What can you do, as a parent, to raise a reader?
In our efforts to “educate” our children, educational systems have placed so much emphasis on learning that for a lot of kids, the simple pleasure of reading a good story (like watching tv for fun) has been killed. Smushed.
Driven into the ground.
All because we’re trying to make kids smart, not happy.
The Perfect Example of Why Kids Do Not Want to Read
A 5th grade student showed up for a tutoring session proclaiming that she needed help with her book report. A reluctant reader to begin with, you could see the defeated slump in her shoulders and her downcast gaze.
She was not excited. She was not inspired. She wanted to give up. Throw in the book report towel and take a nap. Call it quits.
She pulled the book out of her brightly colored, bejeweled backpack.
The biography of Noah Webster appeared before me.
As in, the guy that wrote the dictionary in the early 1800’s.
No wonder the girl didn’t want to read!
A young, vibrant, funny 10-year-old girl was not going to get excited about writing a book report on Noah Webster. The language was dated and difficult to follow….there was mention of churning butter.
Who could blame her?
Churning butter, really? Maybe a fun experiment, but not a fun read for a kid who already has three times too much homework.
Is there a quicker way to send a kid running for their IPad? She dreaded every page of that book. The instructional form for her book report was just as boring and uninspired.
Since we can’t always control what books and reading methods are being used at school, what can we do at home?
As parents, we have quite a lot of power here. We can take steps toward instilling a love of reading in our kids.
We can raise readers. Here are 10 ways to do it.
- Make reading together a ritual…and the sooner the better. Reading to a sleepy, gurgling, seemingly uninterested baby may feel silly but it’s not! Start this habit in infancy and hang on to it tightly.“When a child is introduced to books in the warm cozy comfort of a parent’s arms, they quickly learn to associate reading with love.”
- Empower their book buying ability. Yes, the library is there…use it. But, nothing beats browsing the bookstore for just the right book. (Check out the bottom of this post for ideas.)
- Don’t stop reading to your kids just because they can read to themselves. It’s a day to celebrate when your child is able to grab a book, find a quiet spot and read all by himself. How did he get so big? So capable? You can scarcely believe your eyes! When this day comes applaud your child for their new ability and keep right on reading out loud together. There is a lot to gain from keeping this ritual alive and well, so don’t bow out now.
- Have meaningful conversations about what you read together. This can start much earlier than you think as long as you keep it at an age-appropriate level. Kids are smart! Have some fun with it. What character would your child want to come over and play if they could pick one from any of their books? As your child gets older you can take it up a notch. Read chapter books and take the opportunity to start discussing what you are reading. Introduce your child to the deeper aspects of literature. Start conversations about character, theme, predictions and opinions. The goal is to inspire conversation and thought, not to lecture.
- Practice what you preach! Don’t tell your kids how important it is to read while your hand is grasped firmly around the TV remote. Let them see you reading for enjoyment because as always, they are watching you. Modeling the reading habits you hope that they adopt is critical. Be an example even if it means missing a hot date with Netflix a few times a week.
- Don’t be a buzzkill. Let your child decide what they are interested in reading and DO NOT discourage their choices. Is it almost physically painful to see your 7-year-old son bypass a book you’ve been dying to read him, and reach for a Minecraft book at the book fair? Yes! It sure is! But bite your tongue anyway and let him take home that one book he will dive into the second he walks in the door. Part of kids loving to read is being given the opportunity to read what they love.
- Early literacy and early reading are very different. “Reading” in its earliest stage is looking at pictures, listening to an adult tell the story and simply flipping the pages. Don’t turn it into a phonics lesson every time you crack open a book. Especially in the pre-k years! Most kids are not developmentally ready to blend letter sounds and memorize sight words at that point, nor should they be. Continually urging them in that direction before they are ready will frustrate them and turn them off from reading altogether. Avoid the tragedy!
- Keep books in your house. NOT just on your Kindle or e-reader where they can’t be seen, touched or flipped through by curious hands. We’re talking about real ones. Made out of paper. Let them lay their eyes on the stacks of books that have captured your heart and mind over the years. When they are younger it serves as proof that you do indeed love reading. When they are older it will provide a deeper glimpse into who you are and even paves the way toward discovering shared interests and passions.
- Re-read. And then re-read some more. Yes, even if it makes you want to tear your eyes out. I know, I know the 75th time through is tough, but re-reading offers tremendous benefits toward interest and cognitive understanding. Your child’s depth of interest and understanding picks up as they start to know a book by heart. And so does their love for the book. You may not enjoy that you are able to recite “Are You My Mother” in your sleep, but your child is gaining an appreciation that is worth the temporary suffering. [Note from Ashley: I’ll try harder. It’s only two books I can handle in small doses…]
- Start (or locate) a book swap. They’re often located in public places or can easily be started at your child’s school. Ashley’s local Whole Foods has one that’s a book rack by the dining tables. I’ve seen Little Libraries all over Detroit! Check the site to see if they are in your area. There’s always a great selection for swapping for adults and kids. Book selection can vary, so you might consider launching one with like-minded friends. The selections can be fresh and fun, and your child can choose which books to swap out for a new read.
23% of Americans did not read a single book in 2014.
The good news is that recent news reports point to a resurgence of indie bookstores. Fingers crossed this means more reading!
We can’t always choose what our children will come to love. Nor should we! But some things are worth giving it our all. Like reading.
Fight the good fight! You have control over this one.
(Make sure to check out James Patterson’s excellent website Read Kiddo Read to find kid-approved lists of books broken down by age and category. It’s a great resource for making sure you are keeping your library stocked with things that kids are currently into. It will also make you seem incredibly hip and cool.)
You can raise a reader.