Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. —Richard Steele
One of the most frequent questions that I have been addressing of late is the issue of getting children to read. It seems that somehow we have fewer readers and less children enjoying reading for the pleasure of it.
Our goal should be to get kids reading again—it leads to broader background knowledge. Reading attitudes, reading self-image, and frequency of reading are interconnected. It’s a cycle; getting kids to read will not only improve their reading, it will make them like reading more. How do we reverse the current trend? How do we prompt a child with negative or indifferent attitudes toward reading to pick up a book?
When we are confronted with children who don’t want to do what we want them to do, a common solution is to use rewards or punishments as motivators. These are only short term answers. To clearly depict this; what if I told a third grader, “If you read a chapter of that book, you will get some ice cream?” Of course the child will excitedly take me up on the offer and have a positive experience. That isn’t bad of itself, after all one of our objectives is for them to have positive reading experiences.
So yes, rewards do work, short term. Find what motivates the child, and you can get them to perform to achieve that goal. The issue is that it doesn’t deal with the underlying situation which is the attitude boost that is more long term.
If you’re thinking of rewarding a child to read, that is surely a child who has not been reading recently, and whose attitude toward reading is pretty set. A massive turnaround is unlikely. If not rewards, then what?
Leverage on getting a book on a topic the child already loves, or if it’s a book that a lot of his peers have read, or if it concerns a topic of practical utility to the child. The expectation of successful reading will be higher if it’s at the right reading level, if it includes a lot of pictures (as a graphic novel does), if the chapters are short, or if the child already knows the story (as in a novelization of a movie she’s seen).
We boost the book’s value to the child, or her expectation of successful reading.
Enable them to choose to read
We often overlook that it is our choice whether or not to read. A child is not deciding to read or not read because they have choices. There are usually a myriad of choices before the child; Should I read, or have a snack, or see what my friend’s doing, or play a video game? In order for them to leisure read, it’s not enough that the child loves to read or has a positive attitude; for them to choose to read it must be their ultimate desire.
To help make this expedient for our children, we can set them up to have it as easy choice to make. All of us are on autopilot more often than we like to believe; we make decisions not by carefully weighing out options, but by doing what takes the least amount of effort. Expedient often means obvious, easy. Things that are right in front of us and easy to access are more likely to be selected.
I read a story about a teacher who shared about the power of easy access. He had mentioned a book—Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel—in the course of a high school class discussion about income inequity across nations. He enthusiastically recommended it, and mentioned that he knew the school library had two copies. There were a few murmurs of interest. The next day he checked the library and found both copies still on the shelves. He checked them out, brought them to class, and asked if anyone was interested in reading this book he had mentioned. Five students raised their hands, and he gave the copies to the two most enthusiastic students. So five students were ready to give the book a try if someone put it in their hands, but going to the school library to find it seemed like too much trouble. The library, the teacher told me, was a 30-second walk from his classroom.
The lesson from these examples is that books should not just be available, but be practically falling into their hands, or at least, visible in as many locations.
Curtail screen time
A recent survey undertaken showed that 30% of teens say they enjoy reading “a lot,” but they also say they enjoy other media activities more: watching videos, engaging with friends on social media, gaming. Most kids prefer screens—“screens” generically referring to video content, games, or computer applications—over a book, even a readily available one.
Moving images on a screen enthrall us. The same attention that we give to fire or ocean waves. I am yet to meet a parent who said, “TV? Oh yeah, he/she watched it a couple of times, but I just couldn’t get him/her interested.” An obvious implication is that if these other activities were unavailable, kids might read more.
A 2016 survey of parents reported that 55% say they limit teens’ time online, but they also say that they are less concerned with the amount of time spent with media, and more concerned with content. Content does matter, of course, but so does volume. And volume is high.
The amount of screen time must be controlled as well. But again, that alone probably won’t be enough. It must be arranged simultaneously with ensuring ready access to reading material that kids will value.
Help us with our mission to bring about change for our students. Please contact me to see what we can do to bring about the desired transformation that we all desire for our children to be future ready!!!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.