My children hate going to the dentist. No, they don’t any fear of painful drills or have orthodontic anxieties; they hate going to the dentist because the hygienists there ALWAYS comment on the fact that they bring books to the appointment. It has started to become a running joke in the family about what book they are going to bring to the bi-yearly dental appointment; will they bring a horror story that will shock the hygienist, a mystery with such a convoluted plot that will required tedious explanations, or a brand new one that they won’t be able to comment on because they haven’t started it yet.
Now I know that the hygienists are trying to make conversation but they really are quite shocked at the fact that my kids bring books to read while waiting and they lament the fact that their own kids won’t read. My children have a plethora of snide and snarky comments that they would like to make about that thought . . . they are my kids after all . . . but it does raise a good point. How do we keep children reading when they become teens?
There is a multitude of research on reading to young children, combining books with play, and getting early readers engaged and interested, but what happens when they get older and they can read on their own but choose not to. I am blessed to have three children who honestly love to read. Although they all have smartphones and are infinitely more computer and technologically knowledgeable than I could ever dream to be, they take a book everywhere – to the barber, to the doctor, in line at Disney, out shopping for clothes. Any place that they might have to wait.
I know that when I was teaching high school, I encouraged and supported kids reading for fun. There is so much that has to be read in school or has to be annotated and analyzed, that the pure enjoyment of reading and reading for pure enjoyment is often lost or overlooked. I am certainly no child expert – one look at my own kids confirms that! – but here are a few suggestions that have worked with our family. If you are wanting to keep your child reading or reengage their reading interest, you might consider these ideas.
Keep reading to your child even after they can read on their own. For many kids, reading is hard. It isn’t that they aren’t enjoying the story; sometimes they are too burned out or frustrated or tired to read on their own. By reading aloud to them, they are still engaged in the story and good reading begets good reading. When my son was in the later elementary years, we started The Ranger’s Apprentice Series together. I would read aloud to him and we would talk about the story and play guessing games at what was going to happen next. It was a great motivator for him to get ready for bed because we would want to hurry to continue the story; I know I was just as anxious as he was and I would threaten to start without him!! With multiple children and life’s craziness, sometimes we wouldn’t be able to read together and my son would start to read ahead. We read the first three books in the series together and after that, he was too impatient to wait for me!
Read aloud as a family. When I reference “we,” I truly mean both my husband and I. I am blessed to have found a spouse who is just as much of a nerd reader as I am! We read the entire Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan aloud. My husband would read Carter’s part and I would read Sadie’s part. The kids would be curled up on the floor with pillows and blankets and we would try to finish a chapter or two a night. It was a great family bonding time and we enjoyed laughing at character’s antics and funny jokes. It was a challenge to try to coordinate bathtimes and homework and evening activities so that there would be time to read, but what a great motivation and good memories! We still will reference book quotes that we enjoyed together.
Read books that your kids read. We have a number of book series in our family that we all read and we all fight over who gets the latest release first. I am always first for the latest John Flanagan and I won’t share; it is just the kind of person I am. We have so much fun sharing our thoughts about the story and taunting those who haven’t finished yet – “have you gotten to the part where . . .?” Although not everyone reads all the same things, there is enough overlap that it is fun to talk, analyze, and dissect together. Another idea that a friend of mine does is that she reads everything that is assigned through the school so she can talk about it with her children. I do this to some extent: I’ve reread Of Mice and Men and A Tale of Two Cities, but I just couldn’t tackle War and Peace again. Once was more than enough!
Go to bookstores. Buy books! My kids get books for every occasion — Valentine’s Day (sorry kids, surprise!), Last Day of School, “Yeah! AP Exams are over!” As a family, we go to the bookstore and search for books that look interesting. My girls especially follow author’s websites. If there is an author of a favorite book that is speaking, go see them! We went as a family to listen to John Flanagan speak and it was great fun to share in the experience.
Let them read what they want. Now obviously every family is different and what works for one family, won’t work for another, but encourage kids to read what they want. My son doesn’t read as much fiction lately, but he is very interested in film. He reads a lot of biographies about famous directors and actors. Not all of them live the type of life I would like him to emulate but he is passionate about the genre and that is what engages his reading. Graphic novels aren’t my thing, but a lot of kids really enjoy them. If they are reading, then I am satisfied.
So, any other suggestions of how to keep teens reading? And by the way, if you see my kids waiting somewhere with a book, please DON’T ask them what they are reading!