Photo Credit: Laurel Holman
Not that you would ever intentionally kill your child’s love of reading, of course. But, as parents and educators, we often unwittingly do and say things that drive our kids away from books. Here are some of the mistakes that I’ve done and seen others do that will turn young people away from reading.
1. Use reading as a punishment.
One rainy weekend, after listening to 20 minutes of my kids bickering, I had enough and sent them each to their own beds to read. This order was given in “angry mom voice” not “encouraging, loving mom voice.” I realized later that I was subtly telling them that they were in trouble and their punishment for bickering was to read. Uggh. Not the message I wanted to give at all.
2. Make reading a price to pay for other fun activities.
“If you read for 30 minutes, then you can play on the iPad.” Sound familiar? Now, I don’t have any scientific research to show that this harms our children’s attitude toward reading. But, from my own experience with this technique, it sends the message that reading is the “work” that has to be done before they can “play.” If we want to instill a love of reading, we are better off encouraging them to spend time reading and consider it a leisure activity rather than a pre-requisite to the real fun.
3. Require your child to read specific types or levels of books.
I’m definitely guilty of this one. It’s so tempting and easy to pressure our children to ‘read up’ and force them to read books that we believe will enlighten and educate them. Especially when we see our brilliant, advanced readers enjoying book after book of Rainbow Fairies or Secrets of Droon or Captain Underpants or even Percy Jackson. But, research shows that kids who pick their own books are 90% more likely to finish the book. And, that time spent reading is linked to better academic performance and social emotional learning. Not what they are reading, but the mere exposure to more words and more minutes read. There are many ways to offer alternatives to your children to get them to widen their reading range, but to require them to only read books that we consider worthy or of an appropriate Lexile level is an excellent way to kill their love of reading.
4. Pressure your child about their Reading Group level in school.
Guilty again. I was actually called out on this one by my son’s beloved 1st grade teacher, Ms. Chin. I asked my then 6 year old casually, “So, are you in the highest reading group in school?” He proceeded to go to school and ask his teacher this question with the addendum “because my mom wants to know.” She firmly told him to tell his mother that is an insignificant question and that she should ask him if he is reading to the best of his own ability. Yikes. She definitely put me in my place. And reminded me not to treat reading like a competitive sport that my child must be ‘the best at’ to enjoy.
So, how do we IGNITE rather than KILL a love of reading in our children?
Here are a few of my favorite ways that have been proven by real people to work. Give them a try and let me know what you think.
1. Model reading
Yes, a classic answer. Just like other aspects of child rearing, they do what we do, not what we say. Let your kids see you read. Even better, let them see you enjoy reading as a source of pleasure and relaxation. Books, magazines, e-readers, newspapers, whatever. If you’re reading on a tablet or other device, make sure they know you’re not just checking email or playing Bedazzled.
2. Talk about reading
At the dinner table, in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, before bed – these are all great times to ask your child about their reading.
What are you reading? Why do you like it? What are the characters like? Do you relate to the characters? What’s the problem in the story? Does it remind you of other movies or books you’ve enjoyed? Who would you recommend this book to? What are your friends’ reading?
Listen to their answers. Make it a discussion. Tell them about what you’re reading. Kids could give a “book talk” to the family when they finish a book or make a “book commercial” to share with siblings and friends.
3. Make reading a social activity
Friends are the #1 source of new book ideas for kids age 7-12 these days. Even more than librarians, teachers, and parents. When your child has friends over, ask them what they are reading. Form a book club with other parents/kids. Sign your child up for an account on Bookopolis.com, a safe and kid-friendly social network for young readers. (Disclaimer, I’m the founder and Mayor of Bookopolis. Read more about that here.)
4. Encourage “reading in the cracks”
This is one of the tips I give students when I do in-class workshops on reading. Sometimes it’s hard for busy kids to fit in 20-30 minutes of daily reading. I encourage them to bring a book with them everywhere they go. Have 5 minutes before soccer practice? Read. Long line in the grocery store? Read. Stuck at the dentist office with your brother? Read. You get the idea. A few minutes here and there can add up and helps kids form a”reading habit” and make it a go-to activity when they have some time available.
Kari Ness Riedel is the mom of two elementary school boys and the founder of Bookopolis.com, a COPPA compliant online community made especially for kid readers. She loves reading (and talking about) children’s books. Need a book idea for your young reader? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.