They’re out there: middle-schoolers who love to read. They see the summer as a stretch of weeks where they can read what they want without school requirements taking up their time. And, of course, these kids read more often, and all that reading helps set them up to be stronger students in the high-school and college years.
But lots of pre-teens and teens don’t read in their free time. The question is, what can parents of little ones do to help make sure their kids grow up to read regularly and love it?
This week, NPR posted an interview with Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and the author of Raising Kids Who Read. The article gives a number of practical suggestions that parents can incorporate into the everyday. As July begins, it makes sense to work some of these into your summer reading plans.
Three key take-aways?
- Make clear that reading is important in your family. Talk to your kids directly about your family’s culture. Willingham encourages a family mantra that says, “We like to learn new things. We like to learn about the world, and a big part of that is reading.”
- Help your children see themselves as readers — even before they learn to read. When you see them with books at any ages, don’t hesitate to say, “You really love to read!”
Be clear on that messaging from the earliest years. It might feel like a bit of brainwashing, but Willingham reminds us that a child’s “self-concept” as a reader really matters. (Of course no one likes to read or sees himself as a reader if reading is a struggle, so good instruction is critical once a child starts school. That is a non-negotiable part of the “love-to-read” plan.)
- Set up a structured time and space for your kids to be looking at books every day — and make it work for everyone. Some families set this up just as children are transitioning out of naps. It works well because parents are offering what is often seen as a better alternative — “You don’t have to sleep. Just have a bit of quiet time with your books.”
If you don’t have a family “quiet time” routine established, the summer offers a chance to create one with kids of all ages. Just put a one-hour break on the daily calendar for sleeping or “reading.” Either way, you and your children win.