How to raise lifelong readers

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a article about how to raise lifelong readers…

Twice a year, I post book reports — in which I review ALL the books I’ve read over the last six months. You can see links to all of them going back to 2010, here.

In view of this always popular post, many people ask me how I read so many books. So, let me share an article I read recently in the Atlantic. Running under the headline “Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers,” the piece addressed what parents can do to turn their children into readers.

The size of the American reading public is declining. In 2017, only about 53 percent of American adults (about 125 million people) read at least one book not for school or for work in the previous 12 months, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

One book a year? That saddens me.

According to the article, three variables are at work with turning kids into lifelong readers:

  • They are fluent decoders — that is, they have no problem with going from words on the page to meaning in the mind.
  • They have plenty of background information about the world — it’s easier and more interesting to read if you already know a little bit about what you’re reading.
  • They have a positive association with reading — they think of it like eating chocolate cake rather than spinach.

One of the big secrets for parents is model reading themselves. As the Atlantic article put it:

Reading will seem more like chocolate cake if it’s something that parents themselves take part in happily and regularly. “When I’m sitting there on my couch, reading a book, and my kids are doing their own thing, I like to think, ‘I’m parenting right now—they can see me reading this book,’” [Maria] Russo told me. Similarly, [Pamela] Paul said that if “right after dinner, the first thing you do is scroll through your phone, open up your laptop, or watch TV,” kids are likely to take note. Parents are constantly sending their children messages with how they choose to spend their free time.

If your goal is to raise lifelong readers, consider your own reading habits as well.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Nov. 18/19.

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