The Learning Curve: Reading for Pleasure

Reading for pleasure is an acquired skill; most children need to be taught to appreciate reading for fun. While some children enjoy reading as soon as they learn how (even before that, if they are read to), others are hesitant. Reluctant readers are typically reluctant because they struggle with the mechanics of decoding and comprehension, and/or because they associate reading with homework. Education studies, too, have shown that as technology-based “leisure activities” (i.e. video games, apps on phones, etc.) increase, reading for pleasure is steadily on the decline.

So, how can parents guide their child towards reading for pleasure? There are easy and fun ways to introduce pleasure reading to your children and guide them to appreciate books. Parents can start by creating a “book-loving” home environment, where we lead by example. Here are some ideas:

  • Offer a reward: Children oftentimes need an “incentive” to read. Perhaps a reward system of stickers, token economy or extra play time will work for your little one?
  • Follow the leader: Read, and your children may read too, simply because they want to be just like mommy and daddy!
  • CHOICE!: Let kids pick their own books, even if they are unconventional choices (comics, Mad Libs, I Spy, joke books etc.). What matters is that they are reading, and developing skills. Content is secondary.
  • Group read as a family: Pick a fun book everyone will like. Take turns reading each page, and create “voices” for the characters. This is how the imagination blossoms!
  • “Gift” a book: Kids LOVE gifts! Instead of a toy or clothing they may outgrow, how about a book to keep forever?
  • Books here, books there, books everywhere: Make reading accessible by keeping books in your car, in the storage compartment of your stroller, in bed (with a flashlight!)
  • The “adventure” of a library card: Visit your local library and sign your child up for a library card! The selections at libraries are endless…and FREE! This activity fosters movement, discovery and responsibility.
  • E-books…go tech! Download e-books onto your e-reader! These are easier to “grab and go,” and help teach responsible technology use as well.

Reading with our children from a very young age illustrates the fun and connectedness that a book can foster. In my family, my daughter is only nine months old, but we read books together every day. I allow her to hold the book and fumble with the pages, while I read, which I’d like to think is teaching exactly what a book is, and how it is used.

I read slowly and with exaggerations (I’m quite the impersonator!), which adds to the fun of the story. Instilling a love of books (e-books are great too so break out the iPads, Kindles, and Nooks!) is a foundational moment for the pre-reader – I want my daughter to be accustomed to recognizing letters and pictures long before she assigns language to them. And, “book time,” for the working-mom, allows us the quality togetherness that benefits us both, as family.

Aside from quality family time, there are many documented benefits of reading to, and with, your children:

  • Children who say they enjoy reading for pleasure are more likely to score well on reading assessments compared to pupils who said they enjoyed reading less.
  • There is some evidence to show that reading for pleasure is a more important determinant of children’s educational success than their family’s socioeconomic status.
  • Reading can have a positive impact on child’s emotional and social behavior at school.
  • Reading can prepare your child to learn the skills of comprehension and grammar.
  • Reading can help your child develop a deep and complex vocabulary.
  • Reading can allow your child to share acquired information and feel like a “teacher!”

We know the benefits of reading are innumerous, particularly in the areas of apposite societal integration (i.e. signs, directions, menus, etc.), and, invaluably, in imagination development. Creating book-loving environments in which our children can thrive is an important step and – dare I say – responsibility of parenting. If we want our children to be confident and consistent readers, we have to set the pace early on.

If you grew up in the 80s, as I did, you were most likely blasted with the aphorisms that “Reading is FUNdamental!” and “The more you know, the further you’ll go!” Remember these “public service announcements” that interrupted your afternoon cartoons? Well, maybe they worked – on me, anyway! I really love reading, and I always think of them when I encounter students who simply, “don’t read if they don’t have to.”

The world of literature is vast and multi-hued; there are worlds to discover and adventures to set out on. Starting reading early with our children sets them up for success as thinkers and dreamers. What better gift can we offer than that of endless possibility?

The Learning Curve (TLC) is a blog about education from a mommy-teacher, published every other Tuesday.

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Diana Kehoe is an experienced general education and special education teacher. She began her teaching career in special education in NYC, and currently teaches in Westchester County, NY. She is mom to Sophia Victoria, born in April 2012. While she loves teaching… she REALLY loves being a mom! The Learning Curve is her take on topics regarding education and parenthood from the perspective of a “teacher/working mom.”

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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