Perhaps one of the most daunting tasks that both parents and educators face these days is the once simple task of getting kids interested in reading. Let’s face it; there are numerous distractions these days that kids have to draw them away from books. Between the latest app on the iPhone, to the latest video game, to movies and TV there are just some of the many things kids find more enjoyable than reading a book. How can a book compare to a game of Angry Birds?
We live in a fast paced, high tech society and books, and reading, even through an e-book is a low-tech form of entertainment. Ray Bradbury’s character of Professor Faber even admitted this in his seminal novel Fahrenheit 451,
“You can shut them and say, ‘hold on a moment,’ You play God to it, but who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlor? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is the truth. Books can be beaten down with reason. But with all my knowledge and skepticism, I have never been able to argue with a one-hundred-piece symphony orchestra, full color, three dimensions, and being in and part of those incredible parlors.”
I’ll admit back in the days when I wanted to be a high school English teacher, I had the lofty goal of getting kids into reading. I loved reading and wanted students to see just how much fun it could be by showing them all the awesome ways classic literary archetypes still permeated today’s pop-culture. A nice goal, to be sure, unfortunately by the time a student gets to high school then it’s probably too late to try and influence them one way or another in regards to reading. On top of that most high school students are more concerned with other aspects of high school life like dating, getting their driver’s license, going to prom, and making sure they have enough credits to graduate on time then with understanding literary archetypes.
It ultimately has to start when a child is still a child. The easiest and simplest way is for parents to set aside even thirty minutes to read to them. In less than half the time it would take to watch a standard length sit-com a parent could read one book from the Little Golden books collection. On top of that, children learn by example and by seeing their parents read they will see that it can be a life-long hobby.
Another way is by making books gifts. As I said in my retrospective on the first time I heard the Narnia books, my mom made the school book orders as fun as looking at the playsets for the Batcave from Batman and the AT-AT from Star Wars in the old Sears Wishbook. She would also give us books for birthday and Christmas presents. My sisters and I were just as excited at getting a new book as we were at getting toys, to say nothing of the fact that books can last a little longer when you’re a kid.
Further rather than shun the television set, use it as a tool. There are cartoon shows based on such popular children’s books as Arthur, Curious George, The Magic School Bus, and Cat in The Hat .Even if the shows aren’t on TV, the DVDs are relatively inexpensive. Many of these DVDs urge kids to check out the books for themselves at the library and at book stores. Since a number of these books cover a verity of other topics, it can inspire kids to research things they enjoy like dinosaurs or animals. Also, the 1980s Disney cartoon DuckTales is chalk full of literary references that can help introduce kids to books, all while entertaining both them and their parents.
Now what about when they get older and you want to get them to take an interest in those boring old classics. Well, when I was a kid we had it lucky. There were two awesome TV shows on PBS that dealt with the joy of reading .The first was Reading Rainbow hosted by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Levar Burton that not only featured a story of the day but took kids on “field trips” to learn about how TV shows were made, or to an eye doctor, or to a dinosaur dig site, and even dealt with more difficult topics like slavery. The second was called Wishbone in which this little dog would imagine himself in works of classic literature, usually focusing on a problem his human friends were facing. Many kids would in turn check out those books because of the little dog.
Further don’t underestimate the power of a literary adaptation of a movie. There is no end to the list of classic books that are made into movies. Now, while it’s not wise to watch the movie in place of the book for an assignment, they can certainly serve as a gateway into those works. The reason I picked up Dickens Christmas Carol was because of the Muppets adaptation of the story and Gonzo’s plug to the audience to check out the book if they liked the story. Now I read A Christmas Carol every year.
Now, I am more than aware that many kids are more visual learners. Aside from using films and videos, a great resource for them would be graphic novels. I had an uncle who was a reluctant reader but got hooked through Marvel’s Thor comic books and The Classics Illustrated Library. Along with reprints from Classics Illustrated, Marvel Comics has adapted several classic works including Treasure Island, The Odyssey, and Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. There’s even a four part graphic novel series based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Now what about with e-readers? Thankfully many of them now come with timers so parents can set limits for how much time kids spend playing games and surfing the web and a lot more time for reading books. It might sound harsh, but aside from good reading habits, it can also help them learn to develop good study habits and time management habits which will pay off in the long run when they get to high school and college.
Learning to read is a fundamental part of education, like writing and math. However, despite how boring it may seem in school, it is a hobby that can bring you lifelong pleasure and take you to new worlds and introduce you to new people and new ideas. However, in order to start that lifelong pleasure it has to start young. By using technology, movies, TV shows, and graphic novels to help stimulate good reading habits, as well as making books gifts and by adults taking time to read to them when they are young, kids can become lifelong readers, and maybe even lifelong learners.