If you grew up on a steady diet of good children’s literature, you know what your child is missing if he or she doesn’t spend much time reading. But getting kids to read isn’t easy. Today’s culture doesn’t set aside down time for doing ‘nothing’ the way we used to.
As kids, we turned to books on hot summer days when there was nothing to do. Or on rainy days, when it was too cold and wet to go outside. And who doesn’t remember those temperate, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky Saturdays when mom or dad told you to put that book down and go out and get some sunshine?
If this was part of your childhood, you most likely want that for your child, too. Try these 5 tips for getting kids to read.
Getting kids to read: 5 tips
1) Books by mail. Kids love to get mail. Join an online book swap, so your child can choose his or her own book and order it from another reader. You will be pleasantly surprised to see your child checking the mailbox for the latest book, then reading it as soon as it comes in. The only cost you incur is postage to send your contribution to another little reader.
2) Front yard libraries. Start a Little Free Library—you can buy one or make your own. These free-standing libraries hold about 20 books, and you can set them up in your front yard or on community property. You may want to restrict this “Take a Book, Leave a Book” concept to children’s books only, or you can extend the service to everyone. Your child will love checking it every day to see which books were taken and which ones were dropped off. As an added benefit, neighbors with children will stop in front of it, giving your child a chance to meet new friends.
3) Book clubs. Start a book club for a small group of your child’s friends. Your child will look forward to reading the book, and the ensuing discussion will help him or her come to understand books in a new way.
4) Book shopping. This one may sound simplistic, but it works. Let your child buy a book every now and then. Ownership creates responsibility. If your child spends his or her time at a bookstore choosing the perfect book, the likelihood of that book getting read goes up. If there are no bookstores near you, try a book-of-the-month club. The point is, let your child choose the titles.
5) Role models. If you have your nose in a book, chances are, your child will, too. Rather than reading at night before you go to bed, read during the day so that your child can see that reading is a ‘big people’ thing to do. Better yet, each of you grab a book, go to Starbucks and order a latte for you and a smoothie for your child. Curl up in those big, comfy chairs and read away. As an added bonus, sometimes bookstores are connected to coffee shops. You can make a day of it!
If you are tired of nagging your kids to read, try some of these tips. Make it a family affair, and you will foster that love of reading that you so badly want for your children. Getting kids to read is a lot easier when you make it fun!
Leave a comment. What do you do to get your kids reading?
A lot of people have one inside of them. A novel, I mean. They think about it, they tell people about it—they might even sit down and write a few pages. But why do so few actually finish writing a novel?
For starters, it’s a big job. And when you have a lot of other things to do, it’s easy to shove your book off to the side, to be written when you have more time.
But if you are able to save it for later, it’s probably not burning a hole inside of you. (And if that’s the case, ‘later’ might never come.) If your unwritten novel haunts you when you’re at work, if you’re developing plots at night before you fall asleep and you’re annoyed with yourself when you see a novel that you could have written hit the bookstores, perhaps it’s time to figure out what’s stopping you.
Write a novel: a secret one
One way to make sure your novel stays where it is now—inside of you—is to tell everyone about it. While some of your friends will be staunch supporters, the people closest to you might feel threatened that you are branching out and trying something new. They might say things like this:
Or: “Shouldn’t you start with a short story?”
Perhaps you have someone in your life who’s even more blunt:
“But you can’t write.”
Most likely, you know who these people are. And if you find yourself unable to resist sharing your enthusiasm with them, you may want to ask yourself why you are opening yourself up to their lack of faith in you. Could it be that they are mirroring something inside of you about your ability to do this? If so, be aware that you will continue to seek naysayers until you believe you can see this project through to the end.
If you need to confide in someone, choose somebody who has always been your champion. As for everybody else? Resist the temptation to share. That way, their negative vibes won’t bring you down.
Write a novel: schedule it
If Phileas Fogg can get around the world in 80 days, you can certainly write a novel by then, too. Consider this: if you write 1,000 words a day, you will have completed your first draft of an 80,000 word novel (a good length for most debut novels) in less than three months. Writing for kids? You’ll be done in six weeks.
But maybe 1,000 words a day demands more resources than you have to spare. No worries. Cut it down to 500 words. Still too much? Shoot for 250. The point is, if you break it up into bite-sized chunks—whatever that means for you—it will be easier for you to set up a schedule and stick to it. By doing this, you'll end up with a completed novel, ready to pitch to agents in 2015.
Let your time with your book be your favorite part of the day. Look forward to it. Savor it while you are engaged in the work you ‘have’ to do. You will find that once you begin writing on a schedule, your novel will stop torturing you. Rather, you will find that the mere thought of it can buoy you up—even when other parts of your life are weighing you down.
Write a novel: choose your partner
Why not tackle this mountain with a climbing buddy? You probably have a friend who wants to write a novel, too. If not, I suspect you do have a friend who would be willing to hold you accountable, and perhaps even read chapters to give you feedback as you write.
Or maybe you feel as though you need a real taskmaster to help you get through this. For those of you who are tired of ‘wanting’ to write a book and ready to get it done, you might benefit from the upcoming National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that provides support for first-time novelists who are willing to commit the month of November to writing that first draft. On an international scale, you can join with other writers who are sick of hearing themselves talk and are ready to write—a whole book in 30 days. Through this organization, you can enjoy pep talks, inspirational stories, contests and forums, but most importantly, you can join thousands of new novelists who have decided that the time is now (or more precisely, November) to get that story written.
Ever hear about the legendary warrior who led his troops by sea onto enemy shores? When they reached land, he ordered them to burn their boats. Think about what it would take for you to embark on this adventure, with no turning back. Once you’ve written one novel, it’s a lot easier to write the second one, which is how most novelists turn writing stories into a career.
How about you? Do you have a novel inside of you? Tell us about it!
Not all boys hate to read. But a lot do, and those are the ones we’re talking about here. If a middle-grade boy is a reluctant reader, he’s setting himself up for a lifetime of problems he could have skipped—if only he knew how to read.
Let’s face it. Poor readers stress about school, tend to have lower confidence outside of school and often grow up with the intention of quitting their education as soon as they are allowed (by the state, mom or dad).
And where does that leave them?
If you’re a parent with a boy who doesn’t like to read, you are probably desperately seeking ways to inspire him to pick up a book.
How to encourage boys to read: start with the obvious
What does your son like to do? Is he a baseball fan? Does he like to cook? Is he into dinosaurs, bugs or spaceships? Surround him with books about his favorite topics. There is no need to offer him variety. If he only wants to read about World War II military strategy, let him. I know one fourth-grade boy who only wanted to read about that, and he exhausted the supply of books on military history at the local library.
There are certain genres of books your son might enjoy. One mom told me that her reluctant reader really liked books with talking animals. They weren’t easy to find, but she worked hard to keep him in a steady supply until he became an independent reader. If your son likes one book, find out why and hunt down more of the same.
If your boy likes comic books, take regular trips to the comic book store. Try a subscription to a magazine. The stories are short and there are lots of pictures. Video game fanatics might be more willing to read stories online. Download books for your gamer to read on his computer. This article has a list of websites where you can get books for children online. Some of them are read aloud, but others are digital downloads.
How to encourage boys to read: stoop to bribery
Make a trade. If your son reads a book, plan a reward that relates to the book. If he finishes a book on baseball, take him to a baseball game. If the book is a fictional account of an historic event, take him to a site where he can learn more about what really happened. And if he reads a book about two kids going on an adventure and getting in trouble, let him set up a tent in the back yard and have a sleepover.
One great way to encourage your son to read is to let him watch movies that are based on books--after he’s read the book. There are some great books for kids that were made into movies:
Some of the books on this list may be too challenging for your reader. If that’s the case, choose the abridged or graphic version if it’s available. Usually, the graphic version of a novel is shorter, and of course, children love the artwork that illustrates these timeless stories.
Break your reading challenge into manageable chunks, and your son will be more likely to get through the whole book. For example, give him a gold star when he finishes a chapter. That way, he can see tangible results as he works toward his goal.
One caveat: Be careful not to make the experience punitive by constantly reminding him that he doesn’t get the prize if he doesn’t read the book. Let him be in charge of his own destiny. If he chooses to forgo the prize, let that be up to him.
How to encourage boys to read: go back a few years
Becoming a good reader takes practice. Reading grade level material is hard work for a reluctant reader. Rather than making your son struggle through books that other fifth graders are reading, go back down to fourth grade. Find easier books that your child might like. Or even two grade levels below—whatever it takes for your son to be able to enjoy reading.
If your son is willing to keep his nose in a book for younger children, he will get all the practice he needs, simply because he is reading. Reading for enjoyment will advance his skills faster than powering through a book that is too hard for him. After all, that’s how his classmates became good readers—mastering easy books and then moving on to harder ones. What you are giving your late bloomer is the gift of taking all the time he needs.
And finally, don’t stop reading aloud. Choose books that you think your son could read by himself. Spend time reading to him before he goes to bed, but stop when you get to the most exciting part in the chapter. Lay the book on his nightstand and let him know that it’s now time for lights out. Except, of course, if he wants to finish the chapter on his own.
Leave a comment! Is your boy a reluctant reader? Share your own stories about what worked for you.
Character development in middle-grade fiction: make sure your readers know your people as well as you do
Let's say your main character is a kid who rode on your school bus when you were eight years old. Or, your main character is you when you were eight years old. But now you’re all grown up and this guy or gal is only in your head. Good character development gets these people out of your head and onto the page so they are no longer inside of you. By the time you type The End, your characters should belong to the world.
So how do you do that?
Start by re-introducing yourself to your long-ago friend. Sure you knew this kid twenty-five years ago, but that’s a long time. Remember, if you’re writing in the time-frame of your own childhood, that would be an historical novel. Maybe you wore neon orange and lime-green parachute pants as a kid, but make sure your characters dress the way kids do now.
And notice how confident elementary school children are today. They’ll say anything to anybody. Even to grown-ups (with whom they’ll be on a first-name basis). These kids tend to have a better idea of what they like—and don’t like—and they’re not shy about letting you know.
Today’s boys and girls are more likely to be best friends with each other than they were back then. They’re tech savvy, and they’re less likely to be playing jump-rope or monkeying around on jungle gyms.
And in what appears to be an evolution of consciousness, the children of today are more comfortable with talking about how they feel.
Character development: let your characters speak for themselves
You want your readers to get to know your characters by what your characters say and do. Let’s say that you want to show the reader that your eight-year-old protagonist (Jason) is lacking confidence in his ability to swim.
Here are three ways you can handle that:
1) You spell it out for your reader:
Jason hung back. He wasn’t a very good swimmer, and he always felt embarrassed when he thrashed his way across the pool.
2) Jason tells them, but in case your reader misses it, you tell them, too:
“Hey, Jason! Come on in!”
“I can’t. I forgot my towel.” Jason had hoped that no one would notice that he wasn’t swimming.
3) Let JASON show your readers how unsure he is:
Sam and Eddie dove into the deep end. The water was a shade darker—and colder, Jason thought—when the drain was so far down you could hardly see it. He grabbed a kickboard from the deck and jumped in.
"Look! I'm Eddie! I'm a big baby!" Jason held his nose with two fingers and began splashing his way across the pool. The spastic sound of his feet slapping the water trailed behind him, but all he cared about was the clock on the wall over the picnic tables. Two more minutes, and the lifeguard would blow the whistle for adult swim.
Character development: be consistent
A general rule of thumb is this: when your character talks, the reader should know who’s doing the talking without any prompting from you. While this can’t be the case for every line (Wow! Cool!—all kids say that), it’s helpful to think about this ‘test’ as you’re writing dialog. Each character should have a unique voice. I recall reading a book one time and wondering why it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t until after I had finished the whole thing that I realized all of the characters spoke in the same witty banter.
While there might be one quirky character in a book, they can’t all be. The others need to be something different to provide contrast.
Mostly because that’s how it is in real life. Everybody’s different. And in order to create a scenario that your readers can get lost in, they need to feel the way they do when they meet real people—interested, curious and wanting to know more.
Speaking of Kids
Online phonics program blog: Musings, stories, and tips about teaching, reading, and parenting.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT KRISTI CROSSON
Kristi is a professional photographer and homeschooling mom of three small children. She has a passion for helping other moms make healthy choices for themselves and their families. To learn more about Kristi, please visit her website.
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