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If one more person says reading to a child twenty minutes a day will make that child a lifelong reader, I will throw my Kindle at them. Consider this stranger-than-fiction story: Once upon a time, there was a patient, well-intentioned new mother who was determined to raise her son to be a voracious reader. She read to him every night for that magical amount of time that "experts" tell us activates the reading gene. She set up a cozy reading nook in his room. Books were always part of holiday and birthday presents. Board books gave way to pop-ups to sensory books to chapter books to magazine subscriptions to inappropriate comics to gross-out graphic novels. And today, at the ripe old age of fifteen, her son still does not read for pleasure. And, as you've probably already guessed, I am the mother of that boy. Looking back, I can honestly say I would change very little. In fact, when it comes to reading, I do pretty much the same things for my seven-year-old daughter as I did for my son — except that I now apply some hard-won wisdom gleaned over the years.
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1: Don't try so hard
Every six months or so, some genius will write an article on how to get boys to read. According to the last one I read, its not with gross-out books and video-game bribes. (Who knew?) Read these kinds of articles with a grain of salt, then grab a book and read it in front of the fire you started with the article.
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2: Keep things in perspective
Beware of parents proclaiming that their child is a natural-born reader. In many cases, these parents are avid non-readers who cant believe their luck. And, yes, it is luck in many cases. I believe I am lucky to have a daughter who loves reading so much she walks out of her school with her nose stuck in a book.
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3: Remember, it all adds up
Your child may not be reading for pleasure, but that doesnt mean he isnt reading. Remember English class, where teachers made you read the classics? This year, my sons required reading includes, Lord of the Flies, Romeo and Juliet, and Beowulf.
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4: Dont judge a book by its cover
Reading those classics you loved in childhood is one thing but there are other forms of reading and learning, too. My son reads music better than his father, who majored in it. And after five years of weekly Mandarin lessons, he can read Chinese characters that look incomprehensible to me. If your child seems uninterested in stories, try exposing him to other languages or subjects that strike his interest.
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5: Cut screen time — and the amount of screens you keep in your house
Limiting screen time was difficult when my son was young in the olden days of the early 2000s. Today, its almost impossible. Still, Im convinced it is the one thing that parents can do to compel their children to spend time reading. Rather than trying to limit screen time, I now simply eliminate some of the actual screens. The only handheld electronic device my daughter uses is a Kindle. I also removed the family room television, which was turned on to cartoons whenever she was near it. It also doesnt hurt to make the idea of having a TV or computer in your childrens bedrooms as absurd as reading in the dark.
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6: Guilt trips don't make better readers
This might seem obvious, but just in case: Complaining about how much money you spend on unread books is a surefire way to ensure your child will never like to read for pleasure. Just thinking of it makes me want to put down my book.
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7: Downtime is just as valuable as reading
Could your childs schedule be so packed that theres no time for a book? If shes involved in enough daily activities to fill a day and then some, dont expect her to pick up a book during the ten minutes she has free.
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8: Its not what or how much your children read, but how much they understand what theyve read
As a tween, I spent hours in my beanbag chair devouring horse books. If you had asked me to describe the plot or characters, I would have looked at you dumbfounded. Essentially, I was reading to impress my parents and wasnt emotionally mature enough to tackle those stories.
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9: Keep reading to your kids their whole lives. Theres no right age to stop reading to kids.
My son and I may no longer cuddle up with a book and his blankie before an eight oclock bedtime, but I still read to him. Ill read book excerpts and snippets of articles while hes eating (or otherwise unable to easily escape my presence).
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10: Continue to buy books you think would interest them
The most recent unread book I left on my sons nightstand was Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I really enjoyed it, and suffice it to say, I enjoyed telling him about it. For his birthday, I bought him Anthony Bourdains No Reservations and for a recent holiday, a coffee-table book on Fender guitars.
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