Are you hoping your child does well in school, gets good grades and test scores, is accepted to a college, advances in his career, and is a good citizen? If so, then instill a love of reading in your child. Scores of studies cite reading as the key to academic success, and three-quarters of parents chose it as the most important skill for a child to develop.
Kids are not reading for enjoyment
That’s why two recent reports (Scholastic’s “Kids and Family Reading Report” and the National Endowment for the Arts’ “To Read or Not to Read”) should make educators and parents shudder. It appears we have a problem. The percentage of kids who read for enjoyment is dismal at best. Only one in four kids reads for fun every day, and 22 percent rarely, if ever, read. The reading decline starts at age eight, continues in a steady downward spiral, and never picks up again. Less than one-third of thirteen year olds read daily. The percentage of seventeen year olds who read nothing for pleasure has doubled in twenty years. It should come as little surprise that our children’s reading scores have steadily declined during that same twenty-year period. So why aren’t kids reading these days? Their top reasons for not reading: “Too busy,” “No time,” or just plain “Too tired.” The kid reading crisis is real, the impact is astronomical, and parents are aware there is a problem: 82 percent of parents wish their kids would read more for fun, but don’t know ways to get them hooked on words. Here are solutions to help kids read and even enjoy doing so:
Get a good resource for kid books
Both parents and kids say a big part of the problem is trouble finding enjoyable books. So treat yourself to a great source that lists kids’ top reading choices. Here are four favorite treasuries: The New Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease; How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, by Esmé Raji Codell; Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read, by Reading 453 schoo l 454 The Big Book of Parenting Solutions Laura Backes; and Great Books for Boys (and Great Books for Girls), by Kathleen Odean. Or talk to a good children’s reference librarian or to teachers—but no more excuses!
Think outside the book
The trick is to match your child’s reading level and interest to the material. And any age-appropriate reading material is fine to get your kid started—cereal boxes, cartoons, the sports page, baseball cards, the Internet, magazines. Once you find what turns your kid on to the printed page, keep that supply coming. Consider those new graphic (comic book) novels, print out movie reviews, or cut out articles on NASCAR. The literary merit is trivial; getting your kid to feel comfortable with reading is what matters.
Carve out reading time
Kids say the biggest reason they don’t read for fun is that there isn’t enough time. So find just a few minutes a day. Eliminating one TV show or item from your kid’s crammed schedule frees up at least thirty minutes a week. Books in the bathroom, your car, the kitchen, or your kid’s backpack are handy to fill in those lulls. Setting aside ten minutes at the same time every night creates a reading routine for everyone. If you don’t carve out time, reading will get lost in that time-warp shuffle.
Create a reading rich home
Studies show that the more books you have in your home, the greater the chance your kid will become a reader.26 So dig out that library card. Attend book fairs at your child’s school. Go to library sales. Get your child a subscription to a magazine. You don’t have to break the bank, but do have reading material constantly available.
Start a book club
Tweens admit that they worry popular kids won’t like them if they read, so help them buck that peer pressure by joining moms of your child’s friends and reading together.27 The Mother-Daughter Book Club, by Shireen Dodson, and The Kids’ Book Club Book, by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, will help you start up a club and find the right books and activities for this unique age group.
Become movie critics
Read a book, then watch the movie based on it. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Because of Winn-Dixie, or The Princess Bride are just a few possibilities. Kids love to be movie critics and debate whether the book or the movie was better. Another version of this idea is to listen to a book on tape during those long carpool rides or while you’re on vacation and then reading the “hard copy.”
Don’t stop reading out loud
Research says that the first drop in kids’ reading for fun occurs at around age eight. That is also the age most parents stop reading to their kids. Well, don’t stop! Find a book (your kids get to choose) and read out loud—or take turns reading paragraphs.
Check that required reading list
Dig through the bottom of your kid’s backpack for his school’s required reading list. Then get two copies of each requirement: one for your kid and the other for you. You can each read alone, but do discuss Charlotte’s Web, Holes, or The Diary of a Young Girl together. It’s a great way to open up a dialogue with a kid.
Be a role model
Studies prove that kids who see their parents read are more likely to read themselves. Let your kids know you value reading and let them see you read and read often. Read from Oprah’s book list, join a book club, carry a book with you at all times, or get your friends, neighbors, or town reading. Over 150 American cities and towns are now involved in the Big Read. Just read!
If your child is struggling with reading, then please seek out the advice of trained professionals. Check with your pediatrician to ensure this isn’t a vision problem. Talk to his teacher to make sure your child’s lack of interest in reading isn’t because of a learning disability. And if the struggle continues, don’t stop until your child is evaluated and receives the help he deserves. J. K. Rowling proved that kids do read and love doing so—that is, when you give them the right book. Nearly three out of four kids ages eleven to thirteen have read at least one volume of Rowling’s Harry Potter series.28 But it certainly didn’t hurt that parents and kids read the series together. The truth is that the more kids read, the more comfortable they become with the printed page and the more likely it is that they will adopt reading as a lifelong habit. So read, read, and then read more! One of the greatest legacies you can leave your child is to instill a love of books.