FROM THE YELLIN CENTER NEWSLETTER - FALL 2016
Seven Tips for Finding Your Child’s Book Niche
By Jacqui Kluger, M.S.Ed
One of the most common questions we get at The Yellin Center is “How do I get my child to enjoy reading?” Lots of kids grow up to become lovers of literature or graphic novels or biographies, while others get their thrills from sports, ceramics, or playing the clarinet. Whether or not you’re a natural book enthusiast, you undoubtedly know that reading plays an incredibly important role not just in helping us succeed academically, but in broadening our perspectives and giving our imaginations a turbo boost. Helping kids find their book niche is crucial to leading students towards a love of reading, especially when almost all kids are now carrying a smartphone, and with it an endless assortment of games and messenger apps right in their pockets.
Thankfully, there is no one “right” way to be a reader. Most students are expected to read specific books along with their class or reading group, but beyond that, there’s a whole universe of options. Encouraging kids and teens to explore that universe on their own is a great first step toward allowing them to express the autonomy they need to develop an intrinsic (self-motivated) appreciation for text. There are quite a few ways to bridge the gap between reluctant readers and their book niche. Finding the tip or strategy that works best for your child and your household might take some trial and error, but it’s well worth the effort.
- First and foremost, be the change. Age-old wisdom tells us that kids do what we do, not what we say. So, if you’re hoping to be in a household full of enthusiastic young readers, it’s up to you to show them the way. Make books and other text an important part of your life – share newspaper articles over breakfast (even if you read the “paper” on a tablet), bring the kids along when you choose your next library book, let your children see you reading for fun and tell them why you’re enjoying (or not enjoying) your current selection, and stock your home library with your absolute favorites from now and from when you were growing up. If children see reading as another leisure activity rather than a task they have to complete for school, they’re going to think about it that way, too.
- Provide autonomy at any age. Allow children and teens to decide what they want to read; make trips to the library or bookstore and give them space to crack open some books or magazines without you peering over their shoulders. Especially if you have a reluctant reader, let children choose books that appeal to them regardless of how you feel about that title or genre. Most libraries stock magazines and graphic novels in the young adult section as well, and this might be a great place to change a child’s mind about the benefits of the visit. Skilled librarians can also be great resources for kids who need help finding the one.
- Check out some lists of books for reluctant readers. These lists were published by library associations specifically for students who have strong comprehension skills but struggle with the mechanics of reading. There are also companies that publish “hi-lo” books – high-interest, fast-paced stories written at a lower reading level to keep older, struggling readers interested. The Association for Library Service to Children has published a list of books for reluctant readers in grades 3-6 and The Young Adult Library Services Association has published a list of books for reluctant readers aged 12-18.
- Start small. A fifth-grader who’s gone through her elementary years with distaste for literature will probably balk at the idea of jumping right into Little Women. Re-engaging her in the world of text doesn’t have to start with books. Maybe there’s something she wants to look up and read about on Wikipedia, or maybe she wants to bake a special cake with a complicated recipe. Positive interactions with any kind of text, when kids can feel the benefits of literacy, are steps in the right direction.
- Read to your child, and allow her to use audiobooks. When sounding out words is hard for children, there’s a risk they’ll withdraw from the world of literacy altogether. Even though we want kids reading independently in the long run, reading to them or providing them with audiobooks is a great alternative and an effective stepping stone. E-books, which can have larger fonts and built-in dictionaries, are another great way to make reading a little more exciting. Audiobooks can also be linked to e-books, so down the road kids can start to read along as they listen.
- Make it a challenge. If a child already loves to read, putting an additional incentive on top of that intrinsic motivation probably isn’t a good idea. But for kids who don’t naturally delight in cozying up with Mary Shelley and Laura Ingalls Wilder, some competition or incentive may be in order. The best kind of competition is against ourselves. One of my favorite motivators, for example, is the yearly reading challenge on GoodReads.com, where I can race towards my yearly goal of reading however many books I set back in January, while publicizing my progress to my friends. Goodreads also lets you rate books, “like” when a friend has started or finished a book, and will suggest similar titles for books you’ve enjoyed.
- For younger kids (6-13), biblionasium.com is an excellent alternative. Biblionasium can be used independently or through a classroom account. Kids can track what they read, search for books at their reading level, share recommendations with friends, and receive specific individual challenges from a parent or teacher, with incentives for completing reading tasks. Magazines and comics can be logged right alongside novels and nonfiction texts. Biblionasium takes the old-fashioned reading log into the digital universe and adds a safe social media factor to boot.
- Finally, contact your local library or talk to your school librarian about programs that bring therapy dogs to libraries and classrooms so kids can practice reading to someone who isn’t going to make any judgments. The dogs allow kids to have completely positive experiences with reading so they can build up their self-confidence with literacy while feeling the warm fuzzy comfort of an attentive canine listener. One of the simplest ways to connect kids with reading is to improve their literacy skills, and these programs are a great way to kick off reading in a safe environment. The American Kennel Club website has a list of therapy dog organizations around the country, many of which sponsor reading programs, including Tail Waggin’ Tutors, the R.E.A.D. program, and others.
Jacqui Kluger, M.S.Ed is a Learning Specialist at The Yellin Center. She has spent the past five years as an instructor for graduate and undergraduate psychology and education students in the City University of New York system, as well as working at several public and private schools.