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The Joy Of Books

How To Teach Your Preteen the Joy of Reading

As our children get closer to their teenage years, reading can often take a backseat to other enticing social activities. Face it, even though they know intellectually the important role that reading plays in their academic success, they can always find something better to do than crack open a new novel. But, there might just be something parents can do about that.

Start Early

It will come as no surprise to parents that experts agree it is extremely important to encourage reading as early as possible in your child's life.

"When a mom reads to her young child, that child associates reading with a pleasant experience," says Raymond Huntington, chairman and founder of Huntington Learning Center in Oradell, N.J. "It helps build their attention span and creates a love for reading."

Parents who introduce books to their children at an early age are giving them a head start in one of the most important aspects of their education.

"I have always read to my children," says Joan Andrews of Atlanta, Ga. "We had our quiet time at the end of the day every day when they were young. As they got older, they began reading the classics back to me; they were so proud when they started sounding out the words."

Make It Fun Again

There appears to be a decreased interest in reading for many children at or around the age of 9, even in those who loved reading prior to that. Experts attribute this to the child's ever-increasing busy schedule as they become more involved in extracurricular activities.

"Children that are 9 to 10 years old enter the 'world of distractions,'" says Huntington. "With after-school activities, team sports, dances, television, video games, computer time, etc., this leads to less time for reading."

Huntington stresses that this is the time that parents need to try to make reading fun again so their children will make time for it.

"Make it fun and interesting again," says Huntington. "If your preteen saw the Harry Potter movie, have her read the book. If he is interested in baseball, have him read a sports biography."

Reading Is Fundamental, a national motivating force for literacy founded in 1966, offers these tips for parents who are trying to rekindle their child's love for reading.

  • Help fit reading into their schedule. Kids say they would read more if they had the time.
  • Set an example. Let your kids see you reading for pleasure.
  • Give them an opportunity to choose their own material. When you and your child are out together, browse in a bookstore or library. A gift certificate or subscription is a nice way of saying, "You choose."
  • Build on your child's interests. Look for books and articles that feature their favorite sports, hobbies or music.
  • View pleasure reading as a value. Almost anything your child reads helps build his reading skills.
  • Make reading aloud a natural part of family life. Share a newspaper article or a passage from the book you are currently reading – without turning it into a lesson.
  • Surf the Internet for the hottest titles, and encourage your child to do the same.

Learn to Communicate

Make sure that there isn't a comprehension problem with your child. Often as children start looking at more advanced books, they find they are having difficulty understanding what they are reading. To a parent, this may come across as a lack of interest.

"The first thing you should do is find out if there is a problem with your child," says Huntington. "Maybe your child can't comprehend what he is reading or maybe he needs glasses. Speak to your child's teacher or school counselor."

It's important at this age to ask questions of your child if you see a decrease in his interest in anything, and that includes reading. You may discover that he is embarrassed about his reading skills or has other reasons why he is not reading as much.

"I teach an enrichment class for creative writing, and my students are from 11 to 13," says Deanna Luke, a Fort Worth, Texas children's book writer. "All of the parents but one signed their student up because they have some learning issues. By the end they were so empowered that they could imagine a situation and write it down and validate it. That allowed each one of them to become better readers and editors so they could refine their own work."

Luke says it is important to encourage your child to read about what they like. "The more they read about what they like, the more they can read about the things they need to know," she says. "It is the old adage, 'Practice makes perfect' that applies here."

Create a New Habit

"I send my kids to bed 30 minutes earlier than some mothers so that they have free time to read," says Andrews. "I think this really helped with my 10-year-old son who enjoys so many other activities. He gets playing computer games and loses track of time. If I didn't enforce a certain 'reading time,' he would never read."

Andrews believes that it is just too easy for kids to find other ways to spend their time, especially with all the 'cool' computer games out there. "By setting aside time at the end of every day, I don't have to nag him to read," says Andrews. "And in the end, it is my son who is begging me to let him finish just one more chapter. He loves to read; he just gets too busy and forgets."

With all the choices available to children these days, reading is just another thing to do. Children need to remember the importance of reading, and it's up to us as parents to keep the spark flickering when so many other things seem to be in the way.

"Parents need to show the importance of reading for pleasure," says Huntington. "They can do this by demonstrating that they read for pleasure themselves. It can be a newspaper, magazine or a book."

Children learn by example: good and bad. To cultivate a love of reading in your child that lasts a lifetime, you must provide the example through your own actions. Make time for reading!

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