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RocketReader newsletter - How to Make Reading Cool


Jessica O’Reilly was worried about her eight-year-old son, Ethan. When Jess came home each day from her busy job as a lawyer, she often found Ethan glued to the computer or playing music on his iPod. The books she had bought him on space travel and robots sat untouched, gathering dust. Telling Ethan that it was “time to read’ was met with groans and a long face. To make matters worse, Ethan often asked why he was being made to read while his dad got to do “cool stuff” like watching TV.

Jess, herself, knew the importance of reading. Her reading skills had helped her through law school to become a successful lawyer. She also knew that reading could be a joyous and rewarding experience. She recalled long summers spent poring over her favorite novels as a child.

Girl listenin to music on her IPodJess had hoped her son would also develop the same love for reading. She fretted that Ethan’s lack of interest in reading would affect his success in life. Just last week, Ethan’s teacher mentioned he was falling behind in his schoolwork and showed no enthusiasm toward reading at all. In fact, he often went searching for the book with the least number of pages or most pictures!

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Jess was at a loss for a solution. How could she possibly convince her eight year old that reading was more exciting than playing with his computer or iPod?

Jess, like many parents today, faces the challenge of encouraging her child to read. The Reading Next panel estimates that more than 8 million U.S. students in grades 4-12 are struggling readers. In addition, 70 per cent of 8th graders read below proficiency levels. It has been well-documented that the majority of children, who suffer from poor reading skills, continue to experience its ill effects into adulthood. They are often plagued by a lifetime of low confidence and are less able to achieve success in their studies and work, compared to skilled readers.

Today, an increasing number of children do not enjoy reading. In fact, it has been found that young people between 15-24 spend an average of eight and a half minutes reading for enjoyment. This compares to spending around one to two hours watching TV or surfing the net!

Yes, the statistics are worrying. Like Jess, you may wonder how reading can possibly compete with the myriad of dazzling distractions in the form of the internet, video games and multimedia players.

Today’s newsletter article continues our series on teaching children how to read. It focusses on how to make reading ‘cool’.

Tip #1 If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em!

The children of today are digital creatures, totally at home and comfortable with the dizzying array of new technologies. It is little wonder that the humble book has trouble fighting for your child’s attention when iPods and computers scream “fun” and “adventure.”

some children reading off of the internet

So how do you get your children excited about the humble book? You may be surprised at this answer: Don’t force them to read books. That’s right. The internet, and even your child’s iPod, can be used as springboards to activate your child’s interest in reading. Surfing the Internet can turn into a reading adventure. Ask your children to look up information on their favorite sporting hero or to uncover fascinating facts about the Loch Ness Monster. Not only will they be able to practice their reading, they will also be learning fun facts and developing important research skills. There are also many computer reading software programs that are fun and interactive.

Like Jess’s son, is your child always bopping away to his iPod? Get him to read the lyrics of his favorite song on the I-Pod’s display panel and discuss the song’s meanings with him. Get him to find out all about his favorite bands on the net and bring home music or fan magazines for him to read.

Letting children read what they want to builds motivation and empowerment. Ethan didn’t read the books his Mom had bought him because he wasn’t interested in them. He wanted to read about ‘cool’ topics like his favorite sporting hero Tiger Woods – not space travel or robots!



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Tip #2 Make Reading an Enjoyable and Stress Free Activity

Letting children read and learn at their own pace will motivate them! It’s okay for your child to re-read old stories once in a while. Reading a familiar text builds confidence and lets children enjoy their favorite stories. In addition, don’t always focus on competitive reading. You will squeeze the fun out of reading if your child feels pressured to read a certain amount of pages or a “hard” book every time. Don’t compare your child’s reading standards to other children. If your child has to go to a party on Saturday afternoon, refrain from telling them that they have to finish reading before they can join their friends. You will make reading a punishment and your child will want to take shortcuts. Reading should be rewarding - not a tedious chore which has to be done “‘cause Mom said so.” Turn reading into an everyday activity focused on learning and having fun, without pressures or punitive goals.

Tip #3 Reading is Everywhere

There are opportunities to practise reading… everywhere! Don’t reserve reading for books only. Trips to the supermarket or school are opportunities to encourage reading. Especially when children are young, engendering in them a sense of curiosity about words is important. Play games in the car like I Spy. Play with rhymes: “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with ‘bat.’” Ask your child to read food labels while unpacking groceries. Point out road signs and ask your child to read them and explain their meaning to you. When children learn that words are everywhere and discover that reading allows them to learn new and interesting things, they will want to read.

Tip #4 Lead by Example

Jess’s husband, Jim, is not setting a good example for their son. Everyday when he gets home from work, he flops in front of the TV. No wonder Ethan complains his dad gets to do all the “cool stuff!” If your child doesn’t see grown-ups read, he will think reading is a boring chore that only children have to do.

Incorporate reading into your list of family activities. Curling up on a Saturday afternoon with a novel will encourage your child to do the same. When you read the newspaper at the breakfast table, point out interesting news articles that may interest your child. Show your child how you check for the latest news updates on the internet, so they can do it, too. Discuss the books they read and even the books you read. When conversations about words and stories become a natural part of family activities, your child will be encouraged to read. When Mom and Dad make reading ‘cool,’ their children will follow too.

It’s not impossible to make reading cool!

man reads lyrics off of his IPod

Today’s wonderful technologies are not necessarily distractions but powerful tools that can aid the development of reading skills. In this digital world, words do not solely belong on a page and can be found everywhere, in the form of e-books, the internet or even song lyrics on an iPod. Embrace these new technologies and help your child develop a lifelong passion for words and reading. As we all know, a richly rewarding and successful life awaits the skilled reader.

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Department for Education and Skills (2005), A Little Reading Goes a Long Way, URL:

Manning, M (2005), Coaxing Kids to Read, Teaching PreK-8, Mar, Vol. 35, Issue 6

Scherer, M (2005), Required Reading, Educational Leadership, October, Vol. 63, Issue 2


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Reading Tips: ‘…Before she has even begun reading, then, she has a good idea of what she needs to study.…’  read article