In a recent column, CUSD Superintendent Diana Rigby encouraged parents to read with their children so they grow up loving to read and are successful in school (“Reading Is Key,” “From the Desk of the Superintendent,” CVN, Vol. 25, No. 23). Yes! For so many reasons, the love of reading is a gift. Reading and writing go hand in hand. Learning new vocabulary in context—as can happen when new words are encountered in a book—is more effective than learning isolated words on a list. Screens can virtually take us to many places, but there’s nothing like the creativity of seeing the action of a book take place in your mind. Children who set aside very stimulating video games and movies to read paper or electronic books are training their brains to focus.

But the whole idea of encouraging reluctant readers can be pretty daunting. I have one child who, after becoming a reader at the end of first grade, devoured books. My other child though? Not so much. He didn’t love reading. Forcing children to read against their will, I knew, can backfire. The fairly natural process of wanting to become a reader can be upended by a mom who sends an unwilling kid into a room for a certain period of time every day to grudgingly turn pages. It can take some parenting finesse.

The competition from phones, iPads and Xboxes is more pervasive these days and I imagine that makes parents’ work even tougher, but parents need to make sure their kids read. If you don’t mind a little advice from a former teacher who treasured teaching youngsters to read and a mom who has seen the parent’s role can be both easy and challenging, read on.

Think of reading broadly.

Listening to spoken stories of grandparents, drawing while listening to an audiobook, writing stories, talking about pictures—all of these are closely related to reading. Leave poems or articles on the table where your child will see them. If your child likes skateboarding, find books and magazines about skateboarding at the library. Encourage your child to write and draw about skateboarding and to share what they have written or read with others who would be interested. Keep it joyful. The writing does not need to be perfect—first drafts can be shared as such.

Read aloud and read favorite books over and over again.

“Read it again, Daddy!” is a great sign that your child is on her way to becoming a reader. Repeated readings are critical to a child’s development of sense of story (at its simplest, a story is just what happened at the beginning, middle and end) and to discovering the patterns of sounds and symbols that make up words. Reading books together, taking turns if that’s a pleasure for your child, is terrific. It builds your relationship, shows you care and builds your child’s fluency. Not a confident reader yourself? Try picture books and graphic novels. Graphic novels are like long cartoons for older children and adults. My son who did not take easily to reading chapter books is very visual and would much more readily engage with sophisticated picture books and graphic novels.

Delay acquisition of devices and defend against screens.

Phones and video games have their place, absolutely. Some days when my children were young, the only way I could figure out how to make dinner was by turning on Sesame Street for 30 minutes. But it’s critically important to stick to rules at home about phones going into a basket for a certain period of time after getting home from school, during dinner and overnight. Once you relax the rules, my friends, it’s hard to go backwards, but it can be done. I would call that going-back or resetting a “family re-education campaign.” Without the overly captivating competition of social media and video, we are all likely to read more.

Read in front of your children so they see that this is what adults do.

Tell them about your book or magazine and ask about what they are reading. When I was growing up, my family read together on Sunday afternoons, all of us in the living room, each reading the Sunday newspaper or whatever we were into that day. It was just what we did, but now I feel certain that the coziness I felt then helped me grow into a person who loves to read.

Enjoy your family reading routines. I hope you and your children find stories and books you find special and share with each other!

Maria Chesley, PhD is an educator and leader who believes in the power of communities to change lives. She is the Executive Director of the Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP). CCP provides early childhood education, family support services, and leadership of the Thrive Carpinteria Partner Network of early education and social service providers. Learn more at CarpChildren.org. Maria can be reached at mfisk@carpchildren.org or 566-1600.

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