This week, we’re pleased to feature a guest blog from Young Adult Author Brenda St. John Brown, who recently published the popular novel Swimming to Tokyo. Read her advice to parents of Reluctant Readers (RR) and please let us know what you think!
Dear Parents of Reluctant Readers:
The last thing on the planet you want to do is sit here and have someone tell you how important reading is and how you need to get your kid to put down that iPod and crack open a book. You know they’re supposed to be reading, but between fights over homework, wrangling them into bed on time so they don’t fall asleep (for long) during class, and your Blackberry pinging like a slot machine, it’s one fight you just can’t find the energy for.
The very last thing you need right now is for someone to tell you your kid needs to read. You know that. After all, that’s why you’re here.
There’s a lot of parental guilt tied up in our kids’ success in school — even though they’re the ones actually in school. We as parents live a life full of should’s and ensuring your kid is a good reader is right there on the list next to buying organic milk. You want to do it. You believe it’s important in the long run. But it’s not always possible.
However, there’s a long list of what is possible when it comes to enticing a reluctant reader to actually read. Below is a laundry list of suggestions. Feel free to mix darks and lights. When in doubt wash everything in cold.
- Start when they’re young and establish a reading routine. Before bed, after school, during breakfast – set time aside every day to encourage the habit of reading.
- Let them see YOU reading. A book, magazine, newspaper, Kindle. Something other than your Blackberry/iPhone.
- You barely have time to think, let alone read? Flip through a magazine in line for the check out at the grocery store. Look something up online related to the place you were supposed to be 10 minutes ago.
- Or better yet…get your Reluctant Reader (RR) to do it. Whether it’s getting directions, confirming appropriate attire, opening times, etc., looking things up online requires reading. And a little bit of internet savvy, which never hurt anyone.
- However, before you send RR off to explore the wilds of the internet, please please please make sure you have parental controls set up! There’s a lot of weird stuff out there.
- Of course, RR is probably WAY more internet savvy than you, so those parental controls may not be bulletproof, but they will deter. And you still can make RR’s love for his device work for you. Get Grandma to engage in a competitive round of Words With Friends. Introduce RR to Buzzfeed. (Or don’t. But those quizzes ARE fun.)
- Does RR have a passion? Football? Makeup? Fashion? Minecraft? I’d bet there’s a blog or ten devoted to her interests. Do some web searching, yourself, when you’re stuck on a boring conference call and send her some links to read. Chances are, she’ll then find 20 better ones.
- Not keen on more screen time? Consider feeding RR’s passion with actual print. Sports scores are reported in newspapers daily. Magazines abound on every subject from cooking to cameras and they have shiny pictures. (Even my RR husband will read a car or a gadget magazine.)
- Graphic novels and comics count, too! For the RR, the key is finding the right thing to engage them. It may not be a book in a traditional sense, but graphic novels and comics have a story and can often provide an entry point to move on to different types of reading. Series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries and Middle School are all at a higher reading level than you might think and are great gateway books if RR likes graphic novels.
- And if/when RR is ready to move on, consider the library. It almost sounds old fashioned in this day of Amazon next-day delivery, but libraries are special — and I’m not just saying that because *I* love them. For the “cost” of a library card (FREE), kids have access to a huge variety of books — for FREE — and there’s the added benefit that RR will inevitably see another kid there picking a book, talking about a book, enjoying a book. Reading is a solitary activity, but enjoying books doesn’t have to be. And nowhere embodies book love like a library.
- When RR chooses a book from those hallowed shelves (or from Amazon — because let’s face it, not everyone can get to the library and that direct-to-your-doorstep delivery IS pretty special), your gentle guidance is helpful. NOTHING discourages RR more than opening a book and thinking, “This is work. This is hard.” Jumping right into Lord of the Rings, for example, may put RR off forever. Likewise, something too easy can be discouraging in a different way. RR declares a book “boring” and all books are boring because, well, they’re books.
- Guidance, however, is not to be confused with discouraging your RR if he seems dead set on a book. He’s picked Lord of the Rings and won’t be persuaded otherwise? Fabulous. It means he’s MOTIVATED to read it and you can help to facilitate his success. Suggest you take turns reading aloud for the first few chapters until he’s into the plot. Read the same book (or at least several well-reasoned reviews) so you can ask questions. Ask him to keep you company and read while you cook dinner, or keep him company while he gains an extra 15 minutes to read before bed. (This may only work up until a certain age. Your teenager may have mixed emotions about you snuggling up and keeping him company while he reads in bed? More to the point, you may not actually WANT to go in your teenager’s room. In which case…the kitchen it is!)
- Encourage RR to get at least one more book, too – especially if you’re borrowing for FREE from the library. That way she has another book that piqued her interest enough to actually carry out of the building with her.
- Both books turn out to be duds? Keep trying! You didn’t give up the first time RR spit out her peas, did you? You kept offering them and offering them and eventually she swallowed them. Reading isn’t quite the same, but for some it’s an acquired taste and it means lots of helpings of lots of different kinds of books.
- And whatever you do, don’t label your RR a non-reader. Kids live up to the labels we place on them and it only takes a couple of times overhearing a parent say, “Oh, RR just isn’t a reader.” before he starts to embrace it.
Even if you do all of the above, there’s no guarantee at the end of the day, that your RR will love reading. But she might. Or she might at least complain a little less about it and let you move on to more important arguments. Like what exactly is under her bed anyway? And are you really leaving the house in that?