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Book Learning

Get your kid into reading

It’s August. Your child has been swimming, biking, and playing video games. But has she been reading?

Up until fourth grade, most area schools don’t have specific summer reading requirements. Once in fifth grade, however, most students are required to read at least one book from a published list. And yet, strangely, your child doesn’t leap for the nearest book when you helpfully remind him of his summer reading. For many of you, this is the battle you dread all summer. It’s the ominous cloud crowding the sun as you play on Green Lakes beach. Every year you vow that he’ll begin his reading earlier, but somehow you can’t bring yourself to raise the issue, knowing the battles to follow.

reading back to back


Here are some ready responses for your child’s summer reading complaints. Perhaps this year won’t be so painful. Perhaps she’ll learn to like reading again.

1. “I hate reading!” Value the sorts of reading your child does naturally. Most of us envision just one thing when we think of reading material: tiny print with no pictures in a bound book. So when we don’t see our kid with a “real” book in his hands, we don’t count it as reading. But our kids read all of the time: text messages, e-mails, instant messages, Web articles, comic books and magazines. Once you value his reading, you may find that your child realizes he already enjoys reading. Encourage him to do more of his kind of reading. There are sophisticated graphic novels (check out Persepolis or Maus) and engaging magazines about every topic imaginable, including video games. Surprise your child with a magazine subscription about a topic he loves, like snowboarding or soccer.

2. “Reading is stupid! What’s the point?” Reading is an essential skill in order to graduate high school. However, kids who struggle in school can easily forget why that’s a good goal to have. You already know that people with high school diplomas will earn more money and get better jobs. But did you know they can actually expect to live longer? Studies show that high school graduates live nearly a decade longer than high school dropouts. So what’s the point of reading? Reading gets you more money, better jobs and a longer life. 

3. “Books are dumb!” Ask a librarian at your local branch for advice so your child can make an informed choice. Even if your child does like to read her motocross magazine, chances are that’s not on the summer reading list. Visit your local library together armed with the list. A good librarian’s mind is better than a card catalog. Your child should be prepared to describe her likes and dislikes. If she’s ever read a book she’s enjoyed, mention the title. Movie tastes are helpful, too. Action? Horror? Mysteries? The Library of Congress has more than 32 million books. You can be sure there’s a book out there that your child will love; it’s just a matter of finding it. Even though she’s limited by the list, there are still options; and, since choice is essential, she should be the one to select the book, based on her own tastes and the librarian’s recommendations. Chances are, she’ll select a shorter book and that’s OK. After all, learning to love reading is a process. 

4. “I can’t do it!” Like student choice, reading level is an important part of the book selection process. It’s essential that your child read a “just right” book—a book at the perfect reading level. If the book is too hard, it’s likely to do more damage than good. If there are more than five words on a page that your child doesn’t know, it’s probably too hard to read. For a child to grow to love reading, he needs to feel successful doing it.

5. “Only nerds like to read!” You need to read, too. You’ve heard it before: Model the behaviors you want your child to adopt. Think that rule doesn’t apply to adolescents? It does. (They just won’t thank you for it anytime soon.) Read in front of them. Instead of turning on the TV when you get home after a rough day, open your favorite magazine. When you read something funny or beautiful or crazy, say something about it. Show them that reading is comforting, inspiring and fun. Visit the library regularly and fill your home with reading material. Even if your child doesn’t seem to be paying attention, she’ll notice. And be on the look out for readers in your community. Whether your kid is into sports, fashion or movies, there are role models who read. Check out the NBA’s “Read to Achieve” program or the American Library Association’s “Celebrity Read” posters.

6. “What will you give me?” Avoid bribes. Let’s face it: Bribes are popular because they work. But they only work in the short run. I’ve known parents who have offered everything from candy to cars in exchange for good grades. If you offer your kid a car, of course he’s going to work hard. But what will you do next month? If you bribe, you’re setting up an external motivation for working hard when what you want to do is nurture an internal love of reading. If you pay your child to read, he’ll learn that reading is work, not fun. Your child will fall in love with the prize, not the process. If you want your child to be truly successful in school and life, help her become a lifelong learner and lover of reading.

Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York