SPICEWOOD — One of the biggest challenges as an educator for Spicewood Elementary School principal Leslie Baty is turning reluctant readers into voracious ones.
“Reading really does lay the foundation on pretty much on which the rest of their education is built,” she said. “But if they’re not reading or excited about reading, it can really cause problems, not just here at the elementary level but in the years to come. You have to be able to read, and it’s not just about doing it because you have to. Kids who read for pleasure typically become better students and learners in general.”
But getting kids to pick up a book or other reading material, whether in traditional forms or electronic ones such as eReaders, sometimes feels like walking through a field of broken glass in bare feet. Still, it can be easier if parents take the right approach.
“The first thing parents can do is read themselves,” said Darlene Denton, the coordinator at the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District Parent Resource Center. “If kids see their parents reading, they are more likely to pick up a book or enjoy reading themselves. They’ll mirror their parents.”
It seems obvious, but Baty and Denton pointed out that so many parents haven’t picked up on this fact.
“Children will do what their parents do,” Baty said. “If you read, they’ll read.”
And this isn’t just a “Mom” thing. In fact, dads play a huge role in transforming their children into readers. Probably a larger one than most expect.
“I don’t know the reason for the statistics, but study after study shows that when Dad is involved in reading, the kids are more likely to read and enjoy reading, even more so than if moms are. I don’t know why, it just is,” Denton said. “And it doesn’t matter what Dad reads, as long as they read. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘Field & Stream (Magazine)’ or your gun manual as long as your kids see you read.”
Which also brings up giving kids a chance to find something they like to read.
“That’s where you find the magic of reading,” Baty said. “Finding something kids are interested in. Sure, they’ll have reading from school, but when you can find something that interests them, they’ll become readers.”
The key is finding what interests them.
“If kids don’t like to read, then they’re reading the wrong stuff,” Denton said. “They get sent home with bags full of books, but it’s not things they chose. So, of course, they see reading as work, not something to be fun.”
The way to counter this, she explained, is to get books, magazines or other reading material in kids’ hands about subjects that interest them — not necessarily because it’s on the school reading list. Denton keeps a supply of books on hand at the Parent Resource Center for families and children, and one topic still remains the most popular.
“Dogs,” she said with a laugh. “Kids love books about dogs.”
Regardless the subject, let the kids lead the way to something that interests them. And don’t limit this to books; magazines also feature numerous topics. While a book can still seem “schoolish,” a magazine has an “un-school” feel.
The other problem Baty and Denton hear from parents, even more than students, is not having enough time to read, even 15 minutes a day.
“I know people are busy with so many activities, but you can always make time for reading,” Denton said. “It’s just too important not to.”
Baty recommended always having a book handy. If you’re taking kids to soccer practice, have them read on the way. If you’re running through the drive-through for dinner, let the kids read while you wait.
“It just means being a little creative,” she said.
Denton added that when it comes to reading, don’t put it all on the child.
“Don’t just hand them a book and tell them to go read,” she said. “Sure, kids need to read themselves, but you can also make it more fun by reading with them yourself. In fact, you should always read to your kids, even if they can read by themselves.”
Parents can also read along with their child. Have the youth read one page, the parent the next and keep this up throughout the book or during reading time.
Baty added that it’s OK to ask questions as your child reads. Ask them about the characters, the setting, what’s happening and their feelings about the story.
While reading daily — even for 15 minutes — may seem challenging, it just takes a little commitment and a bit of ingenuity to do it. And even 15 minutes of daily reading — by themselves or with a parent or other adult such as an older sibling or a grandparent — can change a child’s future.
“I know parents hear it over and over again, but reading really is a life-changer for kids,” Denton said. “It does open their future to incredible possibilities.”
Check out the websites of local libraries or your child’s school for more information on reading and tips on encouraging it.