Reading for Pleasure
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Schools spend considerable time teaching children how to read. And most schools succeed in achieving this goal. Getting children to want to read is quite another matter.
Most children are able to read a range of books by the end of third grade. But having the tools to read does not ensure that children will use them. Indeed, many competent readers are resistant readers. Somehow these children have missed out on a critical lesson: they have failed to learn about the pleasure of reading.
This problem is widespread. One study of 233,000 sixth graders in California indicated that 70 percent rarely read for pleasure. Another study found that 90 percent of fifth graders read four minutes a day or less outside of school.
These children deny themselves a wealth of information and a rich source of enjoyment. Reading gives children a way to weather inevitable periods of boredom and offers them a chance to experience new adventures and understand differing perspectives. In the words of Mark Twain, “The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” This wisdom applies just as well to children.
The best gift that parents can give to their child is a love of reading. The following strategies may help you promote your child’s reading but keep in mind that your primary job is to help your child enjoy and feel confident about reading—not to teach him how to read.
- Make time available for reading. Many children lead overscheduled lives, with little time left over for activities to pursue on their own. Reading is often a casualty of this over-programming. Children need some down time in their schedule when they have no planned activities.
- Read to your child from an early age. This is the single most important thing you can do to promote your child’s reading. Jim Trelease, author of The New Read-Aloud Handbook, believes that parents should begin reading to their children as early as 6 months and should read to them daily by age two. A child who is read to from an early age learns to feel comfortable and confident around books and begins to associate reading with warmth and security. And don’t stop reading to your child once he is able to read. A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh, read to his son Christopher (the model for Christopher Robin) until he was 14 or 15.
- Aim for pleasure rather than profit. What you read to your child is less important than the fact that you do read to him. Your child should come to see reading as a pleasure rather than a chore. Do not read books that you believe are good for your child if he is not enjoying them. And try to find books that you enjoy as well. If you find the book dull, your reading will likely be uninspired and uninspiring.
- Encourage your child to read to you. This not only gives him a chance to practice his reading but also provides you with an opportunity to praise his reading. Let the small errors go. You may want to help him sound out key words or supply the right word but do not turn this into a reading lesson. You might even have your older child read to your younger child.
- Make reading tempting. While you should not force your child to read, here are some specific strategies to encourage reading:
- Provide a comfortable, quiet place to read. Children especially enjoy beanbag chairs.
- Allow your child to stay up 15 or 30 minutes later at night if the time is spent reading.
- Give him reading materials keyed to his interests. Children love books about other children, especially if they are from other countries.
- For your child’s birthday or other special occasions, give him a gift certificate to a favorite bookstore.
- Have your child join a book club. The prices are usually reasonable and he will be excited when the book arrives.
- Help your child make a paper chain (a “bookworm”) or mobile listing the books he has read. Have him add to it every time he finishes a book.
- Help your child get started with a long book by reading the beginning pages or chapter to him. This may whet his appetite enough to get him to continue on his own.
If your child shows no interest in reading, don’t despair. This may change with time. Children go through different phases in terms of pleasure reading. Many lose interest temporarily after fifth grade. If your child loved to read at an earlier age, chances are he will rediscover the joy of reading later on.
- Spend time with your child at the public library. The public library offers a gold mine of literary riches. You might schedule a specific time each week to visit the library with your child. Consider obtaining a library card in his name. When your child turns 8 or 9, show him how to use the card catalogue or computer to look up books. Librarians can guide you towards books suited to your child’s reading level. Assume that your child’s independent reading level is somewhat below the level of his reading book in school. A child who is reading at or above the third-grade level can read a wide range of books. While you or the librarian may suggest books, let your child have the final say (with some rare exceptions). If your child chooses an occasional book above or below his ability, don’t make an issue. He may like the challenge of a more advanced book and an easy book may still be satisfying. Do not insist that your child finish books he borrows from the library. Be on the lookout for books which have won the prestigious American Library Association Awards: the Caldecott Medal for illustration and the Newberry Medal for writing. Also ask the librarian for the “Children’s Choices,” an annual list of books recommended by other children.
- Make reading part of your family landscape. Be sure that your household has a range of reading materials—books, poetry, magazines, and newspapers—throughout the house. Consider having your child subscribe to a child’s magazine such as Jack and Jill, Crickets or Highlights. (Check out sample copies at the library.) Also remember that your own reading habits can have an impact on your child’s habits. Let him see you reading and talk to him about what you have read. You might even have a quiet hour in your house when the TV is off and family members are encouraged to read.
- Use television and the computer to foster your child’s reading. Some programs may stimulate your child’s interest in reading. Reading Rainbow is a notable example. Try to use programs as jumping off points for reading about subjects of interest to your child. Movies he has enjoyed may stimulate his interest in reading the book.