How do you turn any child into a reader? UVA psychology professor Daniel Willingham thinks he knows how.

Willingham, best-selling author of Why Don’t Students Like School?, has recently published Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do. The book takes a look at the research into how the brain learns and combines it with recommendations for parents and teachers to help foster a love of reading in children.

Professor Daniel Willingham
During a recent interview, Willingham shared three of the most important steps he says research shows parents can take to develop readers:

  • Feed ’em Green Eggs and Ham
    It’s tough for young children to hear that a single word is composed of separate sounds, but research shows kids who are able to do it well, before and during kindergarten, will far outpace their peers later on in school. What will help them? Reading books that rhyme, like Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Reciting nursery rhymes and even playing rhyming word games helps too. “All of it helps kids hear that there are words that are similar, like ‘hop’ and ‘pop,’ but are just slightly different,” Willingham says. “It will help them sound words out more quickly and they will gain a stronger fluency.”
  • Head Out to the Museum
    The key to developing reading comprehension is developing background knowledge, Willingham says. Parents should read aloud to their kids, model good reading behavior by opening up the Sunday newspaper and even put a dictionary out that kids can use to look up a word they don’t know. “Trips to the museum are actually a good way to help kids become readers,” Willingham says. “The research shows when it comes to comprehension, having knowledge that is a mile wide and just a few inches deep is actually OK. You need to show your children that this is a family that values learning new things. The more examples of that you give, the better they will be at understanding what they read.”
  • Stick Some Books in the Can
    “Parents have to keep in mind leisure reading is a choice,” Willingham says. “It’s not enough that children like to read, they have to like it more than what’s available.” Do that by making reading the most appealing thing they could be doing. Put books in places where they might be bored. The car and the bathroom are good options. Even put an e-reader on a child’s smartphone, if they have one. And don’t judge what your child picks up to read. “I say in my book, ‘They have to experience hunger before they can develop taste,’” Willingham says. “You aren’t going to get far by disparaging what they choose to pick up. And even try taking reading recommendations from an older child. It shows them that everything in print counts.”

Find Willingham's Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do on Amazon.  Also be sure to check out his web page and Science & Education blog.