Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Are you looking for ways to motivate your child to read more? If so, you’re not alone. Many parents want to encourage their small child to listen to more read-alouds or try new books. And many more struggle to get their kids to read independently or pick up a book more often.

There are many ways to foster book love and get kids to read more—like making reading a central part of a loving relationship with you, choosing books they’ll love, and limiting the distractions of screen time. 

But sometimes all the pieces are in place, and they still need a little nudge to get started, to get over a hump, or to choose reading over other options. In this case, reading incentives can be just the ticket to motivate a child to turn to books more, building up the reading habit.

That’s where reading bingo comes in handy. It’s a fun and playful way to encourage more book time. 

Why Reading Bingo is a Great Reading Incentive

A powerful way to incentivize kids to do anything is to turn it into a game. Finding playful ways to encourage positive behaviors pays off two-fold: in the behavior and in strengthening your parent-child relationship. 

After all, kids love games and they love challenges—challenges they can conquer, that is. This playful challenge is the power of reading bingo for kids. 

Of course, you can also throw in a little additional incentive in the form of simple rewards for completing the bingo challenge if needed. We’ll get into tips on good rewards to use (Hint: no iPads!) later in this post. 

But first, let’s look at how to get started playing reading bingo.

How to Play Reading Bingo 

To play reading bingo, all you need is a grid filled in with a set of reading-related challenges for your child. When they complete a challenge, they get to cross off the square or color it in. Each time they cross off five squares in a row, they win or “get bingo.” Eventually, they can complete the full card.

First, you’ll need a bingo card. As part of our mission to promote literacy for all, the Maya Smart team has created a free reading bingo card you can print at home, available to all our email subscribers.

Our reading bingo card contains 25 challenges for kids to complete, all aimed at turning reading into a game, from “read outside” and “read about animals” to “try a new book.” It’s written to work equally well for parents reading aloud to little ones and for young children reading on their own. 

The game includes an intentional mix of challenges designed to get kids to:

  • read more
  • stretch their reading habits in new directions, and 
  • engage more with others around books. 

Alternatively, you can easily create your own DIY reading bingo card—you’ll find suggestions for tailoring a reading bingo card just for your child later in this post.

Once you have your card, help your child read the challenges and pick an easy one to start them off with success. You might also help them come up with realistic goals about how often they hope to check off squares.

How to Use Reading Rewards to Motivate Reading

The challenge of completing the reading bingo game can be enough to get kids to pick up a book. However, you can also offer a reward for completing the bingo challenge if your child needs an extra push. 

You can offer rewards for getting bingo, for completing a certain number of squares, or for completing the full card.

If you do decide to offer your child one or multiple rewards, it’s best to keep these as simple, healthy, and age-appropriate as possible. No need to buy them an iPad or shower them with candy for reading a book. 

In fact, rewards don’t have to be material or financial at all. Instead, brainstorm things they enjoy or that make them happy, including special privileges or time together. 

The key is to make the reward something that feels special, so think about privileges or outings that they don’t usually get. That can mean getting to play something they love with you (especially if it’s something you usually avoid or are too busy for) or taking them somewhere they love that you don’t visit often.

Even better, get them involved in coming up with their own privileges. Give them a few examples to get the ball rolling (before they start requesting a Nintendo Switch), and then ask for their ideas. 

Ideas for Reading Rewards 

Below are some examples of positive, age-appropriate reading rewards for young children to get you started. All these can grow with your child, encompassing new areas as they reach new ages and stages.

Special Privileges

  • Choosing the family dinner
  • Selecting a game to play together
  • Picking the movie for a movie night

Special Time

  • One-on-one time with a parent
  • A special play date
  • A game or movie night

Special Outings

  • Going to a favorite park
  • Taking a family bike ride
  • Playing their favorite sport

Create a DIY Reading Bingo Card

Want to make your own reading bingo game? The first step is to think about your—and your child’s—goals. Is the main purpose just to get them to read? Or do you want them to try new topics, pick up specific books, or challenge themselves in a certain way?

The answers will inform what challenges you include on your reading bingo card. You might just come up with fun or goofy ways or places to read (upside down! in the bath!) to motivate more reading. Or you might challenge them to read certain books or stretch themselves somehow, such as tackling a more difficult book or a specific reading level. You can also include challenges like reading a particular number of books or pages in a given timeframe, or reading for a set length of time. 

Just be sure to offer a mix of fun, doable challenges alongside ones your child will find more difficult, and make sure all the challenges are realistic for your child. After all, this is meant to be fun. (If they’re struggling too much, they may be lacking the necessary skills or need outside help.) 

For maximum buy-in, have your child work with you to come up with the challenges and then let them write or decorate their own bingo card. (Our free reading bingo card has pictures for kids to color in.)

Whatever your child’s goals, the playful challenge of reading bingo can motivate them to get started. To make sure they stick with it, though, stay involved. Cheer on their successes, laugh with them, and share your own enthusiasm for books and reading. Your love is the secret ingredient that can elevate reading bingo or any other activity from blah to blessed. Have fun!

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