Maybe you heard these words from your kids over the summer: “School’s over, Dad! I don’t want to read!” Although I wasn’t surprised to hear that my son would rather play outside than read, I was hoping to see him pick up a book occasionally instead of his Nintendo DS. Well, school’s back in session, and it’s time to get back to reading… But how can parents motivate reluctant readers? Here are a few of my ideas:
Create an environment where reading is valued. If your kids know that reading is important to you, they might come to value it as well. However, words aren’t good enough – they need to see you reading! I’ve visited some classrooms where they have DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) Time, and I’ve suggested this strategy for parents, too. Turn off the TV and the ringer on the phone for 15 minutes and have everyone sit down to read something. Talk about what you’re reading at the dinner table or in the car. Make sure there is a variety of reading material available or schedule regular trips to the library. Parents know that socialization is important for their kids – reading and talking about it sets up an “academic socialization” that is important too.
Books need to be fun if they’re going to compete with cartoons and video games. When kids are learning how to read, decoding requires some effort and can take some of the fun out of the story. I think this is one of the reasons that reading to kids is so important – when parents read great stories to children, they learn that books are interesting – or they will be, once reading gets easier. As a child, I was motivated to practice reading because I wanted to be able to read comic books on my own. When kids can see their favourite characters on TV 5 times weekly, those comics might not be as special. So when I’m reading, it’s a major production – I make up voices for the characters, I read faster when the story gets exciting, and I get excited about it too! Sometimes we stop to make sure everyone understands what’s happening and why, or we try to figure out what will happen next. Right now, we’re reading the How to Train Your Dragon series (it’s very different from the movie), which has such a combination of action and silliness that my boys go to bed begging for one more chapter. They know that SOME books can be really fun.
It’s not school. In fact, if you’re trying to make reading fun for kids, they should choose their material. Magazines, comics, the sports section of the newspaper – anything is fair game. I often suggest that parents look for “high interest, low vocabulary” materials. Teachers can sometimes recommend these. My favourites for young readers are by Mo Willems: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and Today I Will Fly! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) are only a few of his great stories. Don’t evaluate your child’s reading unless they ask you to; they’ll get that at school … You’re trying to make reading more fun!
Games are good too! A few years ago, there was a fantastic booklet that could be downloaded from Schwablearning.org called “25 Fun Ways To Encourage Reading.” It’s no longer available, unfortunately. Their suggestions included organizing a “word scavenger hunt” when you visit the grocery store with the kids. Adding letters to a Twister mat and playing the game with words instead of colours was another suggestion.
These are only a few ideas – our readers probably have even more. Tell us how you encourage your kids to read!
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