The tween years, specifically between eight and twelve, are vital in determining whether or not a child will be a lifelong reader. By this time, even a weaker reader could be fairly comfortable reading books. If she is supplied with books that really interest her, she will hopefully see it as an enjoyable pastime. Even children who enjoyed reading when they are younger, sometimes stop reading as much as other interests compete for their time. I began to see this in my ten-year-old daughter’s choices this summer. She still read hundreds and hundreds (thousands even) of pages this summer. She read on vacation, she read in the car, she read while watching TV, she read outside and upstairs and downstairs, but. . . .
But she also watched a lot of tween Disney TV. She spent time at sports camps and on playdates. She played video games and surfed the net. She started a blog with some friends. She cooked and drew and played with (or tormented) her little brother.
These are all good things. Some of them are great things, but had I not continued to encourage her to read by turning off the screens, and by taking her to the library (where she participated in the summer reading program and appreciated the incentives given as prizes along the way), I know that she would have read a lot less this summer than she had in the past.
Like me, reading is first in her heart, but other interests can easily crowd it out. What trumps things like friends, TV and other hobbies? A good book will do it every time.
In my adult life my reading has waxed and waned. If I’m reading a great book, I will almost always choose it over mindless TV, or housework (well I’d also choose a mediocre book over housework if I’m being honest here), or computer time. But in the past I’d read a great book, and perhaps follow it up with a great book, and then maybe not read much of anything for a few months. For the past two years, I’ve again become a confirmed bookworm, but there are still times when I’m between books, or the book I’m reading doesn’t really grab me, when my page count does fall off.
So I do relate to the many things that are vying for Amanda’s time: trumpet practice, her Bible study lesson, homework, time with friends, TV, chores, but I make sure that the reading happens.
As I write this, she’s gone up to bed an hour early to read. This used to happen quite often, but with Zack and Cody and iCarly calling to her in the evenings, she often watches TV right up to bedtime and then complains that I only let her read for ten minutes before bed. But she had read a few chapters of a book that we recently picked up at a used bookstore, and she’s enjoying it so much that she doesn’t want to set it aside.
I can make sure that she reads at home, but I have to give credit to her school for providing many hours each week for her to read — whetting her appetite each and every day.
This happens in a variety of ways:
- The school librarian is a big fan of the Accelerated Reading program. She has apparently always encouraged participation, but this is the first year that it was built into the language arts curriculum. I know that some are not fans of this, and some schools are heavyhanded in the way that they execute it (restricting reading choices rather than encouraging reading), but this program encourages my daughter to set a reasonable goal and to keep on turning the pages.
- In addition to that, the librarian has made the library a place to read. Each class spends one period a week in library. During that 45 minutes, they are expected to read. The library is a beautiful light-filled space with a two-story wall of windows overlooking a wooded area. The children are encouraged to find an inviting place to read — on a floor cushion, on a padded bench, in a rocking chair, or at a table, and must spend the bulk of that period reading.
- Another part of her school day is “learning lab.” This is another 45 minute period each day when children are encouraged to use their brains. It is not study hall (though a child will occasionally use that time to get extra help). They use this time for music lessons (once a week), playing chess, doing extra math challenges, drawing, or reading. I think that some diversity of choice is encouraged, but except for the one day when she has trumpet lessons, Amanda is reading.
I write this partly to provide a practical answer to the question that my friend Katrina has posed when I’ve published Amanda’s reading feats in the last two Kids’ Pick carnivals: How does she read so much? The second reason is to remind myself that I can’t take it for granted. It’s the combination of time set aside for reading and getting the right books in her hands that keep her reading.
What obstacles do you see in encouraging an ongoing love of reading in tweens and teens? What solutions have you found?
Managing Editor Jennifer Donovan also blogs at Snapshot about life with her tween daughter and preschool son.