4 Mistakes I Made Trying to Raise a Middle School Reader

by Kari Ness Riedel

Photo credit: JGI/Tom Grill, Blend Images/Getty Images

As a self-proclaimed book lover, raising kids who love to read is a high priority. As soon as my son, Gabe, was born, snuggling up with a book at bedtime became an important ritual for us. He was an early reader, and throughout elementary school, he spent hours poring over books every week. When he entered middle school, however, his interest in reading for fun declined dramatically.

Here are a few mistakes I’ve made in my efforts to ensure he continues to read for pleasure as he gets older — and some adjustments that our family is making together to correct them.

Mistake #1: Not making time for reading.

Like many kids today, Gabe is busy. He plays competitive baseball, he’ll soon be a Kuk Sool Won black belt, and he has a considerable amount of homework every night. These passions and interests make him happy, but they’re time-consuming. It seems like there’s little time left for reading, especially since “read for 20 minutes” is no longer in his evening homework assignment as it was in elementary school.

My mistake was in accepting this busyness and not encouraging him to find the time to read. Recently, we did a family assessment of what we value and compared it with how we spend our time. Reading and learning about the world were at the top of our values list, so we looked more closely at Gabe’s schedule to see where he could find extra time to read. Those 15 minutes on Instagram, the 45 minutes watching baseball videos on YouTube, that half-hour waiting for his brother to finish practice — all were potential opportunities to read. We now help Gabe identify those windows of time and use them to work in additional reading.

Mistake #2: Pushing my literary interests instead of his.

Gabe and I shared a love of the Harry Potter series, so I assumed he would jump on my recommendation to read The Mysterious Benedict Society. Um, no. He became interested in that book only when his friend told him about it. For a while, I pushed classics and other books I wanted him to read, but was continually met with disinterest and even opposition in return. Wrong approach. What does work is making time for him to browse the shelves at our local bookstore and library and encouraging him to talk with friends about what they’re reading. Also, honoring his interests and what he wants to read — dystopian sci-fi and magazines like Sports Illustrated Kids, for example — has gotten better results than my pushing him toward books I think he should read. Seeing the power of peer recommendations even led me to create Bookopolis, a digital platform where kids can swap book recommendations with friends and explore peer reviews to find books they are excited to read.

Mistake #3: Not reading aloud to a child who knows how to read.

Before my son could read independently, read-aloud time with Mom was as important as tooth-brushing to our evening routine. We went through hundreds and hundreds of picture and chapter books. As Gabe learned to read, I initially rejoiced in my moments of freedom while he read alone. But when he stopped choosing reading as an activity to do on his own, I realized that, in addition to giving us precious family bonding time, reading together had actually increased his personal enthusiasm for books. Starting a book together was often the hook he needed to get sufficiently interested in the characters and the plot to then read the rest of the story on his own.

Mistake #4: Valuing tidiness over access to books.

I hate clutter. A couple of years ago, in an attempt to clean up, I moved every “kid book” in the house to one bookshelf in my children’s bedroom. The living room and the dining room were neater, but I found this actually reduced my kids’ reading. The “a-ha” moment came when I was running a used book drive for our school. We had several messy, overflowing boxes of books in our living room. My son would plop down on the couch, peer into the box, pull something out … and start reading!

We know that access to books is crucial for children’s development, and getting books to lower-income families who can’t afford them and to rural kids who live far from libraries should be a major public priority. But we can also make “access” to books a priority within our own homes — and this was a form of access I could influence. Needless to say, reading material is no longer limited to one room, but instead lives in every corner of our house so that my kids can find it and peruse it whenever (and wherever!) the mood strikes.


What mistakes have you made in trying to get your kids to read? How have you fixed them?