A children's literacy expert offers four strategies for getting kids to think of reading as a fun activity and encouraging them to read books for pleasure, outside of school and homework.
Our children’s time is filled with myriad activities and academic assignments, and unfortunately reading for pleasure no longer gets a prime spot in our family schedules. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With a little crafty planning by Mom and Dad, downtime can be reading time, even amongst all the other to-do list items in the day. It just takes a desire to make it happen—and a little advance planning.
Strategy 1: Book it, literally.
We all have schedules that are too crammed already. However, as with anything that we deem important enough, if we schedule it, it tends to get done. If we don’t, well, you know what happens… So schedule reading into everyday life to make it a priority as well as a habit. Elementary school principal and Huffington Post blogger Rob Furman, Ed. D., says a great time to get it in is just before bedtime—even 10 minutes a night helps make kids drowsy right before lights-out. Exposure to light from electronic devices can disrupt sleep in children and adolescents, according to the American Medical Association; therefore during evening reading, paper books rather than e-readers are best to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Strategy 2: Fanciful and frivolous is good.
Read something fun and interesting. If it feels like work, kids will not want to read—especially after a long day at school. It’s simple: The key to reading for pleasure is to read something pleasurable! Let kids choose the books they want to read with a little guidance from you, a librarian, or book store clerk, but don’t be put off if they choose something silly, a book they have read before, or one that seems too elementary. Reading for pleasure is meant to bring joy and keep kids wanting more. Showcase comic books, vampire stories, easy reads, and old favorites as options for kids to pick up often. “The key to getting kids to like reading is to find what interests them. Find books they can be passionate about,” reiterates Katonah author Michael Balkind, an International Book Award finalist whose latest offering for youngsters ages 8-12, Gold Medal Threat, is a mystery with a sports theme—not your typical mix, and one that just may appeal to a portion of youth who might not otherwise engage in reading for reading’s sake.
And don’t dismiss comics and graphic novels. Boys persistently lag behind girls in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If your son isn’t a reader, try getting him hooked on comic books. Famed author Stephen King says he started off reading comics such as Tales from the Crypt. From there, kids may move into graphic novels, a popular young adult genre that has become accepted by educators as mainstream literature. As long as kids are reading, they’re building comprehension skills and vocabulary, so it needn’t be War and Peace.
Strategy 3: Skip post-reading cleanup.
Keep books visible; “out of sight, out of mind” applies as much to reading as to anything. Find places around your home to display a variety of reading materials to entice kids. Wicker baskets of books in the living room, child-friendly magazines on the coffee table, preferred poetry on the nightstand, and comics near the bathtub. In addition, create a cozy reading nook someplace where the family gathers and promote a quiet reading environment in that spot as the evening winds down. These small gestures indicate that reading is important to your family. Choose to read as a role model for your child, as well. If you are seen reading, your child is much more likely to pick up a book and join you.
Strategy 4: Take it off the page.
Enjoying a literate lifestyle involves much more than the act of reading words on a page. There are interesting events going on in every town at bookstores and libraries, as well as on the web. Peruse calendars (including nymetroparents.com/calendar) for fun gatherings such as author visits, book signings, live readings, community reads, and story time. Attend an event on a rainy day, or stop by when you are already out and about.
Search for author videos on YouTube (nearly every writer has them these days), or scan the websites of some treasured authors or characters. Your child can delve deeper into the adventures of Captain Underpants at pilkey.com (“Dave Pilkey’s Extra-Crunchy Website of Fun”); discover amazing graphics and videos and learn more about the young criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl and friends at artemisfowl.com; and find a Wimpy Kids school planner, inside scoops on upcoming titles in the series, and more at wimpykid.com. And younger readers who think of Mo Willems as an old friend—how could they not after devouring his Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, and Pigeon titles for years?—have access to a treasure trove of multimedia fun online, from Pigeon’s tweets (@the_pigeon) to an Elephant and Piggie dance game and monthly coloring pages (pigeonpresents.com), from the illustrator’s ongoing doodles (mowillemsdoodles.blogspot.com) to kids’ games and parents’ reading guides (gomo.net). Let the kids check these sites out on their personal devices while in the car, waiting at the doctor’s office, or instead of watching TV.
Older kids may like to sign up for free at goodreads.com, where members can keep track of the books they read, discover new titles, and share their own picks with friends. In addition, many book publishers include games, book reviews, and activities on their websites; try Scholastic (scholastic.com/kids), Puffin Books (puffin.co.uk), or Bloomsbury (bloomsbury.com/us/childrens).
Finally, talk to your child about reading whenever you can squeeze it in. You will be showing that you truly value literacy. Tell her about what you are reading and ask her questions such as, “How has this book had an impact on you?” or “Do you agree with the choices the main character made in that story?” Questions like these spark excellent conversations over dinner or while completing household chores together, and are a great way to bond with your teen or tween. As an added bonus, you are much more likely to get a better response than the dreaded “nothing” when asking about what they learned today in school.
Colleen Carroll, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of schools for curriculum and personnel in Tarrytown, is a children’s literacy expert. Read her previous contribution to NYMetroParents about guiding your child’s lifelong learning.