How to Encourage Children to Read
It All Began with Webster's
My mother wrote in my baby book that my favorite book at 3 years old was the Webster's Dictionary. I cannot begin to tell you how embarrassed I used to be when she shared the book proudly even into my elementary school years.
By the time I started school, I was reading the newspapers and discussing the headlines at the dinner table. Until middle school, I was only allowed to watch one hour of TV per day, so it better be a good show! And nearly every year from 12 - 17 years old, I was signed up for a summer book club at the library. Mother rarely gave me the answers; instead, she told me "look it up." From then on, I was a research fiend. It is an addiction.
Ah, those were the days when "Reading (was) Fundamental" and "School House Rock" was all the rage. But now, there is disturbing news about literacy in America.
Important Information from the National Center for Education Statistics
- Approximately one-third of all 4th grade public school students are at or below the “Basic” level on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading tests.
- By 8th grade, there is little improvement since 26% public school students performed at or below the “Basic” level on the NAEP reading test (NCES, 2009).
African-American, Hispanic, and American-Indian students are disproportionately affected. Among 4th graders, one-half of these students scored below the "Basic" level.
What is more troubling is that "the number of high school seniors who read at or above “proficient” has been declining since 1992."
Important Roles Families Play
Make no mistake that family plays a major role in literacy. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 43% of adults read at or below the "Basic" level. That is approximately 93 million people.
Likewise children who are read to three or four times per week are twice as likely to recognize all of the letters of the alphabet. When classrooms have low parental involvement, the reading average of the class is 46 points below the national average.
If that is the case, then why do less than one-half of American families read to their kindergarten-age children on a daily basis? (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2000).
America’s Most Literate Cities - A Study by Central Connecticut State Universities
In a 2013 study of 75 American cities, interestingly, the study found that "wealthier cities are no more likely to rank highly in literacy than poorer cities."
American cities that ranked at the top were:
- Washington, DC
- Seattle, WA
- Minneapolis, MN.
At the bottom of the literacy list were El Paso, TX, Stockton, CA, Corpus Christi, TX, and Bakersfield, CA. The study was limited to those cities with an estimated population of 250,000 or larger as of July 1, 2011.
Children Need Your Time
Helping Your Child Learn to Read: A Parent Guide
- Download the brochure here
a publication of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
You Make the Difference
Some of the statistics can be overwhelming. Whether your community has a literacy program or not, there are some easy ways that you can make the difference in your child's life and how you can encourage them to read. Your child may even have a bunch of excuses NOT to read. Here are my top ten ways on how to overcome those excuses and encourage reading at different stages of development.
Benefits of Reading
- 5 Physical Benefits of Reading
"Books are great for your mind, but they also do the body good, too. Here are 5 ways reading affects your body."
Top 10 Ways to Encourage Children to Read
1. Start early: Read to your children even when they are infants - it can soothe them and you!
2. No TV: Turn off the TV, computer, video games, etc., for a set reading time everyday, even if it is only 15 minutes...."Now it's reading time."
3. Include snacks: Read to them during snack time.
4. Sit close: Sit them close to you when you are reading. They will feel loved; and they are getting good attention from you.
5. Questions: Have them ask you questions at the end of the book/chapter - it gets them to learn how to think about what they are reading for the future.
6. Read at Bedtime: Bedtime stories with hot cocoa for them and you are the best. Of course, you may prefer to drink your coffee or tea. They are left to go to sleep with nice images in their head and warm feelings in the heart.
7. Get a library card: Take them to the library and get them a library card - it makes them feel independent, "Now you can get books whenever you want." They can go with friends or a relative too!
8. Visit a great library: Take them to the library and stay awhile. Let them read the first 2 or 3 pages there. Ask them if they like the way it starts so they can decide if they want to read the rest. Go to different libraries to break up the monotony - maybe even a day trip to a large, "fancy" library, like the New York Public Library or the Library of Congress in DC. Best of all, LIBRARIES ARE FREE!
9. Use encyclopedias: There is nothing like a good-old fashioned set of encyclopedias. When your children ask you questions tell them to look it up and share what they found with you. It teaches them how to research, makes them feel smart and confident. Make it a game called, "I betcha didn't know..."
10. Let the child read: Have them read to you. For example: "Hey, since you're such a good reader, why don't you read to me something you enjoyed in school today."
"We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement." from B. F. Skinner: The Man and His Ideas by Richard Isadore Evans, 1968.— B. F. Skinner
Share Your Experience
How often do you read to your child/children?
Learn more about book clubs for kids from PBS.
- Book Clubs for Kids | PBS Parents
Book clubs are a great way for parents and children to share books and enjoy special time together. Learn the benefits of book clubs for kids and how to start one.
On a personal note...
I raised three kids of my own, all of whom are avid readers. They are always researching something following my mantra, "if you don't know the answer, look it up." And one of them, my daughter, is majoring in library science in college. She called me the other day to discuss her latest (and major) research project on a 14th-century Carthusian missal.
"A Cart-what?," I say!
Her dream job is to work for the Library of Congress. Who knew?!
As for me, not only do I read books, I write them. Yup, it is true, my book is on the library shelf!
Once the dictionary was my favorite book, now it is the thesaurus. Some things never change (*smh*).
By Liza Lugo, J.D.
© 2012, Revised 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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