Wednesday, December 4, 2013

6 creative ways to encourage youth to read.

In an age when many teens are glued to cell phones to text and surf the web, oftentimes book reading is not a top priority. While I agree that STEM Education is extremely important, I am also concerned that oral and written communication skills are still undervalued in society. Reading has a host of benefits that impact scholastic success and overall achievement in all disciplines. Moreover, individuals who embrace reading typically develop better writing skills.

When I attended private school, one tough teacher required the class to discuss assigned literature during summers, at her home. She called it a 'pool party.'  I do not know about you, but other than this experience, I was never required to stuff a book in my beach or pool bag. Really, she was helping to prepare our minds for the next round of her tough standards. It was more enjoyable to dish about English Literature under the sun, rather than in a confined room. I will stop my story at that point in time as I reflect on the goal of this post.

1. Make reading fun. Ruling the helm like a parental tyrant can have the opposite effect. So, what can parents, mentors, friends or relatives do to encourage youth to like reading? Pay attention to what holds a child's or teen's interest and start there. There are books written about almost everything, so be careful of forcing him or her to only read what is required, or what you would prefer. Also note teen book lines, and new authors who update familiar social issues with a modern approach. Shelia Lipsey's 'House of Cars' (click here) is one such example. Even well known authors like Omar Tyree are expanding their offerings to include fun, digital teen books like The Sneaker King. Ebooknationinc.com is a growing platform that is worth bookmarking for readers of all ages.

Keep a list of recommendations or new book releases to share with youth. Sign up for newsletters, or follow authors and publishers on social media, to help facilitate your search. Allowing a teen to pick a book at a bookstore, or giving a surprise gift, may inspire more discipline to finish one. When homework time comes, perhaps the habit of completion becomes more relatable. Hopefully.

2. Stop worrying about if a book is age appropriate, in terms of it being labeled as a book written for teens. I do not believe teens should read sexually explicit material, but I do believe that adults should not always tell them what is too advanced to try to read. Just like adults, teens have different tastes. Some are not bookworms, but others are. My father used to allow me read books in his den when I wanted to read something out of the box. Many books there were inclusive of studies and other books that he bought while attending rigorous graduate programs. I kept asking questions about a particular subject, so he drove quite a distance to John Hopkins to find another book about it. In time, college campuses became familiar to me, although I was about thirteen. I ended up testing far above my grade level in reading comprehension. The genesis of my love of books as a teen was my dad allowing me to experience adult books, while helping me to comprehend what I couldn't, whenever I felt stuck.

3. Have you heard of Little Free Libraries? If not, please watch the video that can be found here: http://m.startribune.com/?id=231619501. Designing a neighborhood lending library together could be extremely fun for youth or children who like art. Many towns and neighborhoods are beginning to encourage lending and taking books from Little Free Libraries. Books can be separated for adults, children and youth, or you can run your project the way that you prefer. Find ideas via www.littlefreelibrary.org.

4. Lead by example. Even if your child, or a young person that you know, is beyond story time, why not turn reading into a joint activity? It does not matter who prefers a Kindle, newspaper or physical book; read at the same time. Adults often feel too busy to read more than work documents on a computer screen. However, setting aside 20 minutes a few times a week could mean sacrificing an episode of your favorite TV show, but I feel supporting a child is worth it.

5. Do not use reading a book or writing as a form of punishment. This is a matter of opinion, but I feel that doing so can have the opposite effect. It can teach an impressionable, young person to hate books and writing, before even picking up a book or a pencil at home. A modified approach could be having to earn back a privilege, or doing an extra household chore, as a form of punishment. And if writing or books are involved, perhaps giving an incentive for a job well done would be better than making these activities seem like a horrible task.

6. Remember to let your young person mingle with other readers his or her age, too. Remember my opening remarks about my teachers, 'pool party?' My classmates and I probably were not thrilled about her untimely invitation, but we all were in the same boat. Whether it is a book club for kids, attending a special program at a community center or festival, or turning a Little Free Library building task into a community service project, facilitate peer exploration. The younger generation often needs reminding that doing the right thing will not lead to the demise of their social reputation. I believe that one way to improve this challenge is to help youth find an accepting circle...wherever that may be.

Education begins at home. These tips are mere suggestions that I offer to spark your own solution-based thinking to encourage youth to read.

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