20 ideas to boost children’s reading skills (that don’t involve them reading books!)

There’s no doubt that if you want to boost children’s reading skills the best thing you can do is to encourage them to read. Lots and lots. boost children's readingBut not all children are quick to discover a love of books and many children (especially boys) go through periods when reading books just doesn’t float their boat (see Books to make boys love reading!).

When pushing your child to read books is more painful than pulling teeth, it’s time to find some new ideas to engage them in reading! Books are not the only way to boost children’s reading skills and inspire them with a love of words and stories.

Here’s 20 ways parents can help boost children’s reading skills that don’t involve them actually reading books:

1. Comics, magazines and newspapers

Reading material doesn’t have to come in book form. Good quality comics contain great stories in accessible formats. Children often find comics and magazines less intimidating and more enticing than books. Does your child like football? What about the sports pages in the newspaper? Are they passionate about cars? What about a car magazine? You don’t have to spend a fortune – monthly magazines can often be found in libraries, or why not swap comics with other families when you’ve finished with them?

2. Word searches

Word searches encourage word recognition, support spelling and can also introduce new vocabulary. There are lots of free printable word searches for children online (try Activity Village or Puzzle Club or Kids Puzzles and Games). Many of them are graded for different ability levels or themed for special occasions like Christmas or Easter.

3. Board games

There are some classic board games such as Scrabble and Boggle which are all about words. But many strategy-based board games involve an element of reading. To boost children’s reading without them even noticing, think Monopoly or Totopoly for primary-aged children or Talisman for tweens and teens.

4. Riddles, jokes and brain teasers

Does your child like to make people laugh? What about memorising riddles, jokes or brain teasers? There are lots of free printable kids jokes online to be read and memorised!

5. Listen to an audio story

If you want to inspire your child with a love of words and stories, then listening to an audio book might be the way to do it. Often read superbly by fabulous actors or actresses, audio books may not actually involve reading but they can help boost children’s reading skills through exposure to new words, good writing, exciting story lines and interesting characters.

6. Product reviews

Has your child got some pocket money or birthday money to spend? Are you thinking of investing in a new car, camera, laptop or TV? Many tweens and teens love reading product reviews – especially when there is a real decision to be made about which product to buy. Encourage them to read up on gadgets, toys and bikes before deciding which one is best. It will also teach them to be financially savvy!

7. Make a comic strip

Constructing stories is a great way for children to learn about stories and characters. They might not want to write a story, but planning and drawing a short comic strip involves a similar process. Younger children can cut out pictures, choose an order and add simple speech bubbles. For children who don’t enjoy drawing, there are lots of websites that enable them to make a comic strip online (try Pixton or Toondoo).

8. Word games

No preparation required and great for filling bored moments! Classics such as I Spy, the Alphabet Game, “I went to the Shops and I bought”, the Yes/No game and Storylines are all brilliant for learning phonics, words, spelling and sentence structure. Type ‘word games for car journeys’ into Google and you’ll find lots of new ones too!

9. Cooking from a recipe

I love reading cookery books. There are some great cookery books using simple language for younger children, and older ones will enjoy leafing through whatever you have on your kitchen shelf. Why not let them look through and choose what they’d like to make, then make the shopping list of ingredients? Most children require an element of supervision when cooking or baking, but remember to step back, let them read and follow the recipe for themselves and only help when they need it. (Can also be combined with idea No. 18: Supermarket Shopping!)

10. Secret codes

There is something about writing and cracking coded messages that children love! They can make up their own code, or you can download code buster activities to get them going (see Activity Village or Grandparents.com). Remember to join in and write messages to them too!

11. Research projects

Boys especially like there to be a practical application to what they read. Set them a research project (constructing a wormery, building a tree house, making a bird box, digging a pond) and they often end up reading extensively as part of the research and planning. Choose something that really lights their fire and be prepared with some interesting websites and reading materials (so they don’t just turn to YouTube!).

12. Famous speeches

For tweens and teens who are interested in history or current affairs, famous speeches can be fascinating texts. Even if they choose to watch them online rather than reading them, encountering famous speeches can boost children’s reading by introducing them to different patterns of speech and to persuasive language and emphasis through literary techniques such as repetition and alliteration. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is a great place to start!

13. Treasure hunts

You can do DIY treasure hunts at home, or many museums have treasure hunts as part of their children’s activities in the school holidays. Make sure there is a suitable prize or incentive at the end and they won’t even realise they are reading all those clues!

14. Design a crossword

Children can design their own template or you’ll find lots of blank crosswords online. They’ll need to choose the words, spell them correctly and write the clues. Make lots of copies so they can test out their crossword on different people!

15. Educational websites

I do think there is a place for online learning tools, as long as this is balanced by lots of other activities. Choose reputable sites (such as BBC Bitesize or Primary Games) or ask your child’s teacher for a recommendation.

16. Graphic novels

I know these are actually books, but graphic novels often manage to engage reluctant readers who don’t find a whole page of words appealing. Not only do graphic novels boost children’s reading, they often provide a bridge to a love of reading which inspires children to move on to text-only books. Try to look for graphic novels that are specifically aimed at children or teenagers – mainstream graphic novels (eg Marvel) can contain very adult themes so vet these carefully. Many popular children’s books (such as the Alex Rider and Percy Jackson series) are now also available in graphic novel format.

17. Poems and limericks

Memorising poems is great for children’s brains. Maybe don’t head straight for Wordsworth – try funny poems and rhymes or scary ones that they can really put some gusto into performing! You could get them to video themselves too!

18. Supermarket shopping

Lists, labels, ingredients, aisle signs, special offers – the opportunities for reading in a supermarket are almost endless!

19. Go to the theatre

As well as learning about stories and characters and dialogue, going to the theatre provides other incidental reading opportunities such as reading the programme and following signs which all help boost children’s reading skills without them noticing. Can be turned into a research project (see No. 11) if you get the kids involved in choosing the play and planning the travel!

20. Make sure you read too!

There is lots of evidence that shows that when children see their parents reading books, they are much more likely to read books too. Let your kids see you reading a wide range of materials. And don’t forget to read to them – even older children can enjoy a snuggle with their parents and a book. As they get older, choose more challenging books and read them in instalments (I recommend Watership Down as a great read aloud book!).

Do you have experience with a reluctant reader? What tips would you share?

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©Anita Cleare 2015

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26 thoughts on “20 ideas to boost children’s reading skills (that don’t involve them reading books!)

  1. Aimee Foster

    There are some really good and original suggestions there – thank you! I’ve just been through the daily battle of trying to get my daughter to read her school book so this came at the right time!

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      Thanks Lara! I’m sure that teachers would have lots more to add to this list! I like these because I think they are do-able at home for parents. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Todd Lollar

    This is so good! Thank you for the creative ways to spur my son on to read when he gets of age. Thi also stirred an idea of when my son starts to color pictures, to have him tell a story to me about the picture. i found you on The List

  3. Jude Hurrell

    Fab list, all good stuff for my reluctant reader, will definitely be trying out a few of these ideas. Thanks. #thelist

  4. Hannah Parker

    Oh wow, what a great set of ideas! Gabriella, my 9-year old step-daughter, is a bit of a reluctant reader but she loves to read to Reuben and if you get her something that feels a bit grown up, like one of those magazines (it was just 17 in my day!), she’ll read it from cover to cover. Especially anything to do with quizzes.

    Great post! Thanks for linking up to #TheList xxx

  5. Kirsten Toyne

    This is a great list Anita. My youngest loves to read but it has been harder work with my eldest. word searches, making up stories and play games that include reading have all been employed. To be honest he is now naturally getting into it more because the books he can read now appeal to him. At last!! Kirsten

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      It’s important to take the long view isn’t it, and to remember that the aim is to inspire them with a love of reading not just to make them read the next book on the reading scheme!

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      Thanks Philippa! I was really surprised when my son got into the sports pages in the paper but I guess because the articles are short (and he really likes football!) he found them much more appealing than a whole book.

  6. Lucy

    My son is 3. He has started taking a real interest in street signs – we stand and look at them and sound out the letters. He gets really excited if there’s a W as this is his initial – and he also likes seeing a ‘D for daddy’. My daughter learnt to read numbers looking at the numbers on people’s doors. Now she can read she loves reading cereal packets on the breakfast table and posters and shop awnings wherever we go – the first word she recognised was ‘Tesco’!

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      Oh my goodness – Tesco was one of my son’s first recognised words too! He also used to take an interest in the big poster adverts when we were walking along the pavement or waiting at the bus stop!

  7. Catherine

    Some great suggestions here. I think that number 20 is one of the most important and why I have resisted reading on a Kindle, I want my daughter to see me reading real books 🙂


  8. Erica Price

    My son is generally a real bookworm, but he went through a phase for a while when he read less and we used graphic novels quite successfully to keep his interest up.

  9. BookBairn

    With my teacher hat on I want all the parents of my class to read this! With my mummy hat on I think you have hit the nail on the head and I can’t wait for BookBairn to get reading herself (although that is still sometime away!). Great post! #readwithme


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