An Open Letter to Books. Sincerely, Parents
Dear All Books Everywhere,
How are you, old friends? Must be getting rough out there with so much competition nowadays... TV, video games, smart phones, computers, iPads, eReaders. Seriously. And we've been trying every trick in the book, but it’s just growing more and more difficult to get our kids to notice you. Any ideas?
Parents Sick of Screens
Dear Parents Sick of Screens,
Thanks for your concern. Yes, it's been a challenging chapter to say the least. Kids are reading less. Electronic media is on the rise. And national proficiency scores continue to drop (even before the pandemic). Honestly, no one wants to throw the book at technology, but studies indicate that overuse of tech leads to higher distractibility, lower retention rates and decreased attention span in young children (2013, Jabr Ferris, Scientific American). And get this, according to research by the National Literacy Trust, children who read solely on-screen are almost twice less likely to be above average readers than those who read daily in print.
So, is this the end for us? Do we just close the book on reading? NO! I’m convinced by working together we can turn the page on too much screen time and get kids back into real books! Check out these tips for raising amazing readers.
1. Show, don’t tell. Talking to our kids about the importance of reading is great, but a consistent example is worth a thousand discussions. Children who watch us forego our phones to read or nix Netflix for a good book is a message worth sending. And modeling is a powerful way to shout it from the rooftops (without uttering a word).
2. Give them space. Literally. I mean, who doesn’t love a blanket fort? Utilize children’s natural excitement for a special place of their own by setting up a tent, a teepee, a few chairs with a sheet, or a pillow-filled corner of the room to create an official reading nook. Throw in a few bean bag chairs and hang some twinkle lights for added cool factor.
3. Share the love. Reading together, even if your noses are in different books, can be a fun bonding time for all. Challenge your family to "just say no" to electronics one night a week. Start a family book club. Pack some snacks and head to the park or beach for some outdoor page-turning. And don’t forget bookstores or the library when you’re looking for a tranquil spot to read together.
4. Find your voice. Research says that reading aloud is the single most important activity we can do to help children become strong readers. So, here’s to voices! Silly, scary, funny, mysterious, high, low, quiet, loud, dramatic voices! And don’t limit yourself just to picture books; chapter books for older kids make fabulous read-alouds, too.
5. Encourage the effort. Bribing or punishing our kids into reading might work for the short-term, but to form a lifelong habit try implementing a few rewards. Celebrate a child finishing a book by letting him/her choose the dinner menu. Plan a movie night for books with a film version. Buy headlamps and let your kids “stay up past bedtime” (if they’re reading). Invite the neighbor kids over for an evening read-aloud (campfire and s'mores included).
So, Parents Sick of Screens, don’t despair. If I'm reading the room right, there are a lot of you out there. And together, even in an increasingly digital world, we can succeed in welcoming kids into the wondrous world of reading. One they’ll never want to leave.
All Books Everywhere