Reading: it’s one of the many things for which, throughout the centuries, we as humans have developed an affinity. In the past, reading belonged to intellectuals; it wasn’t until the early 1700s that reading became a personal form of entertainment and enjoyment.
Despite our passionate beginnings, America’s love affair with reading seems to be waning. From 1984 until 2013, the percentage of nine-year-olds reading for enjoyment at least once per week dropped from 81% to 76%. The gaps are larger for older children: only one-third of 13-year-olds and half of 17-year-olds report reading for fun more than twice a year.
Numerous studies have found that as people get older, they not only read less, but fewer of those reading do so for the mere enjoyment of it. Additionally, one in four children grow up not knowing how to read.
With this growing gap in literacy and motivation for reading, how do we rekindle the fire of reading in the hearts of the next generation?
While there are numerous reasons children don’t feel motivated to read, many simply don’t know how. Most children who don’t want to read or “don’t like” reading are struggling with reading itself. Whether students struggle with phonics or comprehension, the obstacle at hand makes reading a difficult and stressful task and prevents them from viewing the activity as something to enjoy. Here are some ways to make reading a joy.
Even a riveting story will leave a student frustrated if the story’s reading level is too high. Be sure to help choose age-appropriate books that will give your student confidence in his own ability to learn and read. Look for a book that a student can read without much help but that offers vocabulary and grammatical structures that will challenge him. As a student progresses, offer higher level books – and be ready to support him with the new challenge.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has compiled the many benefits of reading aloud to children at every life stage. While babies and toddlers learn to hear rhythms, tones, and sounds, older children can improve their listening skills. Since book language is more descriptive and uses more complex and formal grammar, it expands a child’s vocabulary and language skills and allows her to learn to decode words and increase comprehension. When reading aloud, strive to make it a pleasant experience and don’t stress too much over finishing the whole story or reading for a certain amount of time. As students’ attention spans increase, so, too, can reading time.
To encourage regular reading, consider adopting a book-centered approach to curriculum and lesson planning. By taking a text or book and using it as the base for teaching, you can encourage reading as well as provide relatable connections to the knowledge students accrue. Cross-curricular planning can help you link multiple subjects while keeping reading as a fundamental a part of the curriculum.
Developing a lifelong love of reading in your student can have benefits for years to come. Books can take our imaginations to faraway lands and different times in history. They open our eyes to worlds around us and expand our knowledge beyond our own worldview and culture. Reading for pleasure is also known to reduce stress, and some studies have even suggested it could help prevent or reduce the effect of Alzheimer’s.
As much as reading is an important and vital skill for school and life, you cannot force a student to do it. A love must be developed. When possible, give students more autonomy when they read and offer a choice in reading material to make it less stressful – and to foster a sense that reading is something in which to indulge rather than a chore to complete. For older children, offer suggestions and a range of choices, but let them ultimately choose what to read to improve their literacy and encourage self-motivated reading for pleasure. According to a Scholastic literacy advocate, “You tend to get better at something you love to do.” Even if students make a book choice they later don’t like or choose a lower or higher reading level, the process will teach them how to choose books that are age-appropriate and discover their own preferences for story and style.
Be selective with your book offerings. Look for the following when developing your book lists:
Check for content: Is it an interesting topic? Does it relate to their stage of life? Is it an exciting read?
Check for appropriateness: Is the topic too mature or immature? Is the reading level too high or low?
Check for story: Does the story flow well? Is it confusing? Does the plot make sense?
Choosing the right books can make the difference in whether or not a student chooses to read. Show her that the world of reading is exciting and filled with fantasy, adventure, detailed storylines, and unlimited possibilities.
Another way to keep students interested in reading is to change up their reading mix every so often. Most children only know the environment in which they grow up, so it can be difficult for them to imagine something other than what they see or know. By diversifying their reading repertoire, you expose them to the many possibilities in the world of stories and experiences. In addition to diversifying topics, choose stories that are about cultures or perspectives that differ from their own. If students have primarily read stories in the first person, find one in the third person. Offer other forms of literature, such as poems, songs, or comic books. Add to a fiction book list with autobiographies and eye-opening natural science books. As students begin to see numerous possibilities and points of view, they will begin to discover what styles and topics they like for themselves.
Young children mimic and copy what they see parents and other adults do, so it should be no surprise that one of the best ways to encourage a love of reading is by modeling it. A 2014 Common Sense Media research report stated that 57% of parents of children who are frequent readers set aside time each day for their child to read, compared to 16% of parents of children who are infrequent readers. How often a parent engages in reading has shown to have a stronger correlation to a child’s reading frequency than family income. If educators and parents alike adopt positive attitudes and behaviors toward reading, then the children watching will do so as well.
Growing a child’s love of reading takes patience and time, but it’s well worth the wait. As one teen in California expounds, “It’s exciting, and it’s better than any movie I’ve ever seen or ever will see because I can make the anything look the way I want it to, from the characters to the backdrops. Reading gives you imagination.”
The fire is burning. It’s up to us to keep fanning the flames.