Almost exactly 2 years ago, I wrote a post called Rebuilding A Culture of Readers in reaction to a study by Common Sense Media that showed US kids were reading less proficiently, less often, and less frequently for enjoyment than did kids in their age groups 30 years previously. It remains one of my most viewed posts, even after all this time.
The comments I receive on that post, and discussions that inevitably follow when this topic comes up, remind me that not enough has changed in two years. Parents, educators, and literacy experts remain concerned about the cultural shifts that affect childhood reading trends in America.
There are many BIG efforts underway to help American kids embrace reading. I plan to post about many of them. But it’s the small efforts that I want you to think about today.
There are simple things YOU can use, right now, right away, to rebuild a culture of readers from the ground up. One child, one family, one neighborhood, one community at a time. But to build – or rebuild – of course calls for tools.
You probably already have these tools. Now’s the time to dust them off and put them to work.
- Your library card: When you check books out of the library – for yourself, your kids, your spouse – even if you don’t read every book (or get it back on time) you have just made a change. You’ve increased library circulation. And those circulation numbers are key in factoring library funding and resources. Want more readers? Fund more and better libraries. Want more and better libraries? Use the ones we have!!
- Your Facebook account: and your Instagram and your Twitter and so on. You’ve seen how social media changes what people think about, how they spend their time, how they spend their money. You post about what you had for dinner – and a friend tries that new Thai place. You post about the TV series you just binge-watched – and 3 friends stay up all night doing the same. So post about the books you just read. Or the ones your kids loved. Or the book-signing you’re attending next week. Ask for book suggestions for your 4th grade son or something you and your teen daughter will love to read together. Follow and encourage teens to follow accounts that highlight books from genres you enjoy. Shift the social media focus.
- Your wallet: You can make donations to non-profits that support literacy, but I’m talking about something much more down to earth. I’m talking about buying books. E-books, hardcovers, paperbacks and comics. Books for you, books for your kids, books for birthday and holiday gifts. Nothing moves culture like economics. If people are buying books, then books are what America is selling. When you have books in your house, kids are more likely to read them. When you prioritize budget for books over lattes, kids see how you value reading. When you ask your child to help pick out a book for Grandma, you are modeling life-long reading.
- Your opinions: You’ve offered your opinion on everything from organic strawberries to Uber drivers to presidential hopefuls. You once spent an hour telling Comcast just what you thought of their customer service. But when is the last time you reviewed a book? Better yet, when’s the last time you reviewed one with your kids? When you involve your children in writing a book review, not only do you extend the reading experience, you show them that their opinions about books matter. Plus, you show authors, publishers, and booksellers that they matter, too!
- Your downtime: If your kids see you reach for your tablet or smart phone every time you have a free minute, they are even MORE likely to do the same. If you model reading for enjoyment, you’ll see that example pay off with kids who reach for books. Sure, it’s not quite that simple. For further discussion, check out my Copy Cat Kids post.
- Your open mind: The books your child (or grandchild, or student) enjoys reading may not always be the books you WISH he would read. (I’d personally give a lot of money to not have to discuss Captain Underpants any further!) But giving children the right to choose books that interest them, without judgement or criticism based on reading level or subject matter, is crucial. Ask questions about what your child is reading, and be enthusiastic about their choices. In this way you build confident, empowered readers – who are more likely to KEEP reading.
- Your bedtimes: We all love to listen to stories read aloud – no matter how old we are. Why else would the audio book business be such a booming industry, even with adults? Read to or with your child as part of a bedtime routine. Older children and teens benefit from continued read-aloud time – so don’t stop just because your child can read independently. Or because you’d rather be watching Game of Thrones.(Click here for more on reading aloud with older kids.)
- Your attention: Listen when the children and teens in your life talk about the books they read – but also when they talk about their favorite shows, the social causes that concern them, the funny thing that happened at school today. Listen attentively to kids, and when appropriate, bring books into the conversation. Reflect their interest with your own – and help them find reading materials that support and expand upon their interests.
You have the tools, you have the blueprints. Let’s get building a culture of readers.