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Build a Reading Family: How to Share Reading with Your Kids

Build a Reading Family: How to Share Reading with Your Kids
Build a Reading Family: How to Share Reading with Your Kids

    With so many distractions available to them — cable TV, DVDs, MP3 players, PlayStations, MySpace, and the vastness of the Internet — it’s getting harder and harder to turn children on to reading. The idea of sitting down with a good book and losing yourself in it seems to be a casualty of today’s instant-on, entertainment-saturated culture.

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    It’s not just reading skills that are being lost. It’s possible that, adding together all the webpages, advertisements, in-game storyboards, and other bits and pieces of text that surround us, kids are reading as much as or even more than they were in the pre-digital era. But with reading, it’s not just raw figures that counts: it’s the quality of experience that’s being missed out on. Reading books teaches comprehension and vocabulary, certainly, but it also teaches the pleasures of slowly-building anticipation, the importance of lingering and reviewing to draw new meanings and connections, the projection of self into imagined worlds of our own making.

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    So how do we get kids interested in reading? As all parents know, children usually aren’t swayed by the “try this, it’s good for you” argument. Although none of the children in my family read as much as I do, I have had more than a little success getting them to read — and, perhaps more importantly, to like reading. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

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    • Take them to the library. I go to the library every Saturday morning, sometimes with just one child, sometimes with the whole family. We make an outing of it, and I spend at least a little bit of time with each of them brainstorming subjects to look up and reviewing books with them. It pays to talk to the librarian, especially if your library has a children’s books librarian, to see what special resources your library has and what they recommend for your children. Get to know the children’s section, too; our library has a section specifically devoted to Newberry award-winners, any one of which is guaranteed to be a hit.
    • Get them their own library card. Even if your children only go to the library with you, get each of them their own library card. Having a library card gives children a sense of ownership, a sense of investment in their reading choices. It’s something they own, a marker of participation. Our five-year-old, who doesn’t have a library card (library rules) but got a card for signing up for the summer reading program, told everyone he met for a week about his card: “I have a library card!”
    • Ask for a commitment. I come from a family of salesmen, and one of the first rules of sales is to make the customer commit him- or herself. So I tried it with my kids, and it works pretty well. Here’s what I do: at the beginning of the week, I ask each of them, “What are you going to read this week?” If they’re in the middle of something, they hold it up and I ask a few questions and we move on. If they’re not reading anything at the moment, I make a few suggestions and let them pick something. The idea is, once they’ve made a commitment, it becomes theirs; they’re not letting me down if they don’t keep reading, they’re letting themselves down. Since nobody wants to do that, they’ll push themselves — and I don’t have to. Reading becomes something they do for themselves, not for me. Excellent!
    • Read with them. Set an example for your children to follow. Ask your librarian if they have “family packs” (usually several copies of a book plus a reading guide), or if you can check out multiple copies of the same book. Have each member of the family, or at least a couple of you, read the same book at the same time. This way, you can discuss it, ask questions, and generally help your child get the most out of their reading. If you’re worried about reading “kid’s stuff”, don’t be; as it happens, some of the best writing being done today is in the early reader and young adult sections. There’s incredible stuff in fantasy and science fiction, as well as horror, mystery, and family drama stories. Again, look for Newberry winners, like Lois Lowry’s amazing book The Giver. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions of these books — most books for young readers are more than able to sustain deep analysis.
    • Know the awards. Unlike the Oscars and the Grammies, awards for children’s books are generally a marker of excellence, not merely popularity or name recognition. The Newberry and Caldecott medals are awarded by the professional association of children’s librarians, the Association for Library Service to Children, for outstanding contribution to American literature: the Newberry is for novels, the Caldecott for picture books. Other major awards include the Boston Globe – Horn Book award, given for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and illustration; the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; and the Hans Christian Andersen medal, awarded to an author from any country for a distinguished body of work. Look for the medals or other indications of award status, and if you’re not familiar with an award, ask a librarian or look it up on the Internet.
    • Aim high. I regularly bring home “young adult” books for my 11- and 12-year olds, after screening them to make sure there’s not anything I don’t think they can handle. Kids can handle quite a bit, though, if we let them; far too often we under-estimate their abilities and either bore them or acclimate them to mediocrity. Give them a chance to push themselves — most kids will rise to the challenge. Obviously this doesn’t mean giving War and Peace to your first-grader, but books by John Steinbeck, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and other major authors can certainly be shared with middle-schoolers. And getting them used to reading challenging literature outside of school can help prevent a merely average English teacher down the line from leaching the joy out of reading these books — or worse, instilling in them a fear of the classics.
    • Discuss amongst yourselves. Ask questions about their reading, whether at the dinner table, in the car, or on lazy weekend mornings. Ask them questions. If you’ve read the book they’re reading, test them — gently. Tell them how you felt about it when you first read the same book. Ask them what books it reminds them of, or how they feel about the main character. Let them tell you the whole story, “oh wait, I forgots” and “no, that was laters” included. Get them to talk about what they’re reading, to make it their own.
    • Ask older kids to read to younger kids. Reading out loud is an important skill in its own right, but it’s also an opportunity to bring siblings together, and to get older children in the habit of explaining in clear and simple language what they’re reading. And, of course, it will help instill a love of reading in your younger children. Along these lines, you might consider playing audiobooks in the car or around the house for younger children to listen to.
    • Limit screen time. This is hard. Extremely hard. As much as possible (without being draconian about it), limit time spent playing video games, surfing the Internet, or watching TV — not because they should be reading instead, but because they should be doing anything else instead. Maybe they’ll read. Maybe not. At least they’ll have a chance, though.
    • Don’t disparage other activities. Make reading compete against video games, and you’ll lose. Reading a book isn’t a substitute for TV, XBox, or FaceBook; it’s its own thing, with its own rewards. Encourage a healthy balance of activities, reading among them.
    • Don’t rush them. Kids read at their own pace. What takes me an hour and 45 minutes to read might take my step-daughter a week. That’s fine. Reading isn’t a race to see who can read the most pages a minute or the most books a month. If they’re dawdling, set reasonable goals (finish this chapter, read 10 more pages, whatever seems reasonable) or figure out why they’re stuck; otherwise, let them set their own pace.

    Remember, reading should be fun, not yet another chore to get through. It is something you and your children can share, not something they do for you. That said, be firm. Sometimes it’s necessary to apply a little pressure, but only when you’re absolutely sure it will pay off. When my partner asked her son to read a book she had loved, he balked; we told him he had to read the first three chapters, “or else!” I don’t think it was wrong to push him, but only because we knew he’d like it once he got started; a couple days later, he started telling us excitedly about some scene or other, and in the end he loved the book. If he’d still been uninterested after chapter 3, though, we’d’ve let him off the hook.

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    It bears saying that if you don’t read, your children won’t either. This isn’t a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of thing. Which isn’t to say that if you do read, they will; it’s only the first pre-requisite. Try some of the tips above and see how they work. Or share your own tips with the rest of us below.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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