4. Motivating Kids to Read

One of the goals of Rx for Reading is to motivate children to read. Motivation plays a key role in a child’s developing literacy. As Guthrie and Wigfield write, “a person reads a word or comprehends a text not only because she can do it, but because she is motivated to do it” (“Engagement and Motivation in Reading” 404). Children who become motivated to read on their own are more successful readers than those who read only when compelled. The amount of time a child or teenager spends reading is one of the best predictors of his or her reading success (Bridges; Children’s Literacy Foundation). Reading for school and leisure reading complement one another: leisure reading “has been shown to improve students’ comprehension, vocabulary development, general knowledge, and empathy for others,” as well as readers’ “motivation and self-confidence” in reading (International Reading Association). In a study of reading in 64 countries, the Program for International Student Assessment found that “students who enjoyed reading the most performed significantly better than students who enjoyed reading the least” (Gambrell 172). Engaged reading can also greatly counteract a child’s low family income and educational background: “Engaged readers can overcome obstacles to achievement, and they become agents of their own reading growth” (Guthrie and Wigfield 404-05).

A child’s love of books is not innate–it is usually nurtured by the specific actions of parents, teachers, other caregivers, and community programs (Leonhardt, 99 Ways to Get Kids to Love Reading 9). The way we present books to children is one way to nurture their engagement as readers. In general, children are most motivated to read books when they select books themselves and are encouraged to read in informal settings. In fact, 80% of students in one survey reported that their favorite books were those they had selected themselves (Children’s Literacy Foundation). When children choose their own reading, they are more likely to make an effort in their reading and to develop a better understanding of books (Gambrell 175). Research has found that when children read extensively and independently, they “consolidate their reading skills and strategies [learned at school] and come to own them” (Bridges). For example, sending 4 or 5 self-selected books home with children over the summer has been shown to help students retain knowledge and may even be more effective than summer school. The correlation between reading motivation and self-selecting books informs the approach of programs like Rx for Reading, which provides small libraries from which children can choose their own books, in settings that children frequent in their everyday lives, such as doctors’ offices and community centers.

When they are encouraged to select their own reading material, children appreciate being offered a wide range of books from which to choose. As Gambrell writes, giving children many choices signals to them that there are plenty of reading options available, and that reading is highly valued by those who are presenting the books (“Seven Rules of Engagement” 172). (However, children who struggle with reading may be overwhelmed by options or may choose books at an inappropriately difficult reading level–such children may benefit from a “bounded choice,” in which a more experienced reader presents a few customized options from which they can choose (Gambrell 175)). Children are most motivated to read books that are interesting and relevant to their personal experiences, and are most engaged by reading activities that stress the real-world connections between books and their lives (Gambrell 172; Guthrie and Wigfield 410-12). In contexts like school or summer camps, adults can support students’ motivation to read by allowing them time to talk about their leisure reading with their peers, without being evaluated (Gambrell 175; International Reading Association). Collaborative activities surrounding reading help children to feel more engaged and help to facilitate their understanding of books (Guthrie and Wigfield 413).

Bibliography and Recommended Reading