With the wild popularity of tablets, video games, and cell phones, it's no surprise that kids just aren't reading as much as they should. Heck, none of us are, really.
We all know how incredibly important reading is, but getting our children to actually sit down and open a book can seem about as impossible as winning the lottery.
As a school librarian, I've dealt with my fair share of reluctant readers over the years. I've heard every excuse ‘in the book’. In a world full of seemingly endless entertainment, how can you possibly get your child to read?
Well, I'm here to show you how simple it can be…and you may even find yourself reading a bit more too!
Be a role model. As simple as this sounds, it's finding the time to model good reading habits that's the hard part. Let's face it. As adults, it's not often that we get a chance to sit down and read for pleasure. We have jobs, kids, spouses, and lives to run. However, if we expect our children to see reading as an enjoyable activity, we must find a few minutes each day to simply sit down and read. It's that simple.
Make time for reading: It goes without saying that kids model the behaviour of adults. We mostly notice the not so becoming behaviour we pass onto our little ones, but it's worth mentioning that they imitate our good habits too. If you take the time to put down that phone, tablet, and latte, and reach for a book, your child will notice. Oh boy will they notice.
The power of older siblings: This is especially effective if an older sibling is modeling reading behaviour. I cannot tell you how many students I have who want to read what their older sibling is reading. The littlest ones are dying to read big chapter books just like big sister or big brother. We must keep that curiosity and drive alive in our smallest children so that they grow up to do just that.
Embrace the graphic novel. Graphic novels, or comic books, may not have always been accepted in education, but they can be a very effective tool in getting reluctant readers to start reading. I would go so far as to say they are one of the most effective ways of getting non readers to read, especially ones who are reading below their grade level.
High interest/low reading level: The incredible thing about graphic novels is that readers can easily follow the many pictures which in effect helps with reading comprehension. These books are most often high interest stories with lower reading levels, which is perfect for students who are reading at a low level. Just because you haven't mastered the art of reading yet, doesn't mean your only book choices should be limited to those fit for grade one students.
Classics re-imagined: If you're worried that graphic novels are not rich in content, worry not. Many classic novels are now being brought back to life in the form of graphic novels, drawing in a wide array of readers. Stories that were once only comprehended by older children can now be enjoyed by much younger students.
Size matters: Another perk of the graphic novel is the fact that many of these books have to be pretty thick to allow for all those pictures. Carrying around a big book may not mean much to you and me, but in kid world, it means you're going places!
You can read at a high level! You are smart!
Many students who are reading below grade level are embarrassed to checkout small picture books. They fear that it announces to the class that they are not good readers and therefore not smart enough. These thick graphic novels eliminate this problem, while still giving students with lower reading levels something interesting to read.
Offer incentives that lead to more reading. I'm not saying that you should pay your kids to read, but there is a lot to be said for simple incentives to steer them in the right direction. Shy away from incentives which are not necessarily linked to reading. This can lead to a 'Why am I getting rewarded for something I'm told I should enjoy' mentality, and that train is hard to stop once it gets rolling.
Staying up late: It's amazing what kids will do in order to stay up even a few minutes past their bedtime. Use this to your advantage. Allow your child to stay up 30 minutes later if they agree to read during that time.
The power of gifts: I truly believe that you have to match the right book with the right reader. It is not a one size fits all kind of thing. Listen to your child and they will inevitably lead you to their first favorite book. Taking a trip to the bookstore can serve as another great incentive. Let your child purchase a new book of their choice…any book. That means relinquishing some control on your part. It may be a book about Justin Beiber or their favorite YouTube star, but at least it's a book…with words. Whatever it is, just swipe that Visa card and forget it.
The librarian is your friend…and ally. Librarians are more than capable of matching your child's interest and reading level with several options for them to choose from. So, the next time you're picking your child up from school, take a minute to pop into the library and discuss your child's needs with the librarian.
Get the most out of school resources: Most libraries these days have digital reading platforms which often contain reading comprehension quizzes. Don't be afraid to ask the librarian or your child's teacher for the login information to access these eBooks, as well as to check on your child's progress. I hate to sell out the kids, but this is a great tool that allows you to make sure your child read and understood a certain book.
Checkout several books for home: I have several parents who come in from time to time to checkout a few storybooks to read to their children. I've even caught them eying the newest young adult novel. The school library is as much a resource for parents as it is for students. Take advantage of it.
Loosen the reins. As a librarian, I feel that all reading is quality reading. As long as a child isn't constantly reading books way below their reading level, they should have the freedom to choose something that interests them.
Let them choose: Before you tell your child they can only checkout nonfiction books on the Albert Einstein or the Solar System, remember that they are more likely to die of boredom than become interested in reading. What keeps you entertained is often not the same for your child.
Let your teen choose…always: If your child is interested in reading as a teen, you've pretty much won the battle. Don't ruin it now by barring them from choosing their own reading material. Of course you might want to read some book reviews to feel more comfortable about what your child is reading, but remember that we were all young and curious once. As your child approaches the teen years, it becomes even more important to allow them to develop their interests and discover books that speak to them.
In the end, it's not what a child reads that matters. It's the fact that the child is, in fact reading.
One of my favorite anonymous quotes sums this up perfectly. "Everyone is a reader…some just haven't found their favorite book yet."
Help your child find their favorite book, and I promise you their curiosity will only blossom from there.
Candace Lewis has been a school librarian for six years and a UAE resident for the past four. She’s obsessed with traveling and would be a millionaire if she could just learn to stay home.