I’ve never liked the phrase “getting kids to read.” And yes, I’m a children’s book editor. Cue the gasps! But before you leave a comment asking if I’ve lost it, please let me explain: To me, this phrase sounds like a coercion—as if reading isn’t something that’s naturally fun and that kids might actually choose to do on their own. It also sounds a little bit condescending. I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily love the idea of someone trying to “get me” to do something.
Perhaps even worse, the phrase calls to mind for me those systems that reward kids for reading—say, they’re allowed to play video games for an hour if they read for twenty minutes nightly for two weeks, or they earn an ice-cream sandwich for reading a certain number of books in a month. Such systems make reading sound like a chore. If I’m a kid, I’m wondering, “What’s so awful about reading that I get to do something fun once I’ve read?”
I say that, instead, we make reading itself the reward. We create an environment that lets kids discover the joy of reading on their own. How to do this? There are so many ways, but here are some of my favorite ideas.
● Leave interesting kids’ books lying around in places where young people are.
● Download cool kids’ books on any tablets or smartphones that kids have access to.
● Take kids to libraries and/or bookstores just to explore.
● Read aloud to kids for fun, not to “improve their reading skills.” (I believe that reading aloud is fun for both fluent readers and for those who aren’t inclined to read for pleasure—but it can be especially inspiring to the latter. It shows them that topics they enjoy can be accessed through the written word, and that’s something they may not have realized if their only experience with reading is struggling to independently read materials required for school.)
● Let kids read what they want to read, not what you want them to read. This may mean they read articles on the Sports Illustrated Kids website instead of that highly-reviewed astronomy book you found them—and that’s great. It means they’ve discovered something to read that speaks to their passion.
● For a different twist on reading rewards programs, try lumping the “reward” and reading together—for example, serve ice-cream sandwiches at a read-aloud of a book about how ice cream is made. Doing something fun while you read can make the experience enjoyable for those who aren’t crazy about reading and even more awesome for those who already love it.
What ideas do you have to help kids discover for themselves how wonderful reading is?