • Shout, "What?!" when you reach a shocking part.  

Discussing Books with Kids: How to Foster Valuable ConversationsWhen we express what’s going on in our head while we’re reading, our excitement does a couple of things. If you’re reading independently, it sparks interest. Your kids are going to want to know what is so funny or unbelievable, which will spark discussion. If you’re reading out loud together, it’s a great place to stop and discuss what’s going on or how they are feeling. 

5. Create Conversation Midstream

While adults often wait until they have finished a book to discuss it, this isn’t always best to do with kids and teens. They need conversation throughout. It will help them stay interested, make sure they are understanding what is happening, and dig deeper. 

If I’m reading out loud with my kids, we’ll stop and discuss when we’ve ingested a lot of information, get to a really important part, when they are starting to get antsy, before we read and after. 

If we’re reading the same book independently, I try to create a conversation (even a small one) before and after we read each day. The discussion questions in each BookShark Instructor's Guide give you perfect conversation starters if this doesn't come naturally to you.

6. Be Truly Interested

Have you ever tried to talk to someone who was looking at their phone or not focused at all on the conversation? It can make us feel pretty small and unimportant. Discussions are conversations. They should look like people paying attention, listening, and truly being interested in what the other person is saying. If you don’t find the books your kids are reading interesting, remind yourself that you are interested in your child and helping them learn. (Or switch to a curriculm full of fascinating books!) 

7. Have Real Conversations

Books invite us into real-world problems, historical mishaps, conflicts, and so many lessons. Use a character’s flaws, values, and problems to discuss the best ways to handle struggle and conflict. Books can be wonderful ways to introduce and create conversations around hard topics. Create conversations that are meaningful and go beyond merely discussing a book for school. 

If you have ever had a really good conversation with a friend about a book, you know the power of discussion, of lifting up the characters you liked, what you each thought and wondered. We can have these same types of conversations with our children. Draw out the topics they are interested in and can relate to, ask questions that spark opinions and more questions, and get excited about what will happen next. Your kids will follow suit and you’ll be digging in and having valuable discussions with them before you know it. 

See BookShark Reading with History Programs

About the Author

Kelly Sage of Curiosity Encouraged

Kelly left teaching middle and high school English to homeschool her children and reclaim how she and her family spent their time. Followers of interest-led learning, her family's days rarely look the same, but they tend to include a lot of books, art supplies, and time outside.

Kelly facilitates local writing circles for women and children and blogs about nurturing the love of learning on her blog, Curiosity Encouraged. She loves to journal, read memoirs, hike, and travel. She seeks quiet mornings and good coffee daily.