Children’s Literacy: Getting Kids Interested In Reading
There’s no arguing that reading is good for us. Reading can transport us to faraway places, help us understand complex social hierarchies, and give us cues on how to act appropriately when faced with unfamiliar situations. Reading helps us see the world through a different set of eyes, making us more empathetic (Oatley, 2008; Paul, 2012). Reading is also a fundamental part of everyday life, and just like any other skill, it’s one that needs practice to become fluent. It’s a skill that some kids are resistant to hone. This lack of desire for reading can be due to a plethora of reasons: learning disabilities like dyslexia, delayed mental development, difficulty reading at grade level, reading not promoted in the home, reading is perceived as tedious and boring, or the inability to simply sit still. If you have a child who is falling behind in school due to a lack of enthusiasm for reading, here are a few fun, non-traditional gateways that may help your non-reader discover the wonderful worlds held in books.
1. Read to and with your kids. Kids follow the example of their parents, and if parents don’t read, it’s more than likely their kids won’t either. If you want your kids to value books and learning you must, must, must read, either to them or with them, aloud. Spending time everyday reading with your child will not only send the message that you think reading is important, it will also communicate that you think they are important, which speaks volumes towards fostering a positive parent-child relationship.
2. Tempt them with forbidden fruit. Make books your kids think they shouldn’t read (books on human sexual reproduction, etc.) slightly more visible or blatantly left out for them to find. Also, push banned books. If a kid is presented with something adults don’t want them to read, it’s all the more tempting. Pajiba published a terrific list of 30 challenged kid and young adult novels.
3. Let your kids read below their grade level. Reading should be fun, and if you want your kids to get into reading, let them read things that aren’t as challenging. If you take your child book shopping and they’re drawn to items that are two and three grade levels lower than their actual reading level, say yes to their choices. If a child is forced to read recreational books that aren’t relaxing or enjoyable, guess what! They won’t read, especially if they’re already struggling with grade-level material. So if your fourth grader has picked out a stack of picture books, encourage them.
4. Comic books and graphic novels are not the enemy. Comic books are seeing a renaissance, and this art form has an abundance of kid-friendly options. In addition, comic books aren’t just for boys, and they aren’t just about superheroes. There is a slew of amazing comic books that both boys and girls will enjoy. Here’s a short list of some great comics that may be just what your mini clone needs to get them reading.
- Girl Genius (Hugo Award Winning) is created by Phil and Kaja Foglio and geared towards teens and up, however many fans say they read this quirky Victorian-set comic to their kids (check out the online archive here).
- Mouse Guard (Eisner Award Winning) is written and illustrated by David Petersen and suitable for all ages though those as young as 8 can set solo upon this imaginative world where mice wield swords and live in castles.
- Lookouts (available both in print and digitally) written by Ben McCool and illustrated by Robb Mommaerts, is another all-age-friendly series about a guild of magical boy scouts. While it may be more of a hit with boys than girls, don’t despair, Penny Arcade has created Daughters of the Eyrewood: The Tithe, which is the female equivalent to Lookouts.
- PS238 and Nodwick, both created by Aaron Williams, offer good clean fun and are suitable for all ages. PS238 is a new take on superheroes, while Nodwick follows a small group of misadventures.
If you would like to dive further down the rabbit hole of comics and graphic novels, try Wikipedia for more award winning titles. But be warned, not all are kid-friendly. In addition, Marvel and DC Comics have kid versions of their big titles as well as chapter books. Lastly, Kidjutsu specializes in comics for kids.
If you try comics and your kids are into them, you may also want to give manga a whirl. iFanboy has a great article listing some fun mangas for kids. Earlier this year, Crunchyroll posted the results from a poll conducted by eBookJapan asking Japanese parents which manga they would like to see their kids reading.
5. Let your kids play video games. Gaming gets a bad rap from the mainstream media, and most of the general population has taken the bait, disregarding video games as trashy entertainment. Yet this media offers a lot as a learning tool (Hommel, 2010; Paul, 2013). Recently, a research study demonstrated how playing action video games can help kids with dyslexia read faster and more accurately (Franceschini, 2013; Isaacson, 2013). Additionally, many games are amazingly imaginative with complex story arcs, character development, and imagery, plus, they require a lot of reading, like role-playing games (RPGs) (Hommel, 2010; Paul, 2013). Common Sense Media has a great list of RPGs labeled with age appropriateness.
Minecraft is a current favorite with many gamers. While the actual gameplay doesn’t require much reading (unless players are chatting with one another), if players want to actually craft anything, they will have to research recipes online, as well as follow written directions. Text-based adventure games are another way to engage your kids in reading, as well as writing and spelling. In order to play a text-based game, players have to type in all commands instead of using the mouse or controller. The text-based adventure game Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a perfect example. Plus, it will introduce kids to Douglas Adams’ amazing book series.
6. Play European-Style Board Games: American or classic board games differ from European, Euro, or designer board games in that they rely chiefly on luck to win. Eurogames supply players with a richer gaming experience than their American counterpart by calling on players to use strategies, make open-ended decisions, immerse themselves in information-rich environments, and engage in complex game mechanics (Games and Prejudice, 2009; TableTopHell, 2011). Below are some links for finding the right Eurogames for your family.
- Boardgame Geek lets parents browse games by mechanics, style, awards, as well as engage with the gamer community to learn first-hand from people who have actually played the games.
- TableTop with Wil Wheaton on Geek and Sundry shows actual gameplay, and most of what is said is PG, but I would screen episodes first — they get a little cheeky at times. Wil Wheaton also has an informative blog post with a list of role-playing games suitable for kids.
- Check with your local library or game store to see if they host a game night.
7. Play trading card games to encourage reading & vocabulary development. Keeping with the idea of playful learning, card-based games like Digimon, Pokemon, Hearthstone (free online), and Magic: The Gathering can offer players a creative environment to practice reading. Players have to follow complex rules, use advanced vocabulary terms, remember stats, use and improve math skills, and build a strategy in order to win (Utica Public Library; Vasquez, 2003). All but Hearthstone are available both digitally and in card form. Again, check with your local library and game store to see if they host a game night.
8. Watch cartoons and movies with subtitles. If your kids would rather spend their time watching TV and movies instead of reading, try having them watch something that requires subtitles, like a foreign movie. If that is too much for your struggling reader, simply try turning on the captioning anytime they are watching television. This will transform your child into an active viewer rather than a passive one (Tavangar, 2014). The extra print exposure will help struggling readers improve their literacy skills and vocabulary. If your child is a low-level reader, try shows and videos that are geared toward younger kids (Brann, 2011; Zane Education, no date). In addition to the two links above, Common Sense Media has a great list of foreign films for elementary and middle school-aged children.
9. Look for their favorite cartoon or movie in book form. I know when I find out that something I love is also a book, I get excited knowing that there will be differences, and perhaps even new stories. Kids are no different, especially if the books contain new tales with their favorite characters.
10. Get them interested in a hobby. Hobbies are another creative way to get your kids interested in reading. Find something they like: baseball cards, magic tricks, science experiments, etc. Most hobbies require reading directions and following steps. Conversely, if your child has a hobby, find them extra reading material on their chosen topic of interest (RIF Parent Guide Brochure, no date).
Hopefully, you have found one or two useful tactics to help convert your stubborn non-reader into a true bibliophile. Remember, learning should be fun. Kids spend enough time trudging through material that is less that exciting during school hours. If you want your kids to read for pleasure, make reading pleasurable.
Image by Yuan Li via Wikimedia Commons
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Calhoun, Dave; Rothkopf, Joshua (eds). The 100 Best Animated Movies: The Best Foreign-Language Movies. Time Out New York, April 16, 2014. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from http://www.timeout.com/newyork/film/the-100-best-animated-movies-foreign-language
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Franceschini, Sandro; Gori, Simone; Ruffino, Milena; Viola, Simona; Molteni, Massimo; Facoetti; Andrea (2013). “Action Video Games Make Dyslexic Children Read Better.” Current Biology 23(6), 18 Mar. 2013, Pages 462–466. Accessed September 26, 2014 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982213000791
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