When my kids were little, I read to them every night. And even when they weren’t so little.
But they’re older now and not as interested in my storytelling, no matter how many different animated voices I’m willing to use.
Our schools and library have reading “competitions” to win various prizes. Those sometimes worked when they were in primary school, but earned the classic middle-school eye-rolls the last time I tried.
So now that the magic of those incentives died off, and they don’t want to hear my voice any more than they have to, what’s a mom to do?
Without any nagging, begging or threatening, I’ve come up with five sneaky (one may say “passive-aggressive”) methods to promote literacy around my house.
1. Put subtitles on all the TVs
One night my oldest, who has dyslexia and avoids reading at all cost, convinced me that watching an episode of The Simpsons with subtitles counted for the 20 minutes of free reading he was supposed to be doing. I let him get away with it because I award bonus points for creativity and a well-played negotiation.
But it got me thinking. Why not put subtitles on all our TVs? And so I did. And now my kids are getting some extra reading in without even realizing it. For my kiddo with learning differences, there’s a benefit to hearing and seeing words at the same time. I have no concrete evidence that my children have jumped into higher reader groups due to closed captioning, but it can’t hurt.
As a bonus, I’ve found that I actually catch a lot more of the dialogue when watching movies now. Think about it: how often have you had to rewind in order to catch an actor’s mumbles? Or you know you missed something, but you just let it play on anyway?
2. Play word games that are actually fun
When you think of word games, you probably jump to Scrabble or Boggle. Maybe even Bananagrams. And those are awesome word-play games.
Yet, they’re headache-inducing for my reluctant reader.
But have you played Apples to Apples? It’s silly and fun, and yes, there’s still plenty of reading. Balderdash is another of my personal favorites.
Find what games are fun for your crew. The key thing to remember: It doesn’t have to be a bona fide word game to involve some extra reading. There are so many options: Life, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit. If they don’t like one, try something else.
I also leave it to the kids to scour the instruction manual if there’s a question or challenge about the rules.
3. Leave interesting materials in conspicuous places
I figured this out by accident.
I used to pull the comics section out of the Sunday newspaper so my son could play the spot-the-difference picture games he loves. But I noticed that if I lazily left the comics lying around for a couple of days, he’d inevitably end up reading each strip, a couple at a time in between setting the dinner table and feeding the dog or over breakfast.
Feeding off my son’s love for The Simpsons, I grabbed a few Bart and Homer comic books the next time I was at Goodwill. I planted those in the bathroom.
Then for our next long road trip, I pulled out the big guns: Calvin and Hobbes.
Simply putting these visually appealing, interesting reading materials in my sons’ line of sight, they’ve inevitably picked them up, paged through them and asked for more.
My oldest, the one who supposedly hates to read, has polished off every Calvin and Simpsons collection I could find. My youngest now reads the newspaper comics nearly every day and has two monthly comic book subscriptions of his own.
4. Trick them with audiobooks
I love audiobooks. I listen to them with headphones while I fold laundry or exercise. But if I had a book playing in my car, I’d used to turn it off when the boys were with me.
But on one road trip, we listed to Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime as a family, and my boys couldn’t get enough. The story was insightful, engaging and hilarious, plus the narrator (Trevor himself) was highly entertaining.
Since then, I’ve kept the audiobooks playing when they’re around. Even though they rarely hear a book from start to finish with me, they’ve caught parts of Educated and Becoming, my most recent reads, which piqued their interests and gave us something to talk about later.
Experts widely agree that being read to—whether it’s by your parent, your teacher or Trevor Noah—is a strong promoter of literacy.
5. Don’t let them watch the movie until they read the book
This is my strictest reading rule. My oldest read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series this way, then A Series of Unfortunate Events and eventually The Hate U Give. The rule encouraged my youngest to devour the entire Hunger Games series, and we all cheered him on as we eagerly awaited watching each new installment.
Despite all my efforts, my oldest will still tell you he hates to read—right after he happily listens to a chapter of my book, watches a three-hour movie with subtitles, packs Mad Libs for camp, and asks me to order another graphic novel. Perhaps he’s bought into the idea that unless you’re reading a thick, boring tome, you’re not really reading. I won’t tell him if you won’t!