Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to Get Your Kids to Like Reading

We aren't going to have any posts about books I'm reading this week because the two latest have been very disappointing and I only write about books I like and want to share, but as a passionate reader, I still wanted to write about reading. This post was inspired by and is for a friend of mine who has two daughters who aren't really all that into reading. Earlier in the week she asked for advice on what her daughters might like and how to get them to enjoy books and it occurred to me that this is a problem many people have with their kids and with which I can offer some ideas for assistance.

The majority of my students hated reading and would complain endlessly when I assigned anything that made them open a book. A small minority enjoyed reading but they wanted to read things that they liked and felt ashamed of their choices because they weren't literary enough or because they didn't think that I, as their teacher, would approve. Most of my students had a hard time writing and wrote very poorly and I believe this is directly related to their dislike and therefore lack of reading.

Reading makes one familiar with and comfortable with language and how it works. Understanding the structure of your own language, which most of my students didn't, is necessary to write and to communicate effectively. In our society, which is text based (and no I'm no talking about text messages), to be successful, a person must communicate well in writing. An inability to write will hinder your chances at leading even a moderately successful life.

But all that aside, reading is fun and reading is entertainment. Reading exercises our imagination. Whereas TV watching, a wonderful thing in and of itself, is passive in that we sit there and absorb it, reading is active because we have to hear the words and form our own pictures in our minds. People who can't do that are crippled by their lack of imagination and trust me, imagination will get you farther in all aspects of your life than memorizing a bunch of facts.

So get reading and get your kids reading too. Here are some tips that have worked for me as a teacher in getting my writing students to enjoy and see the importance of reading. Many I have adjusted to suit a parent child relationship.

1. Read with them - If your kids are reluctant to read, make reading a family activity; a fun time where they are getting attention and engagement from you. We teachers call this scaffolding, but essentially, you have to understand that parents are the bridges to help their children get over the river when it comes to learning.

2. Go to the library a lot - The library is fun! Some of my best childhood memories involve library visits. Go to story times, make friends with the children's librarians and talk to them about what to read next. Give your kids lots of time and freedom to explore the library and look at books with them. Help them find things that interest them.

3. Magazines - Most people discount magazines and think they are not serious enough reading. Why? Reading is reading. There are plenty of good magazines for kids on topics that will interest them and with shorter articles and lots of pictures, magazines can be a valuable tool in getting kids interested in reading.

4. Don't just stick to fiction - Some kids might like reference books or cookbooks or books about nature. I liked cookbooks as a kid and I liked encyclopedias. Celebrate whatever kind of book your kid is into.

5. Books with pictures are great! - Again, don't discount pictures and say books with pictures are dumb or for babies. As an adult, I still love pictures and there are many serious literary graphic novels.

6. The Internet can count as reading too. Obviously not all of it, but there are plenty of great things to read on the Internet and for some kids, the computer may seem more fun than a book at first. Of course, use good sense and monitor what your kids are reading. Duh.

7. Don't criticize your child's choices about what to read. - This was one of the biggest problems I found with my students. Adults or teachers had criticized their interests and their choices and they felt like the books they wanted to read weren't good enough. I think Twilight is about the stupidest book ever written, but I never told my students that because so many of them, who wouldn't ordinarily have been big readers, loved the series. Instead, I praised them for being passionate about a book and I researched a bunch more young adult vampire series for them so that when they finished Twilight they'd have something else to be into and all the books I found were stupid, trashy and commercial and nothing I'd ever read, but who cares because these books ignited something in these students and kept them on a path of reading. If your kids want to read something, obviously within reason here, don't knock them down and make them feel dumb.

8. Don't try to impose your interests on them. Period. Ever. They have their own destinies to follow and are autonomous human beings, not lumps of clay. If you like business and your kid likes art or vice versa, accept it and find your kid books about the subjects they are into.

9. Let them see you reading and enjoying it too. Model the behavior you desire in your children. Don't be a hypocrite. Don't make your kids read Jane Austen while you sit on your butt watching Jerseylicious.

10. Show interest in their books. Plan activities around their current books. Do crafts, recipes or anything that relates to what they're reading. Look up the settings of their books on the Internet and find pictures. Use every opportunity to connect with your kids about what they're reading. Expand the lessons in the books to outside the books. Take field trips. Supplement their reading with any related activities. You can even look up lesson plans related to the books they're reading and try some of the activities. This can be a lot of fun and will help your kids make the most of their reading and will help them remember what they've read.

11. Remember fairy tales. Yes, even for boys. I'm talking classic Grimm here, fables, myths from all cultures, Bible stories. All of it. These are all short, morally based and really serve to light up the imagination. I could get into how the archetypes in these types of stories work on the subconscious minds of kids, but I don't want to get all Rudolf Steiner about this and scare you off. Just trust me. They're good for your kids.

12. Short stories are good too! Don't think your kids need to be reading Anna Karenina. Short pieces are fine and easier to process for beginning or reluctant readers.

13. Remember that you are their bridge to help them read. I said that earlier, but it's important so I'm repeating it. Talk to your kids about what they're reading. Read some of their books so you can discuss them. Ask your kids what they liked or didn't like about the books or stories or articles they read and don't offer too many of your own opinions. Sometimes, even if we don't mean to, adults can invalidate a child's opinions by offering their own and kids will often perceive that if we have a different opinion than they do, that we are condemning or criticizing their opinions.

14. Many kids associate reading with school and think it's work. Show them that reading is recreational and fun and relaxing.

15. Show your kids that there is something written about every topic imaginable, so surely there is something that is going to interest them. This proved particularly enlightening to many, many of my students who for some reason, hadn't realized this obvious fact.

16. Encourage imaginative play related to what they're reading if possible. Act out stories, make plays, play pretend and dress up.

17. They're never too old to be read to. I regularly read aloud to my college students and they all loved it. My husband and I read to each other. Reading out loud to your family is a wonderful thing, regardless of age. It's not just for babies and can be a beautiful way to continue to bond with older kids and even teens.

18. Never make your children read aloud unless they ask to. Reading aloud can be stressful and can make it impossible for some kids to picture the story in their head. They can have anxiety about reading properly and this can really turn them off to all reading. You're the adult. You read to them. If you are a teacher or a homeschooler NEVER make kids do round robin reading out loud. Terrible, evil practice.

19. Be ok with it if your child may not be as passionate a reader as you wish. Some people are more cut out for other types of learning experiences and celebrate that if none of these tips work. Maybe your kid will be a scientist or a math person instead and that's fine too.

20. If all else fails, please have your child evaluated for vision problems and learning disabilities. I can't tell you how many adults end up in my classes whose learning problems were overlooked and dismissed and the difficulty this causes them as adults with poor communication skills. Learning differently or at a different pace doesn't make you or your child a failure or stupid or weak. It just means they need to be taught differently and when they are, miracles can happen. I've seen it.


Gina said...

Here's the one that worked for me as a kid - get them started on a series. When I was young, I loved books and loved to be read to, but wasn't one to bury my nose in a book for hours. but then my aunt bought me the first Trixie Belden (I know - I am dating myself) and I was HOOKED. I didn't stop until I was caught up with the series and waited impatiently for each new one to be released. And I haven't stopped reading since.

Lara said...

I love all your posts, but this one deserves a shout out. You are so right...kids (actually, everyone) should be able to read whatever they want.

I am a crazy reading addict with a preteen who hates to read due to a learning disability. Now that she's finally fluent enough to make her way through a book (this only happened last year), my mom told me "Let her read ANYTHING she wants. Don't judge. Everything is practice". It was really hard to watch her go straight for books that are years below her age level, but it's starting to pay off. Thanks, Mom.

Ashley said...

Good tips! I was trying many of these with my nephew the past few months. I sent him all kinds of books and even set up rewards for finishing chapter books but nothing was doing the trick. One day he was bored and weeded one book out the pile. That was all it took! The kid has read five books in the past three weeks and is asking for more. Sometimes it just clicks.

The Tuckerbag

Almost American said...

Excellent advice! I'd add one more about reading TO your kids - as you do it, point to the words with your finger. There's research that shows that it really helps, even if/especially if they can't read yet!

greyspasm said...

Yes, yes, yes, get these kids reading sooner. Let their tastes develop and their minds grow so that they do not grow into adults that think 50 Shades of Grey is a good read!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this important, thoughtful and informative post.


Nana said...

I've never forgotten my 10th grade English teacher praising a boy in my class because he'd read something in the Classic Comics edition. He blushed with pride when she described how he'd spent time sounding out words and working his way through it.
Great teaching moment.

Caelaeno said...

#17: Truth.

My organic chemistry teacher was one of my favorite teachers in the entire world because she would read to us at least once a week. (The Piggy and Gerald series were a particular favorite.)

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