Saturday, May 9, 2015

James Patterson and #GetKidsReading

I recently read an article on the Publisher's Weekly website written by James Patterson. James asked for us to share our ideas on how to push kids to read on twitter using the hashtag #GetKidsReading. Whether it's War and Peace or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory children need to read. My response wouldn't fit into 140 characters or 280 characters or all the characters in Disney's arsenal. I'm looking at you Goofy. Don't even try it.

The Problem

Education is one of the subjects I am very passionate about (not like that!). Unfortunately all too often our representatives in government whether at the state or federal level are quick to make cuts to the education budget when money is needed for their $70 hammers and $500 toilet seats. The teacher's union has also helped to dumb down our children by negotiating for tenure and denying merit based raises for their teachers. This gives teachers an incentive to not care as much as they should. It's easy for the good teachers to lose their enthusiasm for the job given the challenges that are put in their way. Now what does this have to do with children reading? Many parents rely on public education to teach their children how to read and write while many teachers put the onus back on the parents. It's like the Republicans and Democrats pointing fingers at each other to assign blame, but no one doing anything to fix the problem.

Solution

There are potentially many solutions to this problem. Many of which will never see the light of day. No they aren't vampires. At least I don't think so. You might want to pack a crucifix and wooden stake for this next part just in case. I don't want to address the ones that would take an act of God to enable. Like getting the government to fix anything. You can write your representative in Congress if you want to try. I want to discuss potential methods that will motivate kids to read. Kids have an attention span that can be measured in milliseconds. Their favorite cartoons don't hold their attention for long, so how do you get them to pay attention to a book long enough to read?
  • Provide opportunities - Make books available to them. This is easy for those of you who read a lot, but you also have to provide books that would appeal to them as well. What you like to read might not be what they like to read. There are tons of free ebooks available on the Kindle store. The public library is another great free option. Parents should make time to read to or with their children even if they are just reading a different book quietly in the same room. If you designate a reading time for them then they won't be able to fill that time with something else like running around in circles screaming at the top of their lungs.
  • Let them pick the book - Children are more likely to be read and finish a book if they are interested in the subject. For teachers instead of assigning one book to everyone, give a list of books to choose from. All too often children are forced to read books they have no interest in reading, and many children skip or skim those books. Let them explore with Dora, sling web with Spiderman, or crush on sparkly vampires in the twilight. Where's your wooden stake?
  • Don't force them - Sometimes the book you pick for yourself is going to be a dud. I usually move on to the next one if it can't hold my attention. The same is true for children. If you force them to read something that they don't enjoy or aren't interested in then the reading experience gains a negative connotation. They'll start associating reading time with vegetables or watching paint dry.
  • Provide incentives - Get pizza or ice cream before or after reading. Celebrate their progress. Talk to them about how fun reading can be. Make it an event. Invite your children's friends to join in. There are many ways for a parent to provide incentives.

Ultimately you're not going to get children to read unless they want to. Make it easy, make it interesting, take the pressure off of them, and make it fun.

I remember being a young kid going to the library with my mother. I used to love the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. I remember holding my spot in the book to read through each option available. I also picked up the classic tales of Sherlock Holmes. Those stories were a bit too dense for me at the age I picked them up. I remember reading the first case in the book four or five times trying to find what I missed, trying to make sense of it. I didn't finish that one. As I got older reading for pleasure went by the wayside. I spent more and more of my time playing sports and video games rather than reading. It wasn't until college that I began to read for pleasure once more. Jurassic Park was the book that pulled me in and rekindled my love for the written word. I also had a fantastic teacher my freshman year of college who gave creative options for each paper I had to write.

Here is the link to Patterson's article: http://publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/66489-searching-for-a-few-good-ideas.html

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