Jenna Bush Hager says her favorite part of the day is reading with her kids.
“We read every night together as a family,” Jenna tells TODAY.com. First, she reads to Hal, her 3-year-old son. Then, she and daughter Poppy, 7, take turns reading out loud. Finally, Jenna reads side-by-side with Mila, 10.
“Teaching a kid or watching a kid learn how to read is evolutionarily one of the most beautiful things that can happen as a parent,” Jenna says.
But actually getting kids to read in a world of smartphones and tablets is no easy feat.
Below, Jenna shares the tactic she uses to integrate reading into her kids' lives, from modeling reading herself to finding exciting on-screen and live adaptations.
Of course, finding the right books is another essential part of the process — and TODAY has you covered on that front. Jenna hand-selected 24 books for 2023’s Read With Jenna Jr. list, geared at a variety of young readers. “Above all, I tried to find books that would be impossible to put down,” Jenna says.
Tip 1: Model reading
Jenna’s biggest piece of advice? Demonstrate your own love of reading for your children.
“I’m not worried about raising a reader because we model reading all the time,” the avid bookworm says. “They’ll come into my room, and I’ll be reading.”
Clinical psychologist Dr. Carly Claney tells TODAY.com that modeling reading is effective since children often mimic their primary caregivers' behavior.
“When parents show enthusiasm for reading and frequently engage in reading activities themselves, children are more likely to view reading as an enjoyable and important activity,” Claney told TODAY.com.
Tip 2: Create a reading-focused space
Jenna says that when it comes to her own reading schedule, her phone is her biggest distraction.
“I find that myself, if I have my phone nearby me, I won’t read as much,” she says.
She says her kids, who don't have personal electrics quite yet, face similar issues with TV.
“I think one of the things that is happening with kids is that there’s so much distraction, whether it’s streaming, television, YouTube, electronics,” Jenna says.
As a result, Jenna gets most of her own reading done in her "technology-free room," where no electronics are allowed — and so do her kids.
Claney says the right space can be conducive to reading.
“Comfortable, well-lit areas with easy access to a variety of books can make reading more appealing,” Claney says. “This space should be free from distractions such as excessive noise or screens.”
Tip 3: Discover and explore your child’s interests
If you want your child to read, then figure out what books your child would like to read, Jenna says.
This tip is also backed by psychologists. “If a child is reading about a topic they enjoy, or they think the plot is of interest, they will have an easier time maintaining attention since the topic is exciting, stimulating and of interest to them,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff tells TODAY.com.
“Interest also helps with recall, because if they enjoy the topic, they can do a better job of recalling what they have read,” she adds.
For tailored recommendations from the experts, Jenna says to frequent your local library or bookstore.
“Whether it’s sports, skateboarding, romances, fantasy, world-building books — whatever it is — find what they love and go to your library and ask your local librarian for books in those genres,” Jenna says.
And check out our 2023 Read with Jenna Jr. recommendation list, with a variety of options ranging from different age groups and genres.
Tip 4: Find books with compelling adaptations
Yes, screens can be a distraction when it comes to getting your kids to read more — but for Jenna, they're also a useful tool.
“Something I’ve done with Mila is that we get the pleasure of watching movies, or television shows based on the books she’s read,” Jenna says.
Jenna said Mila is excited to see a few favorite stories take shape in different formats.
“She read the whole 'Harry Potter' series, so we might get to see it on Broadway,” Jenna says. “She’s read 'The Series of Unfortunate Events,' now she’s watching the Netflix series.”