Somewhere in the rush to keep up, all of us have forgotten about reading. I see a lot of you disagreeing with me because I know a lot of avid readers too. But there is this other lot that has long-forgotten and probably even misses the joy of reading, so the idea of passing it on to their little ones may be out of the question. While our lot may be able to revive this habit at some point in the future, it is important that it at least be inculcated in children. The benefits of reading have been experienced by us adults at some point in time or the other. So that these benefits are availed by the younger generation too, here's how we can encourage kids to read, by creating a suitable environment home.
Creating a Desirable Reading Environment at Home
Before we discuss the importance of developing a good physical environment to read, you ought to understand that forcing this habit on kids is going to yield nothing. In fact, it may lead them to despise reading. No one likes to be forced to do something, even if they secretly enjoy it. So coax them into it, don't nag them to do it. And here's how you can go about it.
The Reading Room/Area
Don't you love a little area where you can snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa and your favorite book? Don't you want to create that same little haven for your child? Some kids are resistant to reading, so you have to lure them with other elements that will get them to pick up that book. Here's what you can do:
- If not a whole room, you can definitely designate a small area that becomes a reading zone in your house.
- This reading area should be well-lit, naturally and artificially.
- Add color to the area so that it becomes appealing. The color should not be jarring, but bright enough to attract someone into the zone. If you are doing this specially for kids, keep the colors bright, but don't overpower with color. Let books, posters, rugs, and lamps add to the color, rather than painting a wall in a loud color or having a bright-colored bookshelf.
- Maintain comfortable seating; a desk, a chair, a bean bag, a rug with floor cushions, or a recliner - anything that will make your child comfortable enough to read without badly affecting her/his posture is a good choice.
- Keep seating for at least two people. The joy of reading together is greater than that of reading alone.
- Classify books by genre and your child's interest. For instance, keep comics separate from graphic novels, which should be separate from other novels. Keep mysteries, light reading and non-fiction separate too.
- Keep books within the reach of your kids so that they don't always need you to pick out a book they want to read.
- So that kids can find their favorite books on their own, keep the books in a manner that allows them to spot the spine of the book on the shelf labeled with the genre.
- Keep this zone free of other distractions such as a TV, a phone or a computer. At the most, keep a CD player to enjoy audio books.
- As a safety measure, ensure that the furniture kept in these areas does not have any sharp edges that may be dangerous for the little ones.
The Alternative to Good Ol' Books
Not all kids like to pick up books and read them. Don't worry, there are lots of alternatives to those; audio books being the best. Bringing characters to life with their voices and the right tone tells a lot more than reading a book, elements which some readers may not be able to gauge. Join your kid in listening to them, and it is definitely going to be more fun. The Internet is a great medium too. Now you definitely have to monitor what they read online, but there are loads of kiddie newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites where children publish short stories. Giving exposure to kids on such sites is great. Add to these, websites with trivia specially for kids, and you have a whole treasure of information that is just a click away. Nowadays, a lot of kids have tablet PCs, such as an iPad, which only makes it much easier to access any kind of reading material. As long as kids get into the habit of reading, the medium should not matter.
Making Time for Reading
This may be an obvious suggestion, but it is the most effective one. Studying, TV and video games, all take up the time that kids have; and kids are supposed to have the maximum amount of time on their hands. Even if it is only half an hour, make them read in that time. For it to be more effective, read with them, even if the two of you are sitting and reading your own books. Don't pressurize them to read, but if they see you do it often, the likelihood of them engaging in any kind of reading is greater. Entertainment from TV and video games may be important to reduce the pressure of studying, but reading offers a different kind of entertainment. It is definitely more soothing and relaxing, and even enhances brain activity.
The Reader's Bill of Rights
Here's something interesting/hilarious I found while looking up tips to make your home a reader-friendly place, which I think perfectly suits the concept of trying to get kids to read. It's called the Reader's Bill of Rights as propounded by Daniel Pennac in his book Better Than Life; and this is what it says (with my two-bit):
Every reader has:
- The right to not read: If your kids don't want to read in spite of all your efforts, don't force them to. I myself started reading only at 15 and have been an avid reader since.
- The right to skip pages: Lots of books have a lot of yada yada in them that can be safely skipped. Give them this option before they begin to find a book boring and give it up.
- The right to not finish: Accept that kids are not going to enjoy every book they read. If it is beyond comprehension or way too difficult/boring for them, ask them to give it up. This will also help them discover what kind of books they really like.
- The right to reread: Ask me how many times I have read the Harry Potter series! Rereading brings to light a lot of things that the first read doesn't. Encourage it. There is a lot of time to catch up on other books.
- The right to read anything: With kids, it may be a little difficult to allow them to read 'anything', but giving them diverse options is definitely a choice. Some books are written for the sake of pure entertainment without a point; and these books should be enjoyed. You don't have to learn something from everything! (Believe me you still will.)
- The right to escapism: A fantasy world allows kids to create their own parallel universe. It opens up their mind and allows them to think creatively. In fact, you could be a part of this universe and help them expand it.
- The right to read anywhere: This is in keeping with what has been discussed above. Though the focus is on creating a reader-friendly home, a child can easily enjoy a book in any environment as long as it is not very distracting.
- The right to browse: Sometimes it's okay to pick up a book and start reading it from a particular section, even if it doesn't make sense.
- The right to read out loud: This is so necessary for kids; reading out loud is great for them, and is an enjoyable activity if you as a parent read out to them while taking the right tone, pitch and voice of the character. Also, some kids learn better when they listen rather than read.
- The right to not defend your tastes: You are going to be monitoring what they read, so there is nothing to worry about on that front. But if your child enjoys graphic novels more than regular novels, there is no harm in that. You don't have to reprimand her/him for it or try to convince him to read another genre. The transition will occur slowly; and even if it doesn't, at least she/he is reading something!
These are some guidelines you can go by when trying to encourage your kids to read. In fact, it is a great book that parents can read to get their kids to read.
As mentioned earlier, don't worry if your kids are not interested in reading yet. Sometimes, they get into the habit later in life. This does not mean that they should not be encouraged. But sometimes, certain kids don't take a genuine interest in reading. If after all this, your kids don't want to read, just give them some time. Temptation can be resisted only for so long. They are sure to come around eventually and pick up that book you have been wanting them to read for the longest time.