Getting our kids to read

As a high school Media Specialist, I’m faced with the challenge every day of just how to get our kids to read. What I find to be frustrating is that students often have had terrible reading experiences and have, therefore, come to see reading in a negative light.

As parents and educators, we are vying for a small amount of free time that adolescents have each night after homework and extra-curricular activities are completed. When faced with the choice of Netflix, video games, social media, or reading, it is disheartening to know that many students will not choose reading for pleasure as their escape. However, I know there are things we can do to encourage our kids to read, not only because it is fun, educational, and raises test scores, but because it enables them to see the world in a new way. They become more aware of other perspectives and become better citizens. Isn’t that what we all strive for—a world where citizens choose to continue to learn and grow?

One way to encourage adolescents to read is to read ourselves. We can make trips to the local library, learn how to download the free digital and audiobooks, and spend some time each week doing some of our own pleasure reading. What we model in our homes and classrooms are what our kids will see as normal. Parents who read and share their love of reading with their kids are more likely to raise kids who value reading.

Many of us have had that dreaded reading experience in high school. You know the one; you are assigned a required reading, and you are slogging through it. There are certainly reasons that teachers teach classroom novels, but if we are focusing on reading for fun, it is a bit different.  When trying to increase adolescents’ curiosity for reading, it is imperative to allow for choice. What adult wants to be told what to read for pleasure? The same holds true for our kids. We need to allow for them to have free time to choose a topic of interest to them. If they love soccer, recommend a soccer novel. If they are going through a difficult time in their lives, try realistic fiction. If it is relevant to their lives, they are more likely to enjoy it and self-identify as a reader. School media specialists and your public teen librarian can guide teens to excellent reads that will hook them and bring them back for more. Ask for suggestions! We love to help connect readers with their next favorite read!

Finally, it is important for teens to know that there is a difference between academic reading and pleasure reading. If they see pleasure reading as academic reading, they will equate it with work (homework) and will likely see any kind of reading as a negative one. The more we can expose our teens to different genres and types of reading, the more chances we have to create a reading culture where students, parents, and teachers are sharing what they have read with each other with excitement. There’s no way to argue that teens who read for fun are growing educationally and social-emotionally, and this is a win for us all.

If you would like to read further on this topic, check out Penny Kittle’s and Kelly Gallagher’s websites.

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