Developing a love of reading in our four children is of paramount importance to us and is critical to most parents. But "how to" is very elusive. Why doesn't my second child love to read when it seems everyone else's children are avid and engaged readers?
When my son was 2, he would grab his favorite book ("We're Going on a Bear Hunt") and jump on my lap. We read it in silly voices and never skipped a word or missed a page. It was memorized and cherished, and I felt happy at the prospect of having a good reader on my hands. But when he went to kindergarten and was asked to read every night -- he started to protest! And when he went to second grade and was asked to keep a reading journal, he became a "short-cut taker." As parents, we needed a strategy! How could we get our son back to being hooked on reading?
As children grow, there is a critical step that occurs, when the child switches from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." This is why, as parents, we strive to create a love of reading and a core competence in reading in our kids. When children are "learning to read" it can be a wonderful journey with their excited teachers and parents. When they begin to have science and other subjects (starting at about second grade), kids have to use their reading skills to understand directions, read materials, and complete work. So how can we grow engaged readers who can later become great learners?
My husband and I had an idea. Our kids are addicted to electronic devices and have been since they could ask for a DS. Every gift list now includes a request for a Kindle, an iPad, an iTouch, or an iPhone. We say no to many of these gift requests as electronic devices are expensive. And we worry that when our kids are on their electronics they do not glance at the scenery from a car window, engage in table conversation, or even utter complete sentences. But what if instead of being the "electronics police," we could use them toward scholastic achievement, most specifically reading?
We started to research and found the digital revolution offers even more than we hoped to get our kids hooked back on reading. All children excel and struggle in different areas. They learn differently and they may need to read differently to increase their satisfaction and confidence. Children usually like what they are good at and do not like what they struggle with. Today's children feel very comfortable with technology, especially their handheld electronics. And the biggest trend in building reading skills and reading comprehension in the best schools is using a multimedia approach. At more and more schools, using the computer and, increasingly, electronic tablets in addition to traditional books is a core piece of the reading curriculum.
So how can we use this multimedia reading approach at home? We still sit on the bed and read an "ink" copy of a book with our child or let them read it independently. But now the tablet market is coming to life and kids are going to soak up reading on their brand new devices. We're betting big on iBooks coming to the iPad just as my kids have their music on their iPods. Children's books with illustrations are making their way quickly onto these emerging platforms. These are populations that are still "learning to read."
We are embracing the content on new technologies as well. We look for children's series with multiple books and multimedia choices. For example, we are exploring animated books for one of our children who loves cartoons, so he can watch the stories unfold and follow the words as he goes along. The dynamic nature of animated books motivates him to read more and content can be downloaded immediately. The NOW factor is huge - if our child wants to continue reading or find the next book in the series, we can capitalize on it, buy it, and tell him he has it ready for tomorrow.
A very good friend said, "I just got this Kindle and I am not sharing it. It will get ruined by smudgy hands." I responded, "But you just said you are concerned with your daughter's poor grades on her book reports -- what if letting her read on your Kindle would motivate her?" She let her use the Kindle for the next book report and her grade rose dramatically. As all our children are asking for iPods, iTouches, and other devices, we need to take the opportunity to insist the device is used for reading as well. Insert the content that you know they need.
As parents, we have to look at reading as two things -- a gift and a tool. My oldest loves to read on her Kindle, a beloved Christmas gift. These tablets are the reading devices of the future. Adult books have been moved and consumed at an alarming speed and young adult content is following rapidly. These populations are reading for enjoyment and some read to learn as well. As the devices are able to handle color and illustrations, this market will explode with demand for children.
Ink books will always have a place in our hearts as the classic way to read and bond with our kids. But in 2011, we must also embrace technology and use multimedia approaches to keep our kids hooked on reading.
Eileen Wacker, a Harvard Business School graduate, lived and worked in seven different countries, including the United States. Wacker now resides in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and four children, one of whom is a daughter adopted from China. She is the author of the new children's book, "Silent Samurai and the Magnificent Rescue," the third installment of the Mom's Choice Award-winning Fujimini Adventure Series. For further information on the series, please visit www.oncekids.com.