5 Dont’s to Raising Great Readers

Originally published May 2014

Anyone else worried that kids are doing less reading for pleasure?

Common Sense Media’s latest report on kids and reading suggests that just 17 percent of 17-year-olds are daily readers. For real? And a bit less than half—45 percent—admit to reading for pleasure just once or twice a year. That makes me weep for the future.

After all, learning, growing, evolving—the things that turn us from a child to adult—don’t just come from texts and textbooks. I’ve probably learned as much about me and the world I inhabit from fiction as I have from fact. Maybe more.

And the impact on the economy? Good God—if we’re raising a generation of non-readers, what’ll happen to bookstores? And all the hipster cool bookstore employees? And the adjacent indie coffee shops? And all the hipster cool coffee shop employees? It’s practically Armageddon!

In all seriousness, the statistics in the report are frightening. Younger kids’ scores are improving, but older kids’ scores are stagnant. There’s a persistent, significant gap in test scores between white, black and Latino kids (Diversity in Books, anyone?).

If you want to raise a great reader, there’s plenty of ways you can do it. But there’s also a few don’ts:

Don’t leave the house without a book. Headed to the beach? The park? A soccer practice? The mall? Put a paperback in your bag. By making reading an integral part of your routine, it’s a sign to your kids that reading is a worthwhile activity.

Don’t censor. Unless your kid is reading a book on how to build bombs or researching poisons that go undetected in your morning coffee, back off. Or, go ahead. Tell your kids they CAN’T read a certain book. That’ll guarantee they’ll go running for it. Sure, your third-grade son reading “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” can be a little tough on the nerves. The point is to encourage questions about the books they read and then, engage.

Don’t judge. I hated Junie B. Jones. Damn, but reading that with my daughter was like fingernails on a chalkboard. But when you actively hate on something your kid is enjoying, they’ll either a) stop that activity or b) decide your opinion doesn’t matter that much.

Don’t stop reading to (or with) your kids. Every parent has that internal meltdown at the thought of reading Green Eggs and Ham even one more time, or cringes when they hear, “Again!” Suck it up as best you can. Change it up with an easy chapter book for younger kids. Or introduce older kids to a different genre, like Sci-Fi.

Don’t stay silent. Talk about what you’re reading. Ask them questions about their books. Go ahead, talk in the library. No one’s asking you to start a book club, but if you did, would it be so bad? Reading not a passive activity, and neither is raising great readers. Grab a book, grab a kid, and turn the page.

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