Keep Tweens Tuned into Reading
A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that more than half of all parents read to their young children every day and another 26 percent read several times a week. But when the middle school years arrive, tweens may tune out of reading to focus on other interests.
Research suggests that young people who read for pleasure have bigger vocabularies, greater powers of concentration and analysis, better writing skills, and a deeper understanding of other people and the world around them. During middle school, however, many young readers become alliterate. They can read but they don’t. The reasons for this disconnect are numerous: more extracurricular activities, harder classes and, of course, the siren call of social media.
Lecturing kids about the importance of literacy won’t turn them into enthusiastic readers, but these suggestions might.
Take e-books seriously. A study found that half of children ages 9-17 said they would read more books for fun if they had e-books. Boys in particular seem more motivated to read on a screen. If your child is already a “screenager,” encourage good habits. The only way to get lost in a book is to defer the urge to check social media.
Don’t give up on print. The Scholastic survey also found that most kids did the majority of their pleasure reading in print. Purchase inexpensive copies of classic books at garage or
library sales. Websites like betterworldbooks.com also sell gently used books.
Offer variety. Help preteens zero in on fiction and nonfiction that connects with their interests. Introduce cookbooks, graphic novels, newspapers, special interest magazines and travel guides. Use social media. Entering “good books for middle-schoolers” into the search box at Pinterest pulls up lists curated by other parents, educators and librarians.
Carve out time. Establish a daily reading time and turn off TV, music and cellphones during that time. At the very least, establish “NBBBB” — Nothing But Books Before Bedtime. Be lenient about lights out if your child is engrossed in a good story.
Designate space. If possible, create a dedicated reading room or corner in your home with a comfy chair, good light and bookshelf nearby. Be sure it’s free of digital distractions.
Read together. Hold onto family reading rituals as long as you can. In The Reading Promise, Alice Ozma, Scholastic’s national manager for reading programs, writes about how she and her father read together for 3,218 days before she went to college. “Good authors find the words for the things we feel deeply but cannot express,” she says. “They open conversations.” Anything that opens a thoughtful conversation with a preteen is worth paying attention to.
Make it social. Try to influence a reading-friendly culture at your child’s school by encouraging teachers to form book clubs. Or encourage your child to find like-minded peers at social media sites dedicated to reading, like goodreads.com where members join and form age-appropriate book groups.
Practice what you preach. If you want your kids to be readers, be one yourself. Let them see you enjoying a wide variety of books. Text a quote that catches your attention to your child’s phone. Share interesting ideas you come across in the books you read.
Given the number of distractions available to children today, parents can’t be certain their kids will become lifelong readers. Still, there are enduring benefits for young people who can engage with fictional characters and follow nonfictional concepts. Helping children develop a satisfying, ongoing relationship with books is still one of the best ways to prepare them for the future.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. She has been writing about technology and families for 10 years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict.