Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting Kids Interested in Reading

This week's review book, Z for Zachariah, is - according to the source himself - the book that got Wil Wheaton interested in reading as a kid. So we're talking a little bit about how to generate kids' interest in reading!

My parents never had to try to get me interested in reading, as far as I can tell. It was something I enjoyed, and they encouraged me in it. But not all kids are like me (and Cassy). Many parents do everything they can think of to interest their kids in reading, and still come up short. Here are some methods and ideas for getting kids to want to read:

Family Reading Time. This is a many-faceted technique that has been proven effective time and time again. Setting aside time for reading together shows a child that you value reading enough to make sure you have time to do it, and sets a good example. Reading together shows that it's something you enjoy and want to share with each other. Reading aloud to children helps them develop their reading skills (and if they're better at reading, they'll enjoy it more). It's also a pleasant way to end your day: bedtime stories, anyone? That's a less stressful way to get a kid ready for bed (as opposed to TV, video games, or physical activities that get them riled up). You can also incorporate reading into daily life: for a long time, I irritated my mom everywhere we went by reading every sign I could see from the car window. Food labels are another good one (which can also lead to more attention to nutrition, bonus!) and menus at restaurants, plus the packaging on just about anything in a store or your home. (From where I sit at this computer, without even turning my head, I see eleven things with labels or pieces of mail that you could have a kid read: pill bottles, junk mail, the label on the side of a dry erase marker, a bottle of Coke...)

Reading as a family also makes important memories.  Some of my best memories are of my dad sitting in bed with me and reading to me.  Library trips as families are also important.  You can participate in library programs together, and do things like "story time" at the library.  All fun activities that include whole families and get kids interested in reading.

Connect reading to their other interests. Does your kid like dinosaur movies, dinosaur video games, dinosaur figurines, dinosaur everything? Why would you try to make him read about anything other than dinosaurs? For a topic like that, fiction and non-fiction alike can have appeal. Whatever the kid likes in other media formats, they'll probably like to some extent in the form of books. (This doesn't mean every book in that genre or on that topic will appeal to them... book vary within topic/genre. Don't be discouraged if the first one or few don't work!) Librarians can help with this, particularly if the kid liked one book or one series and you can't find anything else that appeals to them. It's called reader's advisory ("I like x, y, and z; what should I read?") and it's awesome.

Ask questions. It's pretty likely that you couldn't give half a damn about whatever topic your kid is currently obsessed with: ninjas, zombies, princesses, ponies, the intricate details of Minecraft... but you still have to pretend you care. Ask the kid what they're reading about. Have them summarize, evaluate, analyze. Why did that character act that way? Would you have acted that way? Why or why not? On paper, it looks like an English class worksheet; out loud, it sounds like a conversation, because that's what it is. But try to do it without sounding like you're keeping tabs on them; in my pre-teens, my reading level was more advanced than my "age-appropriate content" level. Most people would agree that The Running Man by Stephen King is hardly appropriate for a 13-year-old, and a kid that age might not be able (or willing) to discuss the content of that book with their parents. Don't push the conversation; just give the kid an outlet to discuss what they're reading and try to maintain their (and your) interest.

Go to the library! Okay, it sounds a little self-serving, as a librarian, but it's true. Most public libraries have great children's collections and staff who are excited to get your kids excited about reading. They hold programs for various age groups, focusing on literacy, generating interest in new and exciting topics, and connecting reading to other areas of life (crafting, current events, holidays, traditions and cultures, music, popular movies or video games, math, science, etc.) to make kids think but also have fun.

Keep up with pop culture.  I know SO many people who became avid readers because they just read that one book that got them interested.  And you know what?  Most of them read Harry Potter.  Some of them The Hunger Games.  The point it, they are both incredibly popular books and it was the fad that got them into reading, good books that kept them there.  This is one of the (very) few times I will advocate for a book like Twilight.  Do I think it's an amazing literary piece?  No, it's crap.  However, it IS reading.  And you don't know that reading Twilight won't get a kid interested in another vampire book.  Which could then lead to a zombie book, which could then lead to a book about sorcery.  Don't discount a book just because it's not well written.  Maybe, that's just what a kid needs.

Don't forget, though... not everyone loves reading, and that's okay. I don't like advanced mathematics or the intricacies of economics 
(me either.  I can never make heads or tails of it.) 
Kids have to learn how to read, and it's great if they develop a love of it, but if you try everything and it just doesn't appear, you haven't failed. Either they'll decide they love reading later in life - maybe they'll serendipitously find exactly the right book - or they won't, and that's alright. Just give it a proper try when you have the chance, and let the kids bring the rest to the table.

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