November 1, 2007
Raising pint-sized ‘People of the Book’
To harried modern parents, few things sound more luxurious than a quiet weekend away -- no cell phones, no televisions -- with a pile of unread books. To the vast majority of their children, few things sound more torturous. It's not that modern-day kids don't enjoy reading. Most do. It's just that an abyss of high-tech alternatives and jam-packed daily schedules have left them unlikely to discover that reading offers a world of excitement that could put their Xbox 360 to shame.
Nevertheless, as academic demands become increasingly grueling and college admission requirements increasingly stringent, strong reading skills might be more important to kids today than ever before. Studies consistently show better readers get better grades. Reading is, after all, the very heart of education. Reading enriches the imagination, builds vocabulary, teaches grammar and makes students better spellers and writers. If our kids are going to thrive and succeed in our fast-paced, achievement-oriented society, they need to be proficient readers.
So what's a 21st-century parent to do? Pile on the after-school tutoring? Threaten that the kids will lose their instant messaging privileges if they don't finish their reading assignments?
Perhaps the philosopher Epictetus put it best: "If you wish to be a good reader, read."
There never was and never will be any other way.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, here are some suggestions for fostering critical literacy skills and igniting a lifelong love of reading in your child:
Give Reading a Prime-time Slot
Regardless of how much kids like to read, they won't read if they haven't any time to do so. By setting aside twenty minutes or so every day (right before bedtime usually works well), we provide our kids ample reading opportunity while sending the message that it's an activity worthy of their precious time.
Check the Reading Level
When children take on books beyond their proficiency level, they can become rapidly disheartened. To determine whether a book is too hard for your child, have her read the first page aloud to you.0 If she stumbles over more than five words, put it back on the shelf and help her make another selection.
Seeing a story on the big screen (or a small one) can provide just the spark kids need to pick up the book version. Flicks like "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," "Harry Potter," "Harriet the Spy" and "Stuart Little" are sure to have your little stars hitting the library in no time.
Entice Them With Glossy Pages
Kids needn't peruse classics to reap the benefits of reading. Magazines that zero -in on children's passions -- from skateboarding to fashion- - can inspire even the most reluctant readers to start flipping pages. Techno-savvy kids can pull up favorite magazines online at sites like Sports Illustrated Kids and Time for Kids.
Create a Library on Wheels
Propensity toward carsickness aside, keeping a supply of books in the car will turn all those idle hours in traffic into valuable reading time.
Turn Them on to Books on Tape
Listening to a book on tape while following along in the real thing gives struggling readers (or those who simply want to tackle a book that's beyond their reading level) an opportunity to enjoy the story without getting bogged down by difficult words.
In addition to your child's regular allowance, provide a small allotment exclusively for reading material. Even if all your kid can afford is a paperback book or magazine, you've helped your cause.
Start a Parent/Child Book Club
This hot new trend in book clubs offers benefits galore, ranging from heightened reading skills to multigenerational bonding.
It's in the Bag
Stash some books in a tote bag and pull them out whenever you and your kids get caught in a holding pattern. Whether waiting at the doctor's office or a restaurant, your children will be thankful to have books to bust their boredom.
Add 'Book Night' to Your Chanukah Traditions
Reserve one night of your Festival of Lights this year for family members to exchange hot reads. Spend the rest of the evening enjoying your new books together. Make your gift last all year long by tapping Family Reading Night as a weekly tradition.
Read to Your Kids
For kids who are learning to read -- and even those who are old pros! -- it's always a treat to listen to a book. Use expression and intonation as you read to encourage your kids to do so on their own.
For more information, visit Sports Illustrated Kids: http://www.sikids.com Time for Kids: http://www.timeforkids.com. Find out everything you need to know about organizing your own parent/child book group at: http://www.pbs.org/parents/readinglanguage/articles/bookclubs/main.html
Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning educator and mother of four. Her Jewish parenting book, "Can I Have a Cell Phone For Hanukkah?" (Broadway Books) is now available. www.sharonestroff.com