How to Motivate Your Kids to Read Without Prizes

a boy sits on floor in front of a bookshelf
Parents have been trying to bribe their kids to read more often for ages. Reading is often seen as a sign of intelligence, but more so, reading expands our horizons. In addition, we are told as parents that our kids should be reading a certain amount every day. And so the pressure is on to entice our kids to read or force them to read.

But we don’t merely want our kids to read, we want them to love reading. We want them to love reading like we love reading. So how do we share our passion for reading with them?

Well, not with prizes. Sadly, studies show that prizes actually decrease kids' reading time. As counterintuitive as it is, we shouldn't offer stickers or ice cream for every 10th book read. The one exception is prizes that are somehow related to reading. For example, giving a child a book is fairly successful as a prize. Let’s be honest though; a prize of a book won’t be that enticing to a child who doesn’t already love reading. Here are five ways to entice your child to read more.

Let Them Go Wild at the Library

I don’t mean that you should let them run and scream in the library. But let them go wild with an absurd amount of books, interjecting as little parental censorship as you can tolerate. Try to overlook the twaddle they select, knowing that the silly books may be a bridge to more complex reading in the future.

Sometimes being allowed to check out a massive stack of books is exciting. After a library book binge, my kids love to sit and browse their stacks; they are so excited about the new books that they don't consciously realize they’re reading.

How to Motivate Your Kids to Read Without Prizes

Read With Them

Even if they are capable readers, read with your children. Pick a book and read aloud to them. Find connection in books. Choose a homeschool curriculum like BookShark that centers around great living books that the family enjoys together.

If you have younger kids, let them choose pictures books to read with you. Try to make reading an enjoyable part of the routine. Then, even when they are older, they will want to keep reading.

Have a Reading Party

For younger kids, collect a tall stack of books and read as many as they want. For older kids, take a day off from other school work to just relax and read. They may enjoy the break and be more willing to just crack open a book when you are putting aside all of the other bookwork for a reading party. You might even try to make a snack that is related to the book you’re reading or tie in a related move later in the day.

Keep a Reading Journal

When my kids were younger, we had a visual reading journal. It was in the shape of a train with each new book added as a train car. They were motivated to read new books just to add more train cars to the journal.

For older kids, writing the book titles and authors down to create a list may be motivational. Seeing that list grow longer and longer can give kids a sense of accomplishment.

Leave Books Everywhere

Scatter those flashy books that catch their attention. You know your children best. What do they enjoy? If they like sharks, find a book with a shark on the cover. Get a book that will grab their attention. And then leave the books places where they can be found:

  • on the couch
  • on the counter
  • next to the bed
  • in the morning basket
  • in the bathroom
  • in the van

Kids often don’t want to be told what to do, so let them find the books themselves and read of their own initiative.

Use the Two Chapter Rule

What about kids who don’t want to try new books? When my son was seven, he refused to let me read him any new chapter book. When we would finish one chapter book, he wouldn’t choose a new book or let me choose one. So we created the two chapter rule. We pick a new book, and we have to read two chapters. After two chapters, we can give up and pick a different book.

In the three years since we’ve adopted this rule, we only had to abandon one book. He no longer fights new books, either.

I’ve talked with other parents who have tried reading in new places. Some kids don’t like to sit while being read to, so try letting them do something while you reading. Read to them while they’re eating, taking a bath (with their permission), playing with play-dough, drawing/coloring, etc.

See BookShark Reading with History Programs