You may know me from my latest book, It’s Not Complicated, my classroom libraries or my work in schools as a literacy expert. I’m excited this year to be introducing a brand new library for classrooms -- the Phyllis C. Hunter Classroom Libraries: 2nd Edition for Grades K-5, packed with culturally responsive and relevant books, hand-picked by me.
One thing I know for sure is that reading well will always be necessary. I coined the phrase “Reading is the New Civil Right!” and that skill is more important than ever. These are my top ten ways to encourage reading both at school and at home, especially for those students caught in the achievement gap. Here are numbers 7-5.
I’d love to hear your ideas too. If you have other ways to encourage children to read more, please share in the comments!
#7: Talk about books.
This is about reading, but it’s more about talking. Just reading books without having anyone to talk to about them is depriving your kid of 50 percent of the information that they can get from reading a book – and the pleasure that they can get from it. Oral language and building vocabulary and hugely important. When I’m speaking across the country, I always tell people that it was a good day for me when I found out what made kids smart. I asked a school’s gifted and talented office, “How do you know if a child is gifted and talented?” and they said, “Well, one way is that they have a big vocabulary.” So guess what: A big vocabulary is not born; it’s made. You have to hear lots of words and engage in a lot of high-quality conversations. Have kids speak in complete sentences and share thoughts about the books they’re reading. Encourage them to use lots of descriptive language. They can only get these descriptors from reading and from being exposed to lots of adjectives. So, a little talk goes a long way.
#6: Make time for reading.
One of the best things you can do is schedule reading time. Put it on your calendar. Even better, have a reading night. The only thing that’s more important in life than family or money is time, because time is a thing we have the most constraints on. It’s limited. So, make sure that days don’t pass when the kids haven’t read. The 20/20/20 rule should be in effect here: 20 minutes of reading at home, 20 minutes of being read to, and 20 minutes of reading at school. Every day, your kids should have homework, and that homework is to make time for reading. They have to read, and they have to do it on a regular basis. The other thing about making time for reading is that you have to create an environment where kids to have time for reading. At bedtime, tell them, “Okay kids, you’ve got to be in bed at 8:00, but you’re going to get in the bed at quarter to 8 because you’re going to read before you fall asleep.” You have to organize it so that your kids make it a habit. You have to have books in the back of a car if you have a long ride, so that they have a book to pick up. You have to create access and time for reading. Just like you have a T.V. night when you know you’re going to watch, have a reading night when you know you’re going to read for an extended amount of time.
#5: Make it personal. Connect the books to their life stories.
Make reading personal. Connect books and stories to the reader’s life. I haven’t met a sixteen year-old who didn’t want to read the driver’s license manual. Kids want to read what interests them. If your kid is playing soccer three times a week, they are going to want to read about soccer players, and they’re going to want to be read to about soccer players. If you’re spending three nights a week of your life doing something, you’re going to want to know more about it. If your child collects baseball memorabilia, then they might want to read about the team in Chicago that won the National Little League championship. Creating a link between what you’re reading to your kid’s life will allow them to see themselves and what they’re reading about in a new way, and will create a different level of investment and interest. Plus, most of us are “today” kind of people: Seeing the world as it is is sometimes much more interesting. Not many of us are historians. Most of us like to know what’s going on today and what’s in the world.
Be sure to check out the two other posts in this series: