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We Asked a Librarian: "How Do We Get Our Kids to Read?"

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    Anne Vilen

The research on summer reading and summer regression from not reading is clear:

  • More than 80% of children from economically disadvantaged communities lose one to three months reading skills over the summer.
  • Students who lose reading ability over the summer often are behind by as much as three years by the end of fifth grade and are more likely to drop out altogether in high school.

The question is, how do we get students who are distracted by video games and screens, overscheduled, or ignored at home during the summer months to pick up a book and read? Since my answer to just about any question is, 'ask a librarian', I did just that. Here’s what two of them said:

Jean Holmblad, a children’s librarian at the Newton Free Library, in Newton, MA, says the way to get kids reading is to get books into their hands and give them personalized attention. She gave dozens of book talks in schools this spring and runs the public library’s summer reading program. “There’s something about actually touching the book, seeing covers, diving in and reading a page that creates immediate motivation,” she says. So even if she’s doing a single book talk, she brings all of the books on the library’s summer reading list and them out so that children can hold them.

Librarian-How-Do-We-Get-Our-Kids

Just get them close to the books

Want your kids to read more? Holmblad suggests surprising them with a visit to the library. Get them a library card. Make a big deal out of belonging to the club of library members. Don’t be deterred by the fact that a child may not be interested in the books. Point out that they can also check out video games, Xbox games, and movies. Newton’s library even has a 3D printer that students can use and learn to program. “Get them in first, and after they look at the games they might get sucked into the books.”

Discover each child’s personal passion

The next step says Holmblad is to discover what a kid is interested in enough to invest. in the reading. “My goal for each kid in the summer is for him/her to find one book that they love and are passionate about, and want their friends and family to read.” Just like trying to get a picky eater to try new foods, figuring out which book clicks for a particular child may take persistence and patience. A gigantic menu with juicy descriptions is a great way to get a child’s reading chops salivating.

Check out the New Free Library’s grade by grade, genre by genre, kid-friendly list.

Beyond a veritable cornucopia of books, Celeste Tibbits, librarian at Clairemont Elementary school in Decatur, GA, suggests appreciating and encouraging any kind of reading. “I joke every year about sending home the Zen summer reading list. It’s blank except for one word: READ. If kids read baseball statistics, the back of a cereal box, a brochure from a place visited over the break, or a graphic novel version of War and Peace they are keeping their reading brain strong, and that’s what matters.” To keep parents happy, she does send more than Zen. Two of her favorites are Guys Read and Mighty Girl.

Customize the reading experience for each child

One way to get children of any age or background, and especially reluctant readers, sampling new reading experiences, is by combining reading with something they already like. Holmblad passes along a third grader’s suggestion: read to your cat! Check out a 'play away' device that will read to you. Pick a book with a topic that can also be explored at a museum visit or a ballgame. Or start with the museum and then read "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler". Or start with the ballgame and then read "Zombie Baseball Beatdown".