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3 basic ways to raise kids that read for pleasure

By William Mukisa

To the best of their knowledge, our parents/guardians raised us to become who we are today – other factors held constant. Some of us will never get to know the kind of sacrifices they made to see us through. Now that we have also grown to have our own children, shouldn’t we do the same for our children?


One of the best things today’s parents or guardians can do to lay a firm foundation for their children is to teach them how to read. While it is true that most parents disengage from the lives of their children when it comes to issues to do with education, the reality is that any form of learning that our children will ever attain in life has to take root at home. That’s why we make reading for pleasure a big deal at enjuba because it not only introduces these young minds to new words but also help them improve in maths and develop intellectually. No wonder it is not far-fetched that teens that read for pleasure (compared to their counterparts that spent their spare time in other co-curricular activities like sports, cooking or sewing) ended up holding managerial positions in adulthood, according to a University of Oxford research. Actually the lead researcher on this project (Mark Taylor) asserted that the positive associations of reading for pleasure aren't replicated in any other extra-curricular activity, regardless of the expectations put on them.


The good news is that it is within our means to raise kids that are able to read. While it takes discipline for one to become either an Avid reader (finishing 50 or more books in one year) or Frequent reader (finishing 12 to 49 titles), many of us can aspire to become either Light readers (finishing 5 books in one year) or Moderate readers (finishing 6 to 11 titles). In his book Raising Kids Who Read, Dr. Daniel Willingham elaborates three variables that can guide us as we raise great readers in our homes.


First, a child needs to be a ‘fluent decoder’, that is, he or she should be in position to smoothly navigate from what is printed on paper to words in their mind. Parents can supplement the teachers’ work by reading for and with their kids, especially stories that involve wordplay because this helps the children to wrestle with blending syllables to come up with words.


Second, children should possess a spectrum of knowledge about the world around them. Much as majority of the schools still prefer teaching comprehension skills to general knowledge, education researchers know better. Parents can help their kids by exposing them to a variety of information about the world because it will in turn aid them as they interpret what they read in books. For example, take a walk in the neighbourhood with your children as you introduce them to colours, trees, buildings ,etc as you ask and answers their questions of curiosity along the way.


The final ingredient is motivation. “You have to have a positive attitude toward reading and a positive self-image as a reader”, said Willingham. When parents frame reading as an obligation to their children, they snuff the fun out of the experience. Yes, one may eventually enjoy a daily routine which they dutifully have to do, reading shouldn’t be relegated to that because a child may permanently detest a life skill. Instead, parents can motivate their children by happily and regularly participating in reading. This is how Maria Russo, the co-author of How to raise a Reader puts it, “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’”. Parents, let’s be reminded that how we choose to spend our free time directly sends messages to our children on what is important in life.

I bet it is a few of us that grew up as Avid readers. However, we have an opportunity before us to raise kids that can read more books in a year than we have read in our entire lives. Let’s do this, not for us but the generation coming after us.