KIDS NEED TO READ
A Practical Perspective on Kids and Reading
Don’t run away! I’m not playing the blame game or finger-pointing – but isn’t it time we realistically and rationally discussed why kids don’t read much, especially boys.
This is what I know:
1. Self-righteous, Proust-like rants about the miracle of reading (although true) will not motivate kids to read. Yelling at them to read won’t work either.
2. Reading levels are falling, both in qualitative and quantitative terms (faster for boys than girls).
3. E-books are not the answer. Some professionals in the reading community continue to hope for a miracle. It won’t happen. E-books are fantastic for use by strong and avid readers. They will not turn non-readers into readers because there is an electronic device involved. E-books will obviously continue to play a role in reading, but not the savior role some had hoped.
This is what I believe:
1. Kids only read when they want to.
2. Kids will only want to read when they experience reading in a compelling manner.
Presentations won’t do it – even on PowerPoint! Conferences on reading won’t either – kids don’t go to conferences.
So how do we get kids to read, I hear you cry.
By making books and reading a part of their lives – year after year – as in until the end of high school. After that, the war is either won and a life-long reader has been created, or another soul is destined to live a life of literary ignorance.
Here are six ideas to stem the tide – and get kids reading:
1. Get computers out of schools. Kids don’t need to practice their youtube skills in school – those are highly developed by kindergarten. [Confession: I find it funny when I see a skateboarder wipe out on a railing – the occasional cat slipping on a tile floor can make me laugh too].
Kids don’t learn better on computers – it’s just a cheaper way to deliver “educational services”.
2. Dedicate real time to reading – as in one hour every day. They may not like it at first, but make it part of their day, their routine, their lives. The goal is not to get 100 percent of all kids to be intense readers – let’s get to 10 percent first.
3. Schools need to stop forcing kids to analyze books – nothing kills the joy of reading more than analysis. Instead, let them read, and then, every so often, ask them to write a story related to that book. It could be a sequel idea, or something in a similar style or on a similar topic.
It’s simple, really: Read. Write. Repeat.
Teachers will still have plenty of opportunities to teach grammar, plot, structure, brain-storming techniques, character development – even the difference between a simile and a metaphor. Just don’t assign book reports!
4. Limit your kids to one hour of screen time a day at home – two hours on the weekend [family time watching movies and sports is not included – let’s not be monsters].
So yeah, that means turning the computers, gaming devices, and televisions off.
Parents need to step up here. Are we really that terrified of our kids?
Your kids will figure out something to do – and it won’t be us. We’re adults – which means we’re very boring. We’re so boring to our kids that they’ll even read a book to get away from us!
This point involves some introspection. Parents are putting screens in front of their infants in strollers. We’re losing the war.
5. Be realistic – this is a war. Books are the casualty of the war being waged by technology for the hearts and minds of our kids. That means we need to fight back; and we don’t have to just throw our hands in the air and give in to increasingly low attention spans. We can demand that our kids read – and continue to demand it until it happens. No surrender. Let’s win this war. And yeah, refer to point 4 – that’s a big one.
6. Go to the library. Parents tend to avoid libraries after kids get into grade 1. Doesn’t have to be that way. Kids act funny in a library. They complain, wander around, sit in a chair and stare at the wall – and then (eventually) they’ll peruse the shelves. They can’t help themselves. They can’t deal with boredom. They’ll also (eventually) take a book out.
This represents winning a battle, by the way.
And once your kid asks to go to the library, you’re winning the war.
Add on idea: I’d love to see kids walk to their public library once a week. School libraries are not usually as well stocked as our public facilities. We can combine exercise with reading (admit it – this is a good idea).
This Problem Won’t Solve Itself – and Schools Can’t Do It Alone
Teachers are bombarded with complicated curriculums that focus on “covering the topics” – learning be damned. Principals are focused on budgets – not their fault, because their budgets are shrinking.
Private enterprise will not stem the tide either. To expect Apple computers to get kids excited about reading is naive at best – and at worst, willfully ignorant. That kind of thinking reminds me of a current campaign from Coca-Cola’s to reduce child obesity (check out their website – it’s true). I’m not really convinced Coca-Cola is going to stop the massive increase in obesity, nor do I believe for a moment that any computer program can ignite a passion to read.
The first step in solving this problem is admitting we have a problem. Take a deep breath, let it out, and repeat after me:
I don’t make my kids read enough. They spend too much time on the computer, gaming, and watching television. I will change that. I will win this war.
You can say it to yourself – or even better, lean out a window and scream it for all to hear.
I love comments and will reply to all of them, so let me know how you feel at firstname.lastname@example.org; and come back the first of every month to my website and read my next installment of Kids Need to Read.