Jessica O’Reilly was worried about her eight-year-old son, Ethan. When
Jess came home each day from her busy job as a lawyer, she often found Ethan
glued to the computer or playing music on his iPod. The books she had bought
him on space travel and robots sat untouched, gathering dust. Telling Ethan that
it was “time to read’ was met with groans and a long face. To make
matters worse, Ethan often asked why he was being made to read while his dad
got to do “cool stuff” like watching TV.
Jess, herself, knew the importance of reading. Her reading skills had helped
her through law school to become a successful lawyer. She also knew that reading
could be a joyous and rewarding experience. She recalled long summers spent
poring over her favorite novels as a child.
Jess had hoped her son would also develop the same love for reading. She fretted
that Ethan’s lack of interest in reading would affect his success in
life. Just last week, Ethan’s teacher mentioned he was falling behind
in his schoolwork and showed no enthusiasm toward reading at all. In fact,
he often went searching for the book with the least number of pages or most
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Jess was at a loss for a solution. How could she possibly convince her eight
year old that reading was more exciting than playing with his computer or iPod?
Jess, like many parents today, faces the challenge of encouraging her child
to read. The Reading Next panel estimates that more than 8 million U.S. students
in grades 4-12 are struggling readers. In addition, 70 per cent of 8th graders
read below proficiency levels. It has been well-documented that the majority
of children, who suffer from poor reading skills, continue to experience its
ill effects into adulthood. They are often plagued by a lifetime of low confidence
and are less able to achieve success in their studies and work, compared to
Today, an increasing number of children do not enjoy reading. In fact, it
has been found that young people between 15-24 spend an average of eight and
a half minutes reading for enjoyment. This compares to spending around one
to two hours watching TV or surfing the net!
Yes, the statistics are worrying. Like Jess, you may wonder how reading can
possibly compete with the myriad of dazzling distractions in the form of the
internet, video games and multimedia players.
Today’s newsletter article continues our series on teaching children
how to read. It focusses on how to make reading ‘cool’.
Tip #1 If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em!
The children of today are digital creatures, totally at home and comfortable
with the dizzying array of new technologies. It is little wonder that the
humble book has trouble fighting for your child’s attention when iPods
and computers scream “fun” and “adventure.”
So how do you get your children excited about the humble book? You may be
surprised at this answer: Don’t force them to read books. That’s
right. The internet, and even your child’s iPod, can be used as springboards
to activate your child’s interest in reading. Surfing the Internet can
turn into a reading adventure. Ask your children to look up information on
their favorite sporting hero or to uncover fascinating facts about the Loch
Ness Monster. Not only will they be able to practice their reading, they will
also be learning fun facts and developing important research skills. There
are also many computer reading software programs that are fun and interactive.
Like Jess’s son, is your child always bopping away to his iPod? Get
him to read the lyrics of his favorite song on the I-Pod’s display panel
and discuss the song’s meanings with him. Get him to find out all about
his favorite bands on the net and bring home music or fan magazines for him
Letting children read what they want to builds motivation and empowerment.
Ethan didn’t read the books his Mom had bought him because he wasn’t
interested in them. He wanted to read about ‘cool’ topics like
his favorite sporting hero Tiger Woods – not space travel or robots!
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Teachers and Principals
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Tip #2 Make Reading an Enjoyable and Stress Free Activity
Letting children read and learn at their own pace will motivate them! It’s
okay for your child to re-read old stories once in a while. Reading a familiar
text builds confidence and lets children enjoy their favorite stories. In addition,
don’t always focus on competitive reading. You will squeeze the fun out
of reading if your child feels pressured to read a certain amount of pages
or a “hard” book every time. Don’t compare your child’s
reading standards to other children. If your child has to go to a party on
Saturday afternoon, refrain from telling them that they have to finish reading
before they can join their friends. You will make reading a punishment and
your child will want to take shortcuts. Reading should be rewarding - not a
tedious chore which has to be done “‘cause Mom said so.” Turn
reading into an everyday activity focused on learning and having fun, without
pressures or punitive goals.
Tip #3 Reading is Everywhere
There are opportunities to practise reading… everywhere! Don’t reserve
reading for books only. Trips to the supermarket or school are opportunities
to encourage reading. Especially when children are young, engendering in them
a sense of curiosity about words is important. Play games in the car like I Spy.
Play with rhymes: “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with ‘bat.’” Ask
your child to read food labels while unpacking groceries. Point out road signs
and ask your child to read them and explain their meaning to you. When children
learn that words are everywhere and discover that reading allows them to learn
new and interesting things, they will want to read.
Tip #4 Lead by Example
Jess’s husband, Jim, is not setting a good example for their son. Everyday
when he gets home from work, he flops in front of the TV. No wonder Ethan complains
his dad gets to do all the “cool stuff!” If your child doesn’t
see grown-ups read, he will think reading is a boring chore that only children
have to do.
Incorporate reading into your list of family activities. Curling up on a Saturday
afternoon with a novel will encourage your child to do the same. When you read
the newspaper at the breakfast table, point out interesting news articles that
may interest your child. Show your child how you check for the latest news
updates on the internet, so they can do it, too. Discuss the books they read
and even the books you read. When conversations about words and stories become
a natural part of family activities, your child will be encouraged to read.
When Mom and Dad make reading ‘cool,’ their children will follow
It’s not impossible to make reading cool!
Today’s wonderful technologies are not necessarily distractions but
powerful tools that can aid the development of reading skills. In this digital
world, words do not solely belong on a page and can be found everywhere, in
the form of e-books, the internet or even song lyrics on an iPod. Embrace these
new technologies and help your child develop a lifelong passion for words and
reading. As we all know, a richly rewarding and successful life awaits the
High performance reading software. Unleash your reading genius!
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Department for Education and Skills (2005), A Little Reading Goes a Long Way,
Manning, M (2005), Coaxing Kids to Read, Teaching PreK-8, Mar, Vol. 35, Issue
Scherer, M (2005), Required Reading, Educational Leadership, October, Vol.
63, Issue 2