For the last fifty years, reading has suffered a precipitous decline. Blame has been widely assigned to electronic entertainment, but there is perhaps a subtler, more subversive force undermining the reading landscape: the association of reading with "chore".
Ideally, our earliest reading experiences are warm and fuzzy. We snuggle up with loved ones while listening to enchanted tales... Reading = JOY. Then, we go to school. Little by little, our parents stop reading to us, feeling it more important to promote our independent reading skills. Perhaps it's the struggle to learn to read, perhaps it's the hours spent reading dry material designed to educate rather than inspire, perhaps it's simply the responsibility of having to read - whatever the case, those early underlying connections between reading and pleasure now begin to be replaced by feelings of pressure, responsibility, frustration, even boredom.
To build, restore or maintain a love of reading, we must continually reinforce the subliminal association between books and pleasure. We must look for ways to ignite - and then preserve - an internal fire, one that makes kids want to read rather than feeling obliged to do so.
But how to begin, when electronic entertainment provides such seductive, addictive competition? The answer lies in making active choices to support the JOY of reading on a daily basis.
Here are just a few ways:
- Surround kids with, and expose them to, great books. Keep them everywhere - in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, even in the car.
- Cuddle up and read aloud together as early and as often as possible - and continue to do so, even as kids get older.
- Provide a warm and inviting reading atmosphere, minimizing distractions like background noise or harsh lighting.
- Make regular trips to the library or bookstore to explore the tactile, sensual pleasures that books provide.
- Give books as gifts and encourage others to do the same.
- Provide books that cater to individual passions - be it baseball or ballet, trucks or horses, great fiction and non-fiction abounds in all categories.
- Don't force completion of a book that isn't resonating - there are too many great books out there that will. Help kids find the ones that speak to them.
- Don't use book as weapons ("If you don't ___ , then no reading tonight.")
- Allow your child's personality and learning style to influence reading choices. Aural learners may like audio books, visual ones may appreciate graphic novels. Comic books, magazines, how-to books - it's all reading, and if it's done with genuine interest and passion, its all good.
- Take note of what your child does respond to with respect to reading material, and endeavor to provide more of the same - whether it's books by the same author, in the same genre or about a similar subject. Ask your local librarian or bookseller for guidance.
- Look for ways to make practical connections with books. Cook recipes, listen to music, see a film or play, explore art, make crafts etc. inspired by books and stories.
In the words of author/educator Daniel Pennac, "A child has no great wish to perfect himself in the use of an instrument of torture, but make it a means to his pleasure, and soon you will not be able to keep him from it!"
Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children's book author, editor and arts educator. Her latest book is "Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment." http://www.raisingbookworms.com