You know how important it is for your child to read. Everything the experts say tells you that kids who read simply do better in school. Not only that, but they are more successful later in life.
But your child refuses to pick up a book. He rolls his eyes every time you recommend it and then runs away to stare blankly at the computer screen again.
Or maybe you don’t have a child who is addicted to the computer, but simply will find any other excuse under the sun to procrastinate from reading.
What does this mean for your child? Will he or she lose out on success in school and in life, just because he refuses to read?
No, there are things you can do to help.
The worst thing you can do to kill the love of reading
One of the biggest complaints kids have about reading is that they don’t like what their teacher tells them they have to read. This means that they often end up with a negative association for reading. If your child isn’t getting enough choice in school-related reading materials, then he likely won’t have a lot of enthusiasm for selecting his own books. He begins to think of reading as drudgery, instead of something that brings joy and self-fulfillment.
Yes, there are valuable lessons that students must learn by reading the same book as others in their classes. And it would be ludicrous to think that already-overworked teachers could start reading the same book selected by every student in their class.
But if your child NEVER gets to select their own reading material at school, then this definitely contributes to a negative association with reading. Ask your school administrators to find a way to implement Stephen Krashen’s Free Voluntary Reading program. It has made a huge difference at many schools and for many kids (see 81 Generalizations about Free Voluntary Reading).
Before computer games, people read books to escape from their daily lives. They didn’t have electricity, so they read stories at night by the light of a candle or lantern.
Eventually, radio entered the picture, and suddenly people were able to hear – in real time – what was going on outside their little place in the world. Some of the most popular radio shows were stories.
After radio, people gathered around another box that told stories and brought people from around the world into their living rooms: the television.
Another big story-telling medium that became popular at about the same time and still is: the movie. Going to the movies became a social event where lots of people can gather together to share an experience of a story. After seeing the movie, they all have a common vocabulary and something that bonds them together.
Can you guess the next big story-telling medium? Yes, computer games. People inhabit computer games like they live inside a book. There are good guys, bad guys, special powers, politics, quests… And even more exciting than books, you get to choose your own character. It is difficult to compete with this type of not just story-telling, but story-creation. We all have a natural inclination to use our imaginations. These types of games are like story-telling on crack!
7 means to reading and school success
The fact remains that being a reader – of actual letters, not just pictures – has a huge impact on student success. So what can you do? What can possibly compete with the story-creation opportunities kids have in computer games? Below is a list of things that WILL make a difference.
1) All reading “counts”. Really. Anything your child reads is important for developing vocabulary and fluency. This includes instruction manuals (yes, even for computer games), comic books, graphic novels, online forums about products they are researching, non-fiction, fiction, newspapers (if one still comes to your house), online news, magazines… Reading is reading is reading. Let your child know that she is already reading a lot. Adding a book to the reading list isn’t that big a deal. And the book could be paper or on a kindle, or whatever. It all counts. So help change your child’s view of reading in general, by honoring and recognizing all the reading she is already doing.
2) Read a book with your child. That doesn’t mean sitting on the couch side-by-side like when they were 6 years old (although that can be fun too!), but let your child select a book that they want to read, and you get another copy of it for yourself. Discuss as you read through it. This creates a great bond! Even better, look online to see if there are any discussion guides available. Read them (sneak them, if you think that will work better), then bring up some of those ideas and suggested topics when you and your child discuss that book.
As an aside, be careful not to do what I did! When she was younger, my daughter was reading a certain vampire series and wanted to share it with me. I made my way through the first book and was singularly unimpressed both with the writing and with the main character, who I thought was a terrible role model for my daughter. When she asked me what I thought, I was trying to be diplomatic when I said, “Well, it’s OK, but it’s not as well-written as I was hoping. And I think that Bella doesn’t show much gumption.” Clearly, I was not diplomatic enough, because she became very defensive and refused to talk to me about it anymore! So, fudge your answer more than I did, if you want to keep this door open! (Fortunately, my daughter read a lot anyway, so that wasn’t my concern; repairing our relationship became my concern!)
3) Have a family reading time a least a couple of times a week. Put it into the family calendar and keep to it faithfully. Then, READ during that time! Don’t do email. Put your phone in another room. And read. It can be anything you want! Newspapers, magazines, print books. If you can’t read online without getting distracted, then don’t read online.
4) Model that you read every day. At dinner, discuss what you read in the news. Talk about a funny anecdote in a novel you are reading. Talk about an author’s point of view in a non-fiction article or book that you just read. Show your children that reading is a part of your everyday life. Demonstrate that this is how people learn new things and are exposed to new ideas when they are no longer in school!
5) Get audio books. Many adults “read” books on their commute – or while working out or walking the dog – by listening to them. It is so much fun to learn new ideas, and be introduced to new worlds through audio books! Kids who don’t like to read print letters still love stories. Help your child get used to the idea of reading through audio books. When my kids were too little to read the early Harry Potter books, we listened to them every time we got in the car. When they were old enough (and mature enough for the later books), they were ready to read them on their own and it was an entirely different experience!
6) Ask the parents of some of your child’s best friends if they want to start a parent/child book club. Make sure the kids in the club have similar reading interests so you can all read the same book. Then meet either bi-weekly or monthly to talk about the book. Leave time at the meetings to discuss other things you are all reading as well. Make sure you provide ice cream or some other great treat at every meeting! If you make it a party to talk about reading, the positive associations will build up.
7) Make sure you keep your child’s eye exams up to date. He may not realize that he doesn’t like to read because he can’t see the book clearly! Also, if he works hard at reading and still struggles, it may be worth getting a processing assessment. Plenty of kids switch words or letters, or just can’t process well from what they see to what they think. If you have tried many of the above tactics and your child still has issues, advocate for him! Don’t let him slip through the cracks.
Have you tried any of these activities with your child, or any other activities? What has worked? Which books do your kids like (and how old are they)?
Deborah Owen is a high school library teacher in Massachusetts. She is especially interested in helping students develop self-motivation, and in helping teachers and parents present self-motivating ideas to students! She loves reading, research and writing, and sharing that enthusiasm with kids. Deborah blogs at Convergence in the Commons, and can be found on Twitter. She has published articles in the journals Library Media Connection.