For a young reader, having access to books is paramount. Research suggests that increasing the number of books available to students, especially at a young age, leads to higher reading scores and academic achievement overall. More books in the classroom and at home means a student has more to choose from, is more likely to find something they want to read, and thus more likely to grow in reading motivation and confidence.
In recent years, educators and parents have become more aware of this fact. Websites like DonorsChoose allow teachers to run campaigns to build classroom libraries, and organizations like BookSpring enable parents the opportunity to build home libraries through programs like Direct.
But book access is not the only factor contributing to a student’s reading achievement. Even if a student has access to books, they need a place to read them. The growing research on learning environments indicates that flexible seating options contribute to positive learning outcomes. As more teachers begin to implement new, comfortable seating for students within the classroom, parents should offer the same at home.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. At BookSpring we recognize that parents may struggle to find the time to read with their children or support them in their independent reading habits. On top of that, building a reading space is not an easy task in an apartment with limited space. If you look at a site like Pinterest for ideas, you’ll come away from it feeling a bit discouraged, as many of the suggestions appear expensive and difficult to reproduce. Many “reading nook” or “home library” suggestions that claim to be “DIY” or “affordable” are not either of those and require a lot of resources and tools to make them possible. So let’s take a look at some tangible things to keep in mind when trying to squeeze a reading corner into your home and budget.
1. Ask your child questions about their reading preferences
Before jumping into building your reading nook, you need to make sure that it will work for your child and that they will want to use it for reading. You don’t want all your work to go to waste. Start by asking them questions about their reading preferences. Here are some you can try:
- Do you like to lay down/sit/stand while reading?
- Do you like light or darkness when you read?
- Do you like it noisy or quiet when you read?
- What time of day do you want to read?
- Do you like to snack while you read?
- Do you prefer reading with headphones in?
- Would a pillow or pillows make your reading spot more comfortable?
- What about blankets and stuffed animals?
- Do you like reading alone or with someone else?
With your child’s responses to these questions, you can begin planning out your reading nook. Of course, the “perfect” spot may not exist – you may have limited space in the home, or many occupants, making a perfectly silent room impossible – but at least now you can tailor the spot to meet some of your child’s needs.
The goal is to make the reading nook appealing so that it will motivate your child to read. If you have to force your child into the reading corner, you might want to ask your child how it could be improved.
2. Make sure it is well lit
Some children may state that they prefer to read in the dark, but you need to make sure that they can see the words on the page. Whether that means a book light, a flashlight, a small lamp, or holiday lights, try to provide something that allows them to see the book they’re reading.
If your child enjoys reading in a well-lit room, try your best to use natural light. It can be nice to set up the reading nook near a window. This way, you’ll save on electricity while also reducing strain on your child’s eyes while they read.
3. Buy affordable stuff
There are many places to get affordable supplies for your reading nook. A couple of places include:
- Facebook Marketplace – This is a great place to find used items. Check here for bookshelves, rugs, and other accessories to make the reading nook cozy.
- Craigslist – Check your local Craigslist to see what people in your area are selling. There’s always free stuff available, so make sure you check that section out.
- OfferUp – This is basically Craigslist in app form. It’s super easy to use and has a very user-friendly mobile app. Download it onto your phone and go shopping.
- UT Austin Surplus store – When UT swaps out their old furniture for new, they put up everything for sale. If you are in the Greater Austin area, check out the UT Surplus store for bookshelves, comfy chairs, and even books.
- State Surplus Store – The Texas government sells its furniture here when it’s past its prime. You can find tons of bookshelves, chairs, and other supplies.
- Austin Creative Reuse – A great place to find decorations. Here you can find construction paper, coloring utensils, stickers, and all kinds of knick-knacks to decorate the reading corner.
When you are shopping to outfit the reading corner, be open to suggestions from your child for different types of seating. A growing body of evidence indicates that students’ seating affects their ability to retain information and pay attention. This means that students who can choose more comfortable seats can learn with a higher success rate in the classroom. Similarly, at home, students will perform better as readers if they are comfortable. Whether this means having an exercise ball, a camp chair, or a yoga mat for your young reader, try to accommodate their preferences as best as you can.
And remember, the reading space does not have to be a whole room or even a whole wall. The reading space can be just one corner of the home that is not in use. Children will enjoy being able to pick their own reading space. This will give them ownership over their reading habits and will inspire them to read. If they feel like the reading space is just another thing they have to do, and not a fun activity they are choosing themselves, they will avoid it at all costs. The reading nook can and should be enjoyable.
4. Repurpose things in the home
You might not even need to go bargain shopping; everything you need for your reading nook could be right in front of you. Check out these creative ways to repurpose household items to make bookshelves.
Look around for blankets that you might not use much or extra pillows or stuffed animals. You can decorate the reading nook with any stickers, construction paper, or old magazines you find in the home. Put up pictures of your child’s favorite literary or cartoon characters. You can pin up a blanket to make a little fort and fill it with pillows. There are countless themes you can choose from based on your child’s interests: cars, princesses, nature, space, animals, to name a few.
Some children like to read while holding a fidget or toy. See if perhaps a toy or two should remain in the reading corner solely for that purpose, to fiddle with while reading. It helps some children focus on doing something with one hand while they read, and this should be one goal of the reading corner: trying to give children a focused reading experience.
5. Don’t break the bank on books
Once you have the space set up, it’s time to add some books. Books, unfortunately, can be very costly. But there are numerous options to acquire books for affordable prices or even for free. Here are some great options:
- Library sales – Check your local library to see if they are hosting a sale any time soon. Libraries typically sell books for around a dollar each. This can be a great way to acquire super cheap books for your home library.
- BookSpring’s Direct program – BookSpring offers a service in which you can receive books sent to your home, packed by the age and languages of your children. You may learn more about the program and apply here.
- Find a “Little Free Library” at school or in your neighborhood – These are boxes where people may take or share books. Check out this map to find a “Little Free Library” near you.
6. Make the books accessible/easy to browse and grab
The books must be easy to access, or your child will be less likely to pick them up. A great way to orient them is to have the covers facing outward, drawing in the reader.
Of course, this orientation is not the most space-saving, so perhaps you can orient some books outward-facing and most of them shelved with their spines outward. Then, you or your child can swap out the outward-facing ones every once in a while, giving the library a whole new appearance.
7. Make it comfortable for you, too
Don’t ignore yourself when you create the reading nook. If you are a parent that reads to their child or reads with their child, make sure that the nook has a space for you. This could mean designating a place where you can pull up a chair, including a comfy pillow for you to sit on, or even having a spot where you can lie down.
8. Steal ideas
There are countless lists and slideshows on the internet. Take a look at this or this to get some ideas. Again, many of these ideas seem intimidating and expensive to produce, but hopefully this list can give you some alternative options for building a reading corner, so you can adapt some of what you see in these articles to make it right for you.
9. Set expectations for the reading nook
It is essential to ensure that the reading nook maintains its original function. You do not want the reading nook to become just another messy place in the house or a place used for any activity. The reading nook should be a special place for reading, and perhaps drawing, writing, art, or any other creative, intellectually stimulating activity.
And your child will appreciate a strict attitude toward the reading corner’s use, especially if they are part of the process. Ask your child what rules the reading nook should have. You can create a list together and even paste it on the wall of the space. Your child might enjoy being the “guardian” of the reading corner, enforcing its rules even with other siblings.
Additional Resources for Families
- Access FREE digital books & activities- Bib’s Weekly Themes
- How to Encourage Your Children to Read at Home
- 7 Ways Families Can Promote Early Literacy