I was having lunch by myself the other day, relishing moments to listen to my audiobook and take a break from my winter break. My kiddos are the age that requires much chauffeuring, so I was waiting while my son was at the mall. That waiting time is frequently spent scrolling my phone, but I had committed myself to finishing a book I’ve been listening to. Anyway, an adorable little girl (about 2 years old) toddled over to the booth behind me and started babbling to a teenager who was clearly on a break. I turned off my audiobook to enjoy the cuteness, when I overheard the following conversation:
Sorry. She wants to show you her book. She loves books so much. We’re really trying to keep her away from screens, you know,” said the dad following behind the toddling cutie.
I used to love to read. I don’t know what happened. I mean, I don’t dislike reading or anything. I didn’t like reading for school,” the teen replied, playing peek-a-boo with the little girl.
Make sure she always loves to read,” the teen said, trailing off as the dad and his daughter walked away, the little girl waving bye-bye.
Of course, this conversation bothered me. There was a teenager on the other side of the restaurant booth who had lost her love of reading. I wanted to send her links to books she might listen to, maybe slide a book of poems across the table, or press her to tell me about her interests, so I could find just the right thing for her to read. But that would be creepy. Instead, I’m going to pretend that she’ll read this and realize that perhaps she doesn’t dislike reading. Perhaps she’s been thinking about it all wrong, and just maybe the young dad will read it too and remember this when his little cutie is a preteen and starts to push books away in favor of her own media choices. Here are three tips for parents and families to encourage reading—not just books.
Wordle and Word Games
My homeroom each morning is a bit like a study hall. Students are allowed to work on homework, play games on their computer, or chat. I like how it eases students into the day in a way that provides choice and is quiet. A few weeks ago, I could see that at least half of the students were on the Wordle website. My teacher's heart skipped a beat, and before I could control myself, I was asking them all about it. You see, I try not to show too much enthusiasm toward positive trends such as this, but I do want to tell families! When your kiddos find a word game of any kind, encourage it. Play it with them. Create a family contest. Have prize money. OK, maybe not prize money. Or, maybe yes to prize money. Whatever it takes to keep kiddos playing around with words, thinking about words, and becoming more familiar with lots of words is reading!
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Don’t Disparage Audiobooks or Podcasts
As I mentioned, I was listening to an audiobook at the restaurant. I love audiobooks and have written extensively about why they should “count” as reading. (For more information, check out Share My Lesson here, Association of Middle Level Educators here, and the EdAdvocate here.) My daughter makes salads at a restaurant, and she is allowed to wear earbuds while she works. Instead of meaningless task completion, she is listening to podcasts that expand her worldview and feed her brain. Am I trying to argue that this is reading? No, but I will say that the more background knowledge students have when they begin reading a piece, the better they will fare when confronted with difficult reading. Zoey is taking Advanced Placement U.S. history (better known as APUS), and I know she has a better chance at comprehending because her frame of reference is bigger. It matters so much, in fact, that Edutopia explores this topic in Research Zeroes in on Barriers to Reading, explaining, “Why does background knowledge matter? Reading is more than just knowing the words on the page, the researchers point out. It’s also about making inferences about what’s left off the page—and the more background knowledge a reader has, the better able he or she is to make those inferences.” So, before we demand students take their earbuds out, we should consider what they are listening to, and we should certainly look to expose students to a wide range of topics, which is perfect for podcasts.
Embrace the Fandom
Finally, a few thoughts about what students are reading. I’ve written quite a bit about this too. Yes, graphic novels and cartoons and comics all count as reading. Of course, they do. However, there’s a whole world of reading that we should encourage our kiddos to dive into: the fandom. When my son, Oliver, was in third grade, he was obsessed with Star Wars. His amazing teacher recognized this, found a fan fiction site and let him read what the “big kids” were writing. He read and read and read; and then, he wrote. He contributed a really formulaic story about Boba Fett. When he read about a topic that he was already obsessed with, he could not stop adding to his knowledge base. When he knew that other kids his age were interested in the same thing, he was encouraged to continue reading. Several of my students have shared with me that they read and write fan fiction. Again, these kiddos are reading, but just not with a book in their lap.
If we are going to keep our kiddos reading, we need to recognize that the umbrella of “reading” is big enough to allow for all kinds of expression. When we tell students that a genre or modality isn’t reading, we are only pushing them out from under that cozy umbrella where so many of us have escaped from the rest of the world. It may not look the same as when we think about what it means to “read,” but there’s plenty of room under the umbrella of “reading” for everyone. The world is a tough place right now—a downpour, if you will. If that means allowing kiddos in earbuds or on their computers to shelter under our umbrella, I’m OK with that.
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Do not forget to read on your own! Children model what they see around them. If they frequently see you reading and enjoying the experience, they will get the message that reading is both part of normal everyday life and a pleasurable activity. https://wordmaker.info/how-many/encourage.html