How to get kids to look away from their screens and take pleasure in books
"Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” by Deborah Heiligman is a look at the troubled life of the famous artist and his relationship with his brother. MUST CREDIT: Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.
In “Amina’s Voice” by Hena Khan, a Pakistani American middle-schooler faces challenges both particular and universal.
“Can an Aardvark Bark?” by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Steve Jenkin is a fun exploration of animal sounds. MUST CREDIT: Simon & Schuster.
In the summer, there were lots of excuses: Camp, the pool, the beach, lazy days when it didn’t seem so bad if your kids were still in their pajamas and maybe watching a little TV or noodling around on an iPad. It was vacation, right? They’d read when school started. Wouldn’t pressuring them lead to resistance?
Now they’re back in school and you’re up against something perhaps even more daunting: Homework. (Also, soccer practice, piano lessons, play dates and on and on.)
How do you squeeze book-reading into this already overpacked schedule? More important: How do you help kids see reading as something separate from school, from testing, from work?
How do you foster a love of reading for pleasure?
The simple answer is to read – yourself, with and to your kids – whenever you can. Make books a part of your routine, your home decor, your conversations. It’s true, those screens are ever tantalizing, but be strong and be prepared for a little light cajoling, time management and some inventiveness, especially when it comes to defining what it means to read a book.
Here are a few ideas from librarians and education experts:
- Read your own book: When was the last time you sat down in your living room – right there, among the toys, the chaos, the mess, the children themselves – and read your own book for pleasure? If you’re rolling your eyes right now, you’re not alone. But put aside your skepticism and give it a shot.
“Children are generally extraordinarily curious and eager to read when they feel sufficiently motivated,” says Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and author of “The Importance of Being Little.” “It’s up to the adults to create environments at school and at home that ignite those impulses.” That means, in part, reading yourself. Also, putting away your screen. “Why would children be motivated if every time they look up from a book, a parent is glued to a smartphone?” asks Christiakis.
The bottom line: If kids see you read books for pleasure, they are more likely to do so, too. Also, you get to read a book!
- Read aloud: “Remember, a child is never too old to be read a story. And you are never too busy to listen to a story read aloud by a child,” says John Schumacher, a.k.a. Mr. Schu, ambassador of school libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs. When you read to children aloud, says James Trelease, author of the venerated “Read-Aloud Handbook,” you are not only informing them, bonding with them and entertaining them, you are also “advertising the pleasures of reading.” Trelease, who read to his own children until they were in ninth grade, adds that hearing a book increases comprehension and builds vocabulary: “If you’ve never heard a word, you’ll never say it, you’ll never write it and you’ll never read it.”
– Make library visits a part of kids’ routines: Librarians and teachers are the most common source for books-for-fun advice, according to the most recent Scholastic Kids & Reading Report. Even if kids are too shy to ask for help, who knows what great titles they might find just wandering through the shelves? (If you’re concerned about a book’s appropriateness, consult the librarian or check the Common Sense Media site.)
- Let kids choose books freely: “Research shows that when kids get to choose their reading, they read more,” says Karen MacPherson, the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park Maryland Library. According to one often-cited study, roughly 80 percent of children involved said the book they liked most was the one they had selected themselves.
- Encourage kids to re-read books: “Young readers shouldn’t necessarily be pushed into trying something new at home,” Christakis says. “One of the best readers I know spent her childhood reading the ‘Little House’ book series in its entirety and then re-reading the books from start to finish all over again. She must have done this cycle 10 or 15 times, occasionally taking a break to read the ‘Harry Potter’ books. There are many worse ways to spend your childhood.”
– Allow kids to read at their level, not the one you brag to your friends about: “Adults tend to foist some of their reading anxieties on kids, which is counterproductive,” Christakis says. “Parents of early readers often push their children to read texts that are simply too hard. Even reading a book at 95 percent accuracy (missing or not recognizing 5 percent of the words) is surprisingly distracting and demoralizing,” she says. “Families should encourage kids to pick just-right books that are really comfortable for them and don’t cause anxiety or a sense of slogging through.”
- It’s not just about storybooks: A cookbook is a book, too, MacPherson points out. So are comic books and fun reference books like the Guinness Book of World Records and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” Even flipping through a magazine, an almanac, encyclopedia or dictionary (which has the added benefit of teaching kids how to alphabetize), can be a fun way of exploring books.
- Open your family’s ears to audiobooks: Whether you’re on a long car ride or just hanging out at home, turn on an audiobook and fill those moments with a story. Audiobooks offer many of the same benefits as reading aloud, says Trelease – feeding vocabulary and stretching attention spans among them.
- Have a “reading” meal: Pick a meal (or two) where everyone in the family is allowed to bring a book to the table and read to themselves as they eat, MacPherson suggests. It may make for a very quiet meal or a boisterous discussion session. Either way, it makes a special event out of reading.
- Form a neighborhood book club: Reading isn’t necessarily a solo activity. Creating a local book club of readers at similar levels can be a great way for kids to learn more about what their peers are reading, and to make reading a social event.
- Let your children listen to podcasts: Kids can choose a straightforward storytelling podcast such as “StoryNory” or “Eleanor Amplified,” or one that’s more informational, such as “Wow in the World.” Listening to podcasts can offer many of the same benefits as listening to audiobooks.
“There is a saying: ‘If you don’t like to read, you’re doing it wrong,’ ” says Deborah Taylor, coordinator of school and student services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.
“I think that means the person hasn’t connected with the right material,” she adds, saying she’s “relentless” with young readers. “If they tell me they don’t like to read, I tell them I won’t give up until I find their book, the one that will make them a reader.”
Here are a few book suggestions from John Schumacher, but let your kids choose freely and widely. Let them find the book that will make them a reader for pleasure.
– ”Can an Aardvark Bark?” by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins. A fun exploration of animal sounds.
– ”Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire” by Susan Tan; illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte. A little girl who wants to be a writer struggles with becoming a big sister.
– ”Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package” by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. The latest tale from Deckawoo Drive.
– ”The Good for Nothing Button” by Charise Mericle Harper. From the “Elephant and Piggie” series, a wacky tale of a button that seems to have no purpose.
– ”Happy Dreamer” by Peter H. Reynolds. A celebration of dreams and dreamers.
– ”She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World” by Chelsea Clinton; illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. An empowering story of women who beat the odds.
– ”Why Am I Me?” by Paige Britt; illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. Two children ponder this tough-to-answer question.
– ”Amina’s Voice” by Hena Khan. A Pakistani American middle-schooler faces challenges both particular and universal.
– ”The Big Bad Fox” by Benjamin Renner. A graphic novel about a fox who’s having trouble scaring other animals.
– ”Clayton Byrd Goes Underground” by Rita Williams-Garcia. A blues-loving young boy faces the loss of his beloved grandfather and other obstacles.
– ”The Force Oversleeps” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. The latest installment in the popular Jedi Academy series.
– ”Orphan Island” by Laurel Snyder. A mysterious tale of nine children who live on an island.
– ”Real Friends” by Shannon Hale; illustrated by LeUyen Pham. A fresh graphic novel about the realities of female friendships.
– ”Refugee” by Alan Gratz. Three stories of refugees, past and present.
— ”Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate. From the author of “The One and Only Ivan,” a tale narrated by a special tree.
– ”The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. The best-selling novel about a girl torn between her prep school world and her less privileged neighborhood.
– ”Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds. A young man faces his demons as he decides whether to take revenge for the killing of his brother.
– ”Piecing Me Together” by Renee Watson. A young black woman struggles to succeed and fit in.
– ”Solo” by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess. A novel in verse about a young man, music and growing up.
– ”Miles Morales: Spider-Man” by Jason Reynolds; illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This Spidey hails from Brooklyn.
– ”Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” by Deborah Heiligman. A look at the troubled life of the famous artist and his relationship with his brother.