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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

To read or not to read: what is the motivation?

January 30, 2008

Motivating children to read is a topic of great concern for many, so when I was recently asked about it I started thinking about why I — or any adult — read (or not) and what this may teach us about the kids in our lives.

One thing I know is that people of any age tend not to do what's excessively difficult, incomprehensible to them, or simply not fun. For me, the topic may be dull or maybe it's just that I don't know the subject which makes the decoding difficult.

In any case, a lot has been written about motivation. But what can we learn from our own experiences?

Michaela loves the beach. So when Bats at the Beach (Houghton) was read to her by her adoring grandmother, the not-quite three-year-old asked that it be read to her over and over until she could recite it verbatim. Not only did the subject of the book appeal, but she also had a caring adult who shared it with her.

Something in Where the Wild Things Are (HarperCollins) spoke to three-and-a-half year old Nicky who could soon recite the book word for word, adding sound effects for the pages with no text.

Third grader Kayla spent so much time decoding words that she simply didn't have the energy left to read for meaning or pleasure. That seemed to begin to change with a book that had familiar characters from a television show. It seems that Kayla built on this familiarity.

Kayla is now in fifth grade; Nicky is heading to high school. Both are honor students and read for pleasure as well for school. Michaela is really ready to read and will probably start before she gets to first grade.

Seems what each of these children have in common are books that somehow "spoke" to them. Add to that a caring adult, and they seemed to find inspiration. With inspiration comes motivation. But at the heart of their motivation are books.


It's hard to say what triggers a kid into reading. The book is important; that adult might be more important, and peers who read might be more important still. My son was way behind on letter recognition and pre-reading skills until a younger friend came to visit and brought his books along. After that visit, his interest in reading took off and he's now a reading fiend. I don't think it was competition (he's not really a competitive kid), as much as communion that triggered it.Great obversation and stories. Keep exposing the kids to different books, and different reading situations.

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"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan