In an age of tablets, smartphones, and hundreds of television channels, it can be difficult to encourage kids to tear their eyes away from the screen and pick up a book. Despite the benefits of technology, it’s just as important now to read books as it ever was.

Rather than allowing a child to passively watch as stories, ideas, and visuals are presented to her via websites and television, reading is active; a reader uses the information on the page to construct her own worlds, and must decipher themes, analyze characters, and pick apart story arcs on her own. These skills are highly important, if not mandatory, in school settings and the real world – after all, how will your child come up with great startup ideas without being able to research the industry?

It can’t all be done by teachers or government initiatives like Progress for Maine – a lot of this encouragement needs to come from parents.

Here are a few tips for encouraging your child to enjoy reading:

1. Establish reading as leisure.

68% of America’s fourth graders do not read at a proficient level. A significant contributor to this is the fact that all too often, kids see reading as something to be tolerated, not enjoyed. They come to associate it with work, when it should be associated with recreation and pleasure.

A great way to establish reading as a fun leisure activity is to model it yourself. Instead of turning on the television or surfing the Internet during your down time, pick up a novel (or newspaper, or biography). Let your child see you reading as a way to relax, and she is more likely to do so herself. Make family trips to the library a regular, fun event—help your child pick out books, pick some out for yourself, and wrap up the day with something like a trip to the ice cream shop or the park to sweeten the deal.

Most importantly, never use reading as a punishment. You can’t force a kid to enjoy books, and trying to do so when he has misbehaved is a surefire way to make sure he never will enjoy them. By endorsing reading as a way to enjoy oneself, your child is more likely to pick up a book on his own time, without prompting or nagging from you.

2. Choose books based on your child’s interests.

The more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher students are in reading proficiency. A kid doesn’t need to dive into the classics in order to become a skilled, active reader. Handing her heavy tomes by Dickens and Tolstoy are likely to turn her off, because she cannot connect with the stories on a personal level.

Before giving your child more challenging texts, encourage him to find books that coincide with his interests. Stories about sports, biographies about personal heroes, encyclopedias about the types of artillery used during World War II—nearly all types of texts can capture your burgeoning reader’s interest. Let him get comfortable with pieces he can relate to before having him pick up Austen.

3. Cater to short attention spans.

Regular readers have longer attention spans, better ability to process and comprehend information, and display more vibrant imaginations than non-readers. However, many students struggle with reading because they find it difficult to pay attention for long periods of time. Following a single plot line or character arc for hundreds of pages can prove daunting for beginning and even intermediate readers.

You do not necessarily have to provide shorter books to deal with this issue; you can work with a short attention span by providing your child texts that move more quickly. Collections of poems or short stories are a great start, for they provide fully developed pieces in relatively quick bursts. Many teachers have also found success by encouraging children to read books of monologues that are typically used by actors. In just one or two pages, the reader gets a complete persona to decipher—and still has to use his imagination to fill in the blanks.

After your child gets comfortable with short texts, you can start increasing the length of the texts. Move from monologues to short stories, from short stories to novellas, from novellas to novels. Soon, she will be able to keep her focus for longer periods of time.

In our current, tech-saturated world, it is more important than ever to establish regular reading habits in our children. By making reading a fun, normalized routine, parents can help facilitate the educational success of the next generation of leaders.

What do you do to get your child to read more?

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