How do we get our children to spend more time reading? A good question with no simple answer. First I will deal with some obstacles to reading and then with one solution.
Reading is solitary and children want to be groupies. To read we need to be in a quiet place to have a silent conversation with a story and we need to love it enough to choose to be there. But nowadays, both children and adults have their eyes fixed on a tiny screen – texting. This is a silent conversation too, but with a live respondent at the other end so it requires less concentration and thought. Texting fills a basic human need to be connected to, and accepted by, others. Reading can’t fulfil that need.
School is more and more demanding of student’s time and energy. Excessive homework turns kids off from the joy of reading and, unfortunately, of learning too. Reading is associated with school and the last thing many of them want to do with their few hours of free time is to spend it on anything associated with school!
One of the reasons I wrote Simply Too Much Homework! is that I saw the devastating effect of excessive homework on the time parents and students have to enjoy reading. My Making Sense Approach to reading turns struggling readers into successful ones. It requires only that they sit with someone who can read and share interesting material in a special way. But when a day of hard work at school and an evening filled with homework was over, both parents and child were often too tired to read and it slowed down their progress.
Only teachers can force anyone to read a book they aren’t interested in. Those who become avid readers must choose to read in free time. Being forced to read books they don’t like, simply to get grades, turns some kids off from reading books for life. Furthermore, it steals time they could spend getting ‘hooked on reading’ on books they enjoy. It’s amazing how, when they are hooked on a story, people will steal time to find out, ‘What’s Next?”. A good book is as addicting as a soap opera. Why did millions of our young people read those thick Harry Potter books? Their curiosity was stimulated and they couldn’t wait to share the next episode in Harry’s journey.
The secret of hooking kids on books is to find a series that, like Harry Potter, pulls them into a compelling story – one they can’t put down. This involves time on a parent’s part to choose books from the library and then to read the first chapters to them aloud. When they find one that excites them to find out ‘What’s Next?’ you have the right book.
When I taught Junior High I had some reluctant readers. So I looked for a series that would interest them and that they were capable of reading on their own. I took time to introduce them to the series by reading the first chapter of the first book aloud and discussing it. When I found a book that grabbed them they would finish the series and look for another. My work was over!
You might choose to read at least this first book yourself so you can share the excitement and discuss the story and the issues with your reluctant reader. As adults we like to join book clubs to share a good book. Your child will enjoy doing this with you too, and it will engender a lifelong love of books.