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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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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