Remember when your child begged for a bedtime story every night? Remember when birthday gifts consisted of classic stories like The Giving Tree and Where the Wild Things Are? Books are an essential component of almost every childhood. It’s almost as if the love for reading is innate, and the need to organize the world around us via narrative is something wonderfully human.
Fast-forward ten years, can you think of the last book your child read that wasn’t assigned in class? More so, can you think of the last book they enjoyed reading, regardless of class assignment? For some reason, the love of reading faces an abrupt death during the adolescent years. Children become disillusioned with narrative, and often their grades suffer shortly after. Beyond this grade decline, reading disinterest catalyzes a steep drop-off in student engagement, as children no longer see the pages in front of them as a rich story wrapped in both personal and historical significance. Instead, children see reading as assigned chapters followed by reading comprehension quizzes and the dreaded PIE paragraph.
But what if this wasn’t the case? What if we could stoke the fire of curious reading beyond childhood, through the emotional chaos of adolescence, and into early adulthood? In all honesty, if we could teach students to love reading, we would have a virtual panacea to many of the problems that plague the modern-day classroom.
Reading is one of the most cognitively beneficial tasks a child can undertake. It improves vocabulary, eloquence, and critical thinking more powerfully than almost any other academic task. In fact, researchers confirmed in a 2013 study that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain, and as your reading ability matures, those networks get stronger and more sophisticated. The cumulative reading efforts stretch far beyond pure cognitive horsepower, though. In 2009, a group of researchers measured the effects of yoga, humor, and reading on the stress levels of students in demanding health science programs in the United States. The study found that thirty minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of psychological distress just as effectively as yoga and humor. Reading even improves sleep quantity and quality, according to Doctors at the Mayo Clinic.
Better sleep, less stress, higher brain connectivity, increased eloquence, and more well-roundedness, all from protecting and cultivating the love for reading? Yes, it’s that simple. So, how do we get it done? Here are three practical tips to help your child develop and maintain a love for reading:
Find a ‘Why’
Our starting point with every student and every goal is to find a strong why. As we have discussed in our most recent post on goal-setting, helping a student find a strong ‘why’ exponentially increases the likelihood of achieving their goal. But remember, people act for their own reasons, not yours. Discuss the benefits of reading with your student. At least one of the plethora of physical and cognitive benefits should catch your student’s attention. Whether it is better sleep, a more efficient brain, or decreased stress, starting with a strong ‘why’ will help sustain motivation long enough for reading to become a habit.
Make it a Habit
As habit-formation expert James Clear says, to make a habit stick, make it easy, obvious, and attractive. Reading is no different. Now that we have armed ourselves with a strong ‘why’, it’s time to prime the environment for success. Make reading easy by keeping books in “high opportunity zones.” In other words, make picking up the book more effortless than anything else. Keep a book on the nightstand and the TV remote on the other side of the room. Keep a book in your child’s backpack for inevitable periods of boredom while running errands after school or waiting in traffic. Likewise, make reading obvious by placing books in extremely visible places. Hiding a book in the bottom drawer of a desk reduces the likelihood of the visual cue to read. For more on the power of cues and enhancing the environment, check out our article on the power of the environment. Lastly, make reading attractive. To make reading a habit, pick books that your child wants to read. Is your child a football star? Try a biography of Tom Brady, Tony Dungy, or Vince Lombardi. Are they a fan of the great outdoors? Try My Side of the Mountain or Silent Spring. Neither the genre nor the page count matter. Our goal here is to stoke the fire of your child’s reading curiosity. Give it plenty of oxygen by choosing books that are interesting, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
Be the Change You Wish to See
The best way to influence a student’s behavior is to mirror the behavior you wish to see. Gandhi’s famous quote applies to classrooms and parenting as much as, if not more than, it does to global battles for social justice. If you want your child to be more organized, keep your desk and kitchen in order. If you want your child to manage time more effectively, keep your well-worn planner and calendar on display. And if you want your child to read more, you need to read more. The potency of a consistent “family reading time” cannot be overstated. It works with toddlers and teenagers. If the parents read, the older siblings will read, and if the older siblings read, then the younger siblings will follow suit. It’s a beautiful thing.
A consistent reading practice is right up there with gratitude and sleep in terms of long-term benefits. Physically, psychologically, socially, and academically, reading shapes the leaders of tomorrow. For more posts like this one, head over to our blog page. If you’re interested in one-on-one executive function coaching and personalized recommendations for your child, reach out for more information.