While children are enjoying freedom from homework, find ways to pique their interest in reading for fun. Keep books in your car – connect with your library’s summer program – and be an obvious reader yourself to light the spark.
by Kathie Sutin
Sometimes you hear the same advice again and again. Maybe that’s because it actually works. Take the advice that teachers, librarians, and other experts keep giving to parents who are trying to get their children to like reading—if you want to turn on your child to reading, the best thing you can do is read yourself.
“When children see that mom and dad are readers, books have more value,” says Bernadette Nowakowski, director of children and young adult services for the have a selection of books focused on their child’s interests at Chicago Public Library.
Nowakowski recommends that parents keep books at home to encourage summer reading. “Children get excited when they have a selection,” Nowakowski says. “The key is to find the right book for the right child.”
The right book may include picture books about art, chapter books about wizard adventures and biographies of famous soccer or football players. Regardless of a child's age, Nowakowski said that parents need to appeal to a child’s interests. “You really need to find out what interests your child and then present books based on their interests.”
To encourage reading, Bianca Roberts, former manager of youth services for the St. Louis County Library, suggests letting your children select books they like instead of pushing them toward reading they may not be interested in.
“You always tend to want to force the classics,” she says. “They’re classic for a reason and that’s great. But sometimes reading a silly graphic novel is just as worthy as reading Moby Dick. Children will be exposed to the classics in school.”
Roberts urges that parenting styles stress reading as a recreational activity. “Part of the problem, especially with teenagers, is they have lost the knowledge of recreational reading,” she said. “They don’t know what recreational reading is any more. Every time they’re told to read something, it’s for an assignment or something that they don’t necessarily consider fun.
“They forget that reading is recreational. You do it just because it’s enjoyable. They tend to lose that because they are always being forced with the classics, the research paper, the essays.”
She also suggests keeping a stash of books in your car for those times you’re dashing to soccer practice or some other activity. “It takes time to get from home to the soccer field. Have materials available for the kids to read. Rather than worrying about whether your minivan has a DVD player to distract the child, put some books in the car.”
Here are other tips for turning your child on to reading:
● Look for books and articles on topics in which your child is interested. “If your child likes football, you want to find him football books,” Roberts says. “If he plays soccer, find books about soccer. You can find fiction and non-fiction for him to read.
“If you know your child hates science, don’t try to make him read a story about that famous chemist who won the prize for something. Don’t try to pique his interest in something unless you use something he’s already interested in.”
● Don’t think your child needs to read only books. Magazines, newspapers, brochures, and spiral-bound books all make for good reading material. “Reading material comes in many forms,” Roberts says. “It’s not just the novel.”
● Think outside the box. “There are places you can go online to find stories,” Roberts says. “Don’t think that reading is just a book. There are electronic books. There are also ezines, online magazines, many of which the content is submitted by other teens. Electronically, there are lots of offerings out there.”
Libraries boost summer reading
Library summer reading programs can help ensure that your child is motivated to read during the summer months. The incentives that libraries offer with these programs can even pique interest in reading.
The Chicago Public Library Children’s Summer Reading Program, “Reading is Art-RAGEOUS,” is designed to engage preschoolers to teenagers by combining cultural programs with reading activities. This year, the summer program has joined efforts with the Art Institute of Chicago.
Each week, young readers can participate in reading games, watch performers and storytellers, work with junior volunteers and tally reading totals for t-shirts and prizes. The program encourages pre-readers to work with picture books and older readers to complete chapter books. After each participant completes a book, he or she gets the opportunity to present an oral or written book report.
“We want it to be fun; not like an assignment,” Nowakowski says. “Children can produce a podcast, puppet show or read aloud from the book—just tell us something about the book to share what they have learned.”
A big part of the reading program involves more than 1,000 junior volunteers who work with the 50,000+ participants. Junior volunteers help tally book totals, listen to oral book reports and help participants select books.
“Mentoring is an important part of this program,” Nowakowski said. “Our community connection is also important—it brings the best of the city together with our young readers.”
Roberts notes that summer reading clubs are important for more than the recreational aspects—these clubs help kids keep up their reading skills while they’re out of school.
“One of the strongest cases for children participating in summer reading programs is that studies have shown that children who do not read during the summer score lower on standardized tests than children who do read during the summer,” she says.
“They tend to lose some of the skills over the summer because they are not practicing that skill. Summer reading club is not just something to do to keep your kids busy. It is very valuable.”
Kathie Sutin is an award-winning freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri. She specializes in writing about medical issues, travel, parenting, education, business, food and people. She has three children.
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