In the age of television, iPads, tablets and other technological paraphernalia, getting your child to read can be harder than pulling out a stubborn nail. It’s hard to compete with television as that stimulates the visual and aural senses and appears to be an effective form of relaxation (I’m sure we’d all agree that it’s easy to switch off and become a couch potato).
However, resisting the temptation to use technology as the only form of habitual behavior is important as studies have shown that when people remain switched on and keep their brain working, their memories are improved. This improvement will lead to them becoming smarter, faster and more efficient, inciting respect from their peers and teachers.
So what’s the healthy alternative to television? Reading, of course.
It has a myriad of positive effects and while television can also be beneficial to a certain extent – depending on what is watched – developing a love of reading has greater long-term benefits. The best way to do this is to start young, but it’s never too late.
Figuring out why your child doesn’t want to read is the first step to rectify the situation as it determines what would be an effective motivator and what would not. If they’ve only been exposed to what they deem ‘boring,’ why not experiment with books about topics that interest them? If they claim it isn’t fun, it is usually caused by the extra effort put into comprehending the book, an indication that a less complex book would reduce their anxiety and stress relating to reading, allowing it to be more enjoyable.
Most of these protests require a gut feeling to respond, though there are common methods that can be used to incite a love of reading.
Surround them with books of all genres at home, create a library and reading corner at home as a retreat. If it’s a comfortable environment, the children are more likely to want to spend time there, so take the time to make it a tempting location.
If you allow them more opportunities to read in an environment they like and are relaxed in: the beach, a bath, outside, on a favorite armchair, in bed, they are more likely to develop a love of reading.
Go to public libraries regularly for assignments or just for fun. When I was a child, I remember always going to Penrith library with my parents whenever I had an assessment. We would do research in the library and come up with a creative plan to present my project. Afterwards, we would always go into the shops for some lasagne and ice cream. After a while, whenever I had a new assignment, I was the one who would plead to go to the library due to the positive associations my parents had developed between reading and fun family time.
Family time with books is a key way of developing a love of reading, whether it involves you reading to them or them reading to you, all that matters is having time to enjoy yourselves and laugh together. If you’re able to create a routine of half an hour a day reading time, it’ll be easier to create a habit. But this doesn’t mean you tell them to read and do your own chores, but that you yourself read with them – it can even be your own book.
You will find that you too will enjoy the written word of a good book and if you don’t, the smile on your child’s face will do it for you.
Children tend to emulate their parents and if you read yourself in front of your children, be it quietly or aloud, and you show them reading is both pleasurable and useful, it will make them more interested to investigate and try it out for themselves. When you read a great book, talk with them about it: why you liked it, what you learnt and eventually ask them similar questions with regards to their own books. A good book is something to be shared and discussed, so centre your dinner table discussions around books, hypothesise and guess with your children about what will happen next.
Talk about the characters and what they liked most about the book. If you keep them engaged, not only will it help them to continue reading, it’ll improve your bond with your child as you spend quality time together.
When your children read, praise and build their self-confidence. This should make it easier to get them to read aloud but do not force if they are nervous, work on their nerves and self-confidence first. Focus on the effort they put into improving their reading, not their current reading level, so their experience becomes enjoyable rather than an achievement test comparing them to other students. Be gentle, not judgmental when it comes to your child reading as we want them to associate positive memories with reading and when they do, motivation increases and results improve.
Have an evening’s entertainment be books of laughter: jokes, riddles, even reading out an amusing passage. An indirect way of developing a love of reading through family time is to play word games to help build vocabulary and imagination such as: I Spy, the dictionary game, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, and even find a word puzzles. Since childhood until now, I remember playing such games and not only are they fun, they are also educational (and most of the time, children don’t even notice they’re being taught).
As I’ve already mentioned, associating positive memories with reading and books is crucial in developing a love of reading. Anything you can do to improve their view on books will help them perceive reading in a more positive light. Most children consider what they read at school is boring and decide they don’t like reading at all. It is good to remind them that the school wants to regulate and educate them in particular areas and as not everyone has the same tastes, it is possible to not like the books prescribed for schoolwork, but there are many other options available. Visit used and new bookstores.
Make going to the bookstore more entertaining than going to a toy store. Browse and choose or let them choose books that interest them (while ensuring the book is at their level). They may be fiction or non-fiction, books about animals, sports books, whatever fascinates them.
As a child, I had books on a wide range of topics from horse care to ballet, fairy tales to classic tales and it was always a great opportunity for me to expand my horizons. Show your children that there are multiple types of books and just that you don’t like one doesn’t mean you don’t like reading. Buy them interesting books for their birthdays: take care not to overwhelm them and if there is something else they desperately want, do not veto that option for a book they don’t want or it will lead to resenting books.
For teenagers, a bookstore gift certificate is a better option as it gives them the choice. Teens love being in control and by allowing them to choose, you indicate your confidence in both your child and their reading skills. Young adult books and even adult books that you think they have the capacity to handle will give them books about topics that interest and engage them.
Don’t nag or criticise, encourage gently lest it lead to resentment and a hatred of reading. Instead, always leave time to read in their schedules, whether during breakfast or before bedtime. This is especially crucial on holidays where the children have the greatest opportunity to read. Allow them to read at their own pace, console them if they think they’re going very slowly at the moment as with practice, they will naturally speed up.
Just make sure that your children don’t go so slowly that they get sick of the book and put it away. The worst case scenario is that if they read a chapter a day, the book should be finished it in no time, quicker if it’s interesting and hopefully, your child will be begging for more.
Reading isn’t an isolated event that means one must separate from the world around them and not move for long periods of time. Children tend to be active so you should combine books with activities that interest them. If you’re going to a soccer game, why not read a book about their favourite player? If the main character learns archery, why not go to Sydney Olympic Park for a shoot for fun archery session? I know I’ve always enjoyed emulating what the characters in the books I read did, and you never know, you may just find a new hobby. I know I definitely did when it came to archery.
Other ways you can make writing interesting is by joining every reading/book/author event available and there are many of these. These events not only allow the children to engage with the authors, it allows them to spend time with and meet like-minded children and adults who also enjoy reading.
Most of these events occur yearly, such as the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May or the Book Expo in November and all of them have family days where children are taught that reading can be fun. In the modern period of technology, the barrier between author and reader is dissolving as authors are obliged to meet their fans and be open for publicity events. This allows a greater connection between authors and their readers and it can be especially interesting to not only meet your child’s favourite author but to read their websites and learn what started them reading or writing.
Perhaps your child will be motivated to become an author themselves. Get them used to writing and reading through diaries and journals, recording family trips that you take. Thus the key to developing a love of reading is to make it real and engaging.
Teach your children to read with the senses, smell books crisp and freshly printed or musty antiques, see books surrounding them in all colours, hear the whispering of pages or get audio books, taste the book – imagine eating what the character does, perhaps have your child eat a favourite treat while they read – this will create a positive association in their mind.
Don’t use television as either a reward or punishment for in this period, it’s become so ingrained in the lives of children that anything that affects it is considered a negative thing and can backfire at your attempts to get them to love reading. Talk to them about reading, mention its benefits: going to another world, getting free advice, finding a friend, becoming an expert in a topic of interest, be entertained and have a few laughs (in the case of comedy) or use their brain as they solve mysteries (detective fiction) and escape for a little while.
Children must be shown just how the written word can incite a picture that is as bright and colourful and detailed as the image on television, sometimes even more so – depending on the author. Once they learn to see the power of visualisation, the status of reading will increase.