It’s an all too common scene, the showdown about cracking the books. You want your kids to read, and they just want to have fun. “Books ARE fun,” you repeat, over and over. And when summer hits, the battle rages even hotter. Why would your kids want to read books when they can play the latest Wii games, or watch a perfectly good movie, or play with their friends in the sprinkler outside?
Let’s face it, anything that makes your kids sit slack jawed, spaced out, with brains turned off will not lead to the development of people skills, trade knowledge or college scholarships. Being good readers keeps the doors to future opportunities open to them. Now, in all things there should be a balance, and such is the case between good clean fun and bridging the gap to fluent literacy. For a person to be a fluent reader, it takes practice, and the more fun you can make the practice, the more likely your children are to be life-long readers.
The real question is this: how do we get our children to view reading as synonymous with fun? This writer has worked as a children’s librarian and taught school for 12 years, where she learned a few tricks to getting reluctant readers diving into books. She and Leslie Tetreault, Children’s Room Manager at the Richland County Public Library, share their expert advice on how to inspire kids to read.
Yes, audio books with book companions. No matter their ages, all children love a good story. Stories are the stuff of life. They swirl around us, making our experiences richer. Listening to and reading text simultaneously allows kids to hear talented storytellers; affords them the opportunity to read above their grade levels; models fluent reading; teaches listening skills; calls attention to emotions in the text; and introduces new genres, vocabulary, difficult pronunciations, unfamiliar dialects (Hello, Shakespeare!) and topics of discussion for parents and children who listen together.
Reading List, Smeading List!
Like hemlines and heels, books come in and out of vogue. Children’s literature is a huge industry bursting with new adventures, fantasy, historical fiction and information every week. Your kids don’t need to make book selections based on the same list you had when you were young. Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys are great, but why not try the new graphic novel counterparts?
Visit your local public library. The staff is well read, keeps up with the latest trends in book publishing and knows the best books for children and teens. They are there to help parents select books and encourage reading to their young children, as well as to assist older children and teens in finding books they will love. Take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. They are there to help.
Children live what they learn. If they see their parents and other adults reading books, newspapers and magazines, they will want to do it too. Bond with your kids over a good book. Make reading an after dinner activity where you read a story everyone selects together.
Do not insist that your baby/toddler/preschooler listens to an entire story in one sitting. Even one minute of reading at a time is worthwhile. Young children are active, and it is not unusual for them to walk around while you are reading aloud. Stick to short stories and concept books and know there is value in even the shortest of moments.
Many children are goal oriented, and treats, Target cards and Monkey Joe’s day trips are some great ways to say, “Well done!” Kids need to hear praise and feel proud of their accomplishments. Think about how rewards and positive words can encourage your children to read more.
Time and Punishment
Setting an environment conducive to learning is essential. There should be a supply of books coupled with quiet places where your children can cuddle up and read. Time to read is a crucial element, but it should never feel like punishment. Reading should be a joy, and the words, “Go to your room and read now,” might sound like torture to some children. If they aren’t fast, successful readers, the words on the page may not form a fluid movie within the confines of their brains, making time in their rooms seem like anguish. Let your children read wherever they feel comfortable. Just make sure they focus on their books.
The Glory of the Story
Think about it: plays, musicals, television shows, magazines, comic strips, poems and movies all originate with the written word. Children need useful skills and can benefit from knowing the value of text. So if your kids really want to watch “Hannah Montana,” try muting the television so they must read the captions. Or perhaps your child loves wildlife and wants to be a veterinarian; try subscribing to Zoobooks magazine for her to read.
Give your children the freedom to put books down if they are not enjoying them. Adults do this all the time, but children are taught they must finish any book they begin. Not true. To turn children on to reading, we must give them the freedom not only to select their own books for pleasure reading, but also to close the books they are not enjoying. Leslie always says, “Try the first chapter, or 30 pages, or read for 15 minutes. If you are not enjoying it, put it down.” There are too many wonderful books for them to waste time on ones they don’t enjoy.