Getting your kids to read
When it is quiet at home, you can follow the whispers and find her, sitting behind the couch, holding a book with a spark in her eyes. There she is – The Book Whisperer.
Eden got this nickname when she was 7 years old and her teacher complained she was reading out loud while all the other kids switched to silent reading. The teacher was concerned that reading out loud would interfere with her reading development.
To handle the need to verbalize what she was reading (a kinesthetic need), Eden started to whisper. It started with fast and unclear quiet whispers, like shorthand. she read for hours every day, so from age 7 to 20, you could hear indistinct whispers in our house at the table, in the toilet, behind the sofa, on the floor or on her bed.
All my 3 little book worms go to the public library every week and borrow 20 books for each membership card (and we have 5 cards).
For the love of reading
Kids who love reading are every parent’s dream. Developing imagination, getting exposed to richness of information and inspiring emotions through the written word are only some of the advantages of reading.
I have heard many theories about reading. Many of them say “Kids either love reading or they don’t”, but 25 years ago, at a small school in Jerusalem, I learned that the love of reading is not an inherited quality, but it can be transferred to kids from every parent and every teacher.
It was the first day of my work experience in Grade 2 at a primary school. There were many kids in a small room with a reading corner and a teacher teaching number bases during a Math lesson.
Do you remember what number bases are? If not, click here for a bit of confusion. I had studied them in high school and struggled with them, while these kids were converting numbers from one base to another in a flash. They finished a working sheet that would have taken me 45 minutes to complete in 15 minutes flat.
When each kid finished working, they took out a book, “hid” it under the desk and started reading it. The teacher said nothing. She just smiled and went to help the kids who needed her. When she passed next to a reading kid, the kids closed the book and pretended to be really interested in number bases. Out of a class of 38 kids (hard to believe, but there were 38 kids in a single classroom), more than 20 kids spent about 70% of their time reading secretly under the desk.
During our lunch break, I asked the teacher what was happening.
She asked me to sit in her chair in front of the class and tell her what I saw. Let me tell you, I could see everything! It was easy to see every breath the kids took and they were so cute trying hard to hide their books.
On the second day, the teacher told me she was a psychologist and her philosophy on education was different from that of many other teachers. She said “If I can make these kids love reading, I have fulfilled my purpose as an educator. It is the most valuable tool I can give them and it will last them a life time”. And she taught me how to make kids love reading.
She planned all her lessons in such a way that for 10 minutes, she would explain a new concept and then give the kids a worksheet for the rest of the lesson. In the first 10 minutes, the class was in absolute silence. If anyone squeaked, she would tell them to leave the class. Even the most brilliant kids sometimes made a sound and were asked to get up and go outside.
When I was there, the teacher once said to a kid, “Adam, please leave the class”, and when he was almost at the door, she said “Adam, since this is your first time to misbehave today, I allow you to take a book with you”. Adam rushed to the reading corner excitedly and took a book to sweeten his punishment.
Adam had been outside the room for only 2 minutes when he had to swap with another kid who was sent out. But 2 minutes were enough time to trigger his curiosity about the book, so he hurried to his desk, quickly finished his worksheet, opened the book on his lap and resumed his reading.
When one of the kids finished his worksheet, the teacher said out loud, “Daniel has finished his worksheet and I allow him to read a book”.
Pay attention to the key word “allows”. She did not suggest. She did not want. She did not tell or instruct. She did not give prizes for reading. She allowed it. Reading was her most valuable reward.
This was by far the most effective manipulation I had ever seen.
It takes only 21 days to make reading a great privilege and promote the love of reading to a group of kids, causing them to “steal” time to read. You can use this technique at home to allow your kids to sleep, to allow them to play with friends and even to allow them to wash the dishes or help around the house.
“I allow you” is your magic wand, which you can use for anything you want to encourage your kids to do. “I don’t allow you” works just as well
If your kids lack social skills and you want them to play with friends more, you can “punish” them with “You are not allowed to invite a friend over this week”. Although your kid may never have thought of inviting a friend over, if you say it enough times, they will start thinking that inviting friends is a great privilege. Easy!
At our house, it even worked with washing the dishes and washing the floor and when I want my kids to think that being together is awesome, I punish them with “You can’t be with us” when we are folding the laundry.
As with any method, there are some limitations to using “allowing” to promote reading:
- As your kids grow beyond the age of 12, the words lose their magic and the manipulation becomes transparent and stops working. You must start early!
- The toilets in the house become libraries and you need more toilets because they are occupied based on the length of the chapter or the book (can’t stop in the middle, can you?). Most families cannot stand long chapters first thing in the morning…
- Once your kids become book worms and reach the age of 12, when you are angry with them for reading too much while you want them to do other things, and you choose to punish them with “You can’t read a book for a week”, you are doomed to be ignored. After you have given your permission enough times, there is no return.
Eden is leaning on the wall in the dining room, with the spark of excitement in her eyes, ignoring me, whispering to her book at full speed and I feel the smile coming out, just like the smile of my work experience teacher who taught me how to give kids the best tool they could ever have – the love of reading.
I sprinkled magic powder when she was 3 years old (the first time I “punished” by allowing her to read a book) and 17 years later, I understand there is no way anyone could take away those glittery sparkles of magic. Love to read is for life and I am so happy there is no turning back.
Wishing you and your kids the love of reading,