How Our Readers Get Kids to Read
Recently we reported that more schools are requiring students to read a small number of books over the summer to keep reading skills sharp. Many students and parents complained, saying it was an intrusion on the free-form summer months.
We asked our readers what they thought of the idea. Many thanks to all who wrote in. Here are a number of their suggestions to inspire reading:
Bedtime became easier when "lights out" could be extended if the children were reading. This trick definitely encouraged reading because children never want to turn out the light at the appointed time.
At breakfast I would casually leave open magazine articles that would capture one's attention. Another option is to suggest that a book may have some "situations" which the children may not quite be mature enough to handle yet. This always encouraged a mad dash for the novel in question.
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Get to know regional writers. If your kids go to camp in Maine, read Sarah Orne Jewett. If you drive through the heartland, read Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Act books out. Assume accents. If a story mentions mangoes, buy one and eat it together. Read - just do it! In the morning, the afternoon, at night. In the living room, in the kitchen, in the car, in the bathtub.
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I have coerced my [six-year-old] to read, taken him to the library, read nightly since birth, and have begun paying him to read. I've found what works the best is to read myself. Kids want to imitate.... As to which books? Who cares? Just get them to read and once hooked, they will expand their selection independently.
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Upon the completion of reading their first book cover to cover, each child was given his own Bible.
Informal contests were held within the family to see who could read the most books in a week. A cash prize was awarded for each book until it got too outlandish as the pace reached a book a day.
A neighborhood newspaper was produced by neighborhood children with all taking part in data entry. This created a need for good spelling as papers had a circulation of about 100 readers, and added considerably to proofreading skills.
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I have encouraged my incoming (high school) freshmen to read by offering them "bonus checks." These bonus checks may be used during any quarter of the year in which they meet the minimum requirements for the class, and allow students to "buy" a higher grade.
Does it work? Well, this year my 72 freshmen read over 1,100 books from June to May, or roughly 16 books per student. The average student read roughly five books over the summer. Parent and student complaints are eliminated as the system is optional. Failure to read simply means that your grade lives or dies based on your achievement during the year.
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My children have enjoyed a reading program designed by the library. The program runs for six to eight weeks, is based upon a different theme every year, and includes incentives such as small prizes, free passes to area attractions, and a gala party at the end of the summer. Children are encouraged to read a minimum number of books and the librarians provide suggested lists of possible titles. This guarantees a weekly trip to the local library branch.
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When my children were in elementary school, we formed informal reading clubs that met weekly over the summer. The group voted on which book to read (from the reading list or by recommendations.) Because of vacation schedules, the group constantly changed, which meant that new friendships formed continually. The children agreed to read several chapters before gathering to discuss the events. Our discussions were so informal that some of the children attended only because we would have a great dessert planned (usually brownies or popcorn and lemonade.) Others came for the soccer game or outdoor activity that followed the discussion. Nevertheless, the sharing and talking about the books made reading more fun.
St. Louis, Mo.
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My husband read "The Phantom Tollbooth," by Norton Juster, out loud when our youngest son had finished first grade. David loved the characters so much - and my husband did a wonderful job of giving each their own voice - that he read this book (a fifth- or sixth-grade reading level) himself two more times that summer. It remained his favorite book through high school. When he took calculus he was the only person in class who knew what a dodecahedron was - but embarrassed to admit he knew because of the book he had read 11 years ago! This son just got a contract to teach high school English.
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I started reading when I was six because I wanted to. I felt left out when the rest of my family was reading to themselves and didn't want to be bothered. I remember sitting at the lunch table, having nothing to do, while my brother and mother were reading to themselves. I was overjoyed when I finally picked up a book and was able to read it. Now I'm 14 and I still love reading. It's one of my all-time favorite amusements. I bring a book wherever I go.
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I wanted to encourage two young friends to read more. I sent them each a book along with a certificate proclaiming them members of the "Specially Selected Just for You Book Club" and an order form for their next book. I selected books they could easily read and that would interest them. The form called for a brief report on the book they had just received and a request for the type of book they would like next. I explained that they could consider this a gift of just one book, or they could get as many books as they could read and report on that year. Thank goodness for the delay in the mail because they finished most books the week they received them!
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With two professional working parents, mealtime is a special family time that I would like to extend to after-dinner reading. This may mean reading the mail, the daily paper, as well as fun books or homework. In other words, convey the message that reading and being together are both precious activities in our family.
Joan Vondra, PhD
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Our grandson is not self-propelled when it comes to reading. We have been ordering small books and accompanying tapes from his teacher. Also try the local library. When the books and the tapes enter the house, we chat with him about the story, pictures, etc. Then, he follows the story.... He stays with it to the end of each story.
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I base my suggestions on a pilot project that my high school (English) sophomores and juniors participated in this spring when they read to or with younger children. My students commented on how important they found the reading to be, both to the younger child and to themselves. Those students who read with older children, and then talked about what they had read, discovered how important reading was, as well as how a bond could be developed with a sibling.
Judith L. Dunn
Santa Maria, Calif.
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All books that our daughter is required by her school to read are books that we read as well. Our family can then discuss and enjoy the books together.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
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This is the third summer that my nine-year-old is earning stickers for 20 minutes of reading each day. I printed stickers that he collects and turns into me at the end of the summer for a dollar amount.