Raising Kids Who Read
I often find articles written by Daniel Willingham (a researcher and psychology professor at the University of Virginia) thought-provoking, including a piece he wrote for the Spring 2015 edition of American Educator titled “For the Love of Reading.”
The article is based on his new book Raising Kids Who Read, which I decided to purchase after reading the article. In both pieces, Willingham addresses the challenge for parents and teachers to get children, especially teens, to read more.
Willingham conducted a survey of American adults asking how they thought teens should spend their average 5 hours of leisure time per weekday. The activity with the highest response was reading – adults thought teens should spend about an hour and 15 minutes reading for pleasure each day. The reality, however, is that on average teens spend just six minutes per day reading.
In the article, Willingham explores why teens don’t choose reading over other leisure time activities, and provides suggestions for how adults might change this. He presents what has been learned from research about trying to use “negative consequences” for not reading (e.g., low grades, guilt for disappointing the teacher) and “rewards” for reading (e.g., praise, points, ice cream) to motivate students to read more. His conclusion? These things do not work in the long run to actually change students’ attitude toward reading.
Instead, Willingham suggests that helping students experience the “pleasure of reading” is the best way to motivate them to read more, and offers multiple suggestions for doing this in school and at home.
The book, Raising Kids Who Read offers more substantial suggestions for engendering a love of reading across multiple grade levels. The book is organized into three parts:
- Birth Through Preschool
- Kindergarten Through Second Grade
- Third Grade and Beyond (including a section titled “The Reluctant Older Reader”)
My sons are in their 20’s: one is a voracious reader, the other is not. Given my professional background in literacy, I recognized that the greatest gift I could give my children was the gift of language and literacy. From when they were babies, I did everything I could to help them recognize the value of reading. I think I did a pretty good job, but it would have been helpful if Willingham had written “Raising Kids Who Read” twenty years sooner!
If you are interested in more of Willingham’s work, here are some suggestions:
- NPR Interview with Willingham about Raising Kids Who Want to Read
- Daniel Willingham’s web page, with links to his articles and videos
- Willingham’s article in The Atlantic: What Does Science Tell Us about Teaching Kids to Think?