There’s no doubt about it that kids who read are better off in so many ways. Reading:
- makes them smarter
- teaches them empathy
- helps them learn about their world around them
- exercises their brains
- improves their concentration
- enhances their vocabulary and language skills
- develops their imagination and stimulates their curiosity
- helps them do well in school (and not just in English but other subjects, too)
If there is one simple thing we can do that benefits our children in many ways, it is to teach them to love reading. When my kids were younger, this was a lot easier. As they grow older, I find that we face new challenges – competing interests. Now that they have learned to read, how do we keep them reading? How do we raise lifelong readers?
The Decline in Reading for Pleasure
As children grow older, there is a decline in their interest in reading. Even those who loved to read when they were little, begin to trade their books for other interests. New research, published earlier this year by the National Literacy Trust, has found that this decline is a trend that is getting worse with each passing year:
just over half (52.5%) of 8-18-year-olds reading for pleasure in 2019, down from 58.8% in 2016, and only a quarter (25.7%) reading daily, compared with 43% in 2015.FMcM
Scholastic, a worldwide children’s book publishing company, surveyed 1000 children from ages 6 to 17 to understand their reading habits. They found that there is a steady drop in books and reading for pleasure around the third grade.
While 57 percent of 8-year-old kids said they read for fun five to seven times per week, that number went down to 35 percent within one year.Romper
It’s nothing we didn’t already know. In the past years, we’ve seen plenty of articles lamenting on the declining rate of children reading for pleasure. We blame it on digital media, whether it’s texting, surfing on the internet, or using social media. Whatever the reasons, we need to do something to shift the tide. How can dull, boring books fight the excitement of digital media?
There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Book
When G1 was little, I was a literary snob. I subscribed to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy for reading which was to encourage children to read “living books” and to avoid meaningless “twaddle”. While that philosophy may have worked for G1, I found that G2 only liked reading “twaddle”. It was either risk putting G2 off books and reading completely, or help him discover the love for reading with “twaddle”.
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.Neil Gaiman
I have since jumped on the Neil Gaiman bandwagon that there is no such thing as a bad book for children. Although I will amend that statement to add that books, like movies, have ratings and appropriateness as well. While there may not be bad books per se, we do need to be aware of what is or isn’t appropriate for our children to read.
While we’re on the topic of “bad books”, did you know Enid Blyton’s books were considered to be poor writing? But what does that matter when she was able to catch the attention of children and they loved her stories? She single-handedly raised a generation of readers and her books continue to engage children even today so why are we complaining?
Good writing always stands the test of time and trends but, in the eyes of many critics, Blyton’s continued success is an enigma because her work is considered to be exceptionally poor. Hollow plots, repetitive storylines, two-dimensional characters, limited vocabulary and bland, unliterary penmanship are all evident throughout her 700-plus books. They do, however, make a good substitute for a warm, fluffy comfort blanket and have provided succour to children for decades. – Independent
So there you go – you don’t have to go looking for award-winning literature. It is far better to have a child who enjoys reading than one who won’t read because the only books you deem suitable are ones they wouldn’t go near with a ten-foot pole.
Stories for Lifelong Readers
For a while, I have been struggling to get G2 to broaden his reading repertoire. He rejected book after book, even the ones that G1 had recommended him. Then he started reading Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and it changed. He devoured the entire first series faster than I would have thought possible. I didn’t have to remind him to “pack a book” because Percy Jackson was high on his list of “important things”. He would stay up past his bedtime at night to sneak in a couple more pages of reading.
There was something magical about the way Rick Riordan wrote his first series of books that appealed to G2. He would want to share parts of the story with anyone willing to listen and even if they weren’t as G1 would frequently point out, saying, “You know, I’ve read this entire series?”
Then G2 got to the second series – The Heroes of Olympus – and his reading came to a grinding halt. It was as if someone had pulled the handle for the emergency brakes on the express train. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “I don’t like the new story. Where’s Camp Halfblood? I want them to go back to Camp Halfblood.” G1 explained that they would eventually head back to Camp Halfblood, but it remains to be seen if G2 will persevere until then.
59 percent of parents read to kids from birth to age 5, but only 38 percent read to their 5- to 8-year-olds, and a scant 17 percent keep reading to kids age 9 to 11. Yet most kids age 6 to 11 (and most parents) report that they enjoy read-aloud time.Commonsense Media from Scholastic’s 2016 Kids & Family Reading Report – a national survey of children age 6 to 17 and their parents, exploring attitudes and behaviors around books and reading.
Far too often, we stop reading with the kids when they can read on their own. We figure that they don’t need us to read to them anymore but children often enjoy reading together long after they’re capable of reading alone.
Reading together is not only great for encouraging kids to maintain good reading habits, but it is also a great way to bond. In addition to spending time together reading, stories also provide you mutual subjects to talk about. For instance, G2 loves sharing what he’s read but the conversation is so much more meaningful when I am familiar with the story as well.
We started the reading aloud together when I was trying to encourage G2 to read books he wouldn’t ordinarily pick up on his own. In addition to bonding with them, reading together:
- broadens their reading repertoire
- improves their vocabulary
- gives me an insight into their interests
- builds attention and listening skills
- allows us to discuss difficult issues and explore ideas in an open, non-confrontational way
If you don’t like reading aloud, or if you are finding it difficult to make time, audio stories in the car with apps like Scribd are fantastic. It provides us the opportunity to actively listen together. We can pause to discuss ideas, make predictions, share our thoughts about the story, then resume the story when we’re ready. It also allows the kids to hear fluent, expressive reading that contributes to their learning and understanding of the text.
More about reading aloud together:
- A Few Science-Backed Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Kids
- Why We Should Continue To Read Aloud To Older Children
- 10 Reasons You Should Read Aloud to Big Kids, Too
Start Them Young
In a world with so many interesting distractions, it is easy to lose your child’s attention. It is important to cultivate a positive relationship with books from an early age.
Keep a variety of reading material around the house. Books should always be easily accessible to children, but it doesn’t have to be limited to books. Graphic novels, magazines, and newspapers are great reading materials as well. In fact, anything with words can be used to encourage reading – one child was encouraged to read with Pokemon Cards.
Start with the Movie
When G1 was younger, I would use movies to capture his attention. After watching the movie, if he really liked it, he would want to read the book. Now that he’s older, he prefers to read the book before watching the movie because he wants to see his own images before the ones in the movie influence his thoughts.
Sometimes popular movies can be a great way to introduce kids to books. A teacher lamented to me that her teenage students were not interested in reading and asked what she should do. After we discovered that they loved The Hunger Games movies, I suggested she start with The Hunger Games books. Neil Gaiman’s words should be a mantra – “there is no such thing as a bad book”. Besides, The Hunger Games is a story that provides plenty of meaty topics for discussion.
At our school, children are encouraged to read with The Accelerated Reader Program. It’s a reading program that assesses a child’s reading level and helps them identify which level of books they should be reading to further develop their reading skills. It also tests their comprehension of the book to ensure they understood it. Through the Accelerated Reader Program, teachers set targets for the kids and run class competitions to encourage the children to read more.
Every Journey is Different
The divergent experiences of my two boys have taught me how different every child’s journey can be. Maybe you’re lucky and you have an eager reader like G1. Or perhaps you’re struggling to encourage your reluctant reader like G2. If you’re in the latter camp, don’t give up. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right first book that unlocks the door to the magical world of reading. We don’t always know what that book will be so we have to keep exposing them to different reading material.
I also want to reiterate that graphic novels (a.k.a. comic books) are fair game. Don’t be deceived into thinking that they’re rubbish reading. The vocabulary in a graphic novel can be quite advanced. It can also be the catalyst that triggers the love for reading. I have heard of children who started with graphic novels and moved on to novels. In fact, I was one such child. I used to read comic books about Dr. Strange, Tin Tin, and Astrix.
Whatever your child’s journey, remember that it all begins with us. If we want to encourage our children to be readers, we need to be readers ourselves. Not just anything – we need to read books. I might even venture to add that it should be a physical book because reading off a device looks no different from surfing the internet or scrolling through social media.