Most parents want to encourage reading, especially during the summer when kids often have more unstructured time. Now that so much reading occurs online, parents may wonder about the best way to nurture a reading habit. Is reading on a device as good as getting lost in an old-fashioned book?
The emerging answer is that both print and digital reading have value, but they promote different ways of thinking. One revealing study found that college students prefer reading online when they are looking for quick information. However, when they really want to dig in and master new material, they turn to paper books. Without the distraction of clicks, students find they engage more deeply and comprehend more of what they read. Students also reported that they liked being able to manipulate physical books—underlining, writing notes in the margins, turning down corners and being able to thumb back to a favorite passage.
This study suggests that online reading often resembles snacking–quick, easy to digest, maybe even a little addictive. Physical books offer more of a meal–stimulating and nourishing on many levels. Because kids gravitate naturally to devices (and snacks), parents may want to put a little effort into helping kids discover the pleasures of print. Fortunately, most kids are receptive. A biannual study of reading habits by Scholastic magazine found that 86% of kids think it’s important to be a good reader, and 6 in 10 agreed that, “I really enjoy reading books over the summer.” Here are some ideas about turning that spark into a flame.
Read aloud. In the Scholastic survey, kids 6–11 said that they enjoyed reading aloud, mostly because it was special time with their parents. Even after they can read independently, many kids and even teens enjoy settling in to listen to a good story. Kids who can read for themselves may enjoy taking turns reading. Or they might like to read dialogue with each child taking on the voice of a different character.
Hunt for books together. In the Scholastic study, 41% of kids said it was hard to find books they wanted to read. Turn the quest for good books into something you do as a family. Visit your local library regularly. Find out if there’s a story hour at the local bookshop. Hunt for bargain books at garage sales and thrift stores. Look for a Free Little Library in your neighborhood or create one of your own (littlefreelibrary.org/). Good lists of recommended books are also available from Reading Rockets (readingrockets.org/books/summer ) and the American Library Association (ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb).
Find books at the right level. Kids sometimes disconnect from reading when books seem boring because they are too easy or frustrating because they are too hard. If possible, ask your child’s teacher to recommend books that are “just right” for your child. Or zero in on books at the right grade level by using the Scholastic book wizard (scholastic.com/teachers/bookwizard ).
Follow their lead. Like adults, kids read more of what they love. If a child gets hooked on a particular genre, author or series, run with it. And don’t get hung up on format. Magazines, graphic novels and comics can all be a gateway into reading. So can video or board games that include lots of written directions. For really reluctant readers, try activating captions on the television so kids can read along with their favorite shows.
Make it social. Enthusiasm for reading is contagious, so encourage kids to share books they like whenever possible. Some kids may enjoy writing reviews on kid-friendly sites like dogobooks.com or spaghettibookclub.org. Kids can also follow favorite authors online. Many interact with readers through local readings or websites that feature games and giveaways. Or consider organizing a summer book club. PBS offers tips about how to get one going (tinyurl.com/njgpk7k).
Find the right incentives. Just keeping a list of books they’ve finished can be motivating for some kids. Others will benefit from a small treat–maybe a gummy “bookworm” or a pack of Smarties. An entire board of clever incentives including Reading Bingo is available on Pinterest (tinyurl.com/lp6krcg). Consider using reading itself as a reward. During the summer, let children stay up an extra hour beyond bedtime–if they are reading.
Set aside time. Designate a specific time for family reading. Turning off TV, computers and cellphones makes it clear that reading is a priority. To get a better picture of how your kids are spending summer days, try using the media time calculator as well as the media planner created by Healthy Children (tinyurl.com/z8wbef5).
Get creative. Think about fun ways to integrate books into whatever you’re doing this summer. Instead of handing your child a cellphone during wait times, carry a chapter book that you can pull out in a doctor’s waiting room or between games at a tournament. Create a treasure hunt with a new book as the treasure. Have a Reading Picnic where everyone reads outside while munching on sandwiches. Take an audio book on your family road trip. Create a secret reading space by setting up a tent in the backyard or putting a sheet over a card table.
Whatever you do, keep it light. If your goal is to have kids who read because they love it, making rules too rigorous or setting expectations too high can be counter-productive. Experts say that reading as few as six books over the summer helps kids avoid the dreaded summer slump.
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing the Growing Up Online column for ten year. She is also the author of Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart. Available at Amazon and Cooperative Wisdom.org. @ Copyright, 2017, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.