Friday, May 18, 2012

Guest Post - Make Reading Cool

I was the sort of kid who thought reading was cool. I looked down on other kids who would rather play sports. I was kind of a brat. If you know a kid who would rather not read, check out this guest post for some tips on helping them learn that reading is fun.

Make Reading Cool: Tricks for Getting Kids to Read

I like being helpful, which is why I agreed to help my girlfriend with the summer camp curriculum she's writing for a local kids' museum. We were out to breakfast when she brought it up, and before I knew it, I was scribbling down her ideas in crayon on a place mat.

It's a wellness camp, and she wants kids to learn. It's also a summer camp, which means that, unfortunately, a lot of kids won't want to read. The trick is making reading fun. While she was designing and organizing the program itself, I happily agreed to figure out how to make reading cool. I've worked with kids before, both in and out of educational settings, and I've picked up a few tricks that work to get kids reading quickly and painlessly.

Reading is a practice-makes-perfect kind of subject. The more experience reading children have, the better. The biggest stumbling block for kids struggling to read is that they don't want to struggle, so they declare that reading isn't cool, and they stop doing it. Working with tablet computers and apps is great, but when the technology isn't available, you want reading to be cool on its own. Even students learning entirely through online schooling will need to pick up physical books, papers and magazines.

3 great tricks for getting kids to read

Here are some tips assembled from research and the experience of myself and others, including the SMATOOS website. These tried-and-true methods can make reading cool for camps, classes or your own kids.
  1. Make it exciting. This is a participation sport. If you're trying to get kids to read more, you have to play too. Be seen reading. Be seen enjoying, quoting, learning, sharing and laughing. If you look thrilled to be reading, kids will pick up on it. You may have to battle with kids calling you a nerd, so be ready, and try to avoid reading subjects that don't interest the age group you're working with.
  2. Make it subtle. When you first start getting kids to read, run with it. For the summer camp, we're using short snippets with flashy pictures and encouraging the kids to read nutrition facts on their snacks for comparison purposes. Asking questions like "Which snack has more salt?" tricks kids into reading and using information they've learned. Any games that incorporate a little reading can also be helpful.
  3. Cultivate enthusiasm. First, take a field trip to a cool place, like a zoo or a planetarium. Next, get the kids as excited and intrigued as possible. Then take them home and feed them books. If they're asking you questions, pretend you don't know and direct them to the books.
  4. Keep it low-key. When kids are reading, don't jump in and regulate or censor. Try a popcorn reading exercise where everyone takes turns reading in a group, and keep an eye out for difficult words or sections that you can read to save kids from mispronunciation embarrassments. Reading out loud can be stressful, so make sure you have a non-judgmental atmosphere. With help from the universities in Chicago, a project called Sit Stay Read has shown that reading out loud in a non-judgmental situation helps young readers improve, and they've done it by having kids read to dogs.
Be creative, and be excited about reading. The kids might not follow suit immediately, but they'll come around -- and you'll get in some great reading on the side.

About the Author
Karl Fendelander doesn't have an early childhood education degree, but he's been a teacher and camp counselor for years, trying to make reading cool all the while. When he's not curling up with a good book, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.

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