Thursday, 12 June 2014

4 Tricks to Get Kids Reading They Won't Get Taught At School

It's very easy to get depressed these days, as a children's author, simply by reading the news. Library cuts. Michael Gove. Screen time on the rise. Michael Gove. Book sales in decline. Michael Gove. Literacy rates in the UK worse than anywhere else. An unholy obsession with one book by John Steinbeck gripping the nation. Michael Gove.

Every day a new controversy seems to rage across the Twittersphere, with all the nuance, sophistication and depth a conversation conducted in messages arbitrarily composed of 140 characters can have.

So, here is my totally non-controversial guide on how to make reading for pleasure, and reading widely for pleasure, habits as instinctive for the next generation as texting and tweeting now are for us. (I have submitted this to the DofE for their comments but am yet to hear back.)

1) Do not let your child read. This is an early mistake which many parents and educators make. By giving your child books as presents, reading to them or encouraging them to read, you label reading as an adult activity, something that has the same appeal and lure of pension planning or talking about babies.

If you must read, make sure you do it after your children have gone to bed. Lock your books up in a large glass case under lock and key and tell your children that "under no circumstances" are they to try and investigate the contents.

If you ever catch your child reading, explain that you have a 3 strike policy before they are grounded or have pocket money, mobile phone etc withheld.

2) Aggressively promote social media Explain to your child that if they want to have any chance of a future and developing empathic emotional maturity, they must spend as much of their childhood as possible - like you and your parents before you - on social media, Instagramming selfies and sending gossipy tweets to their friends. If they fail to do this on an hourly basis, you will be very disappointed in them and they will learn nothing.

3) Appoint a "designated reader" in your family. You must not be seen to read, your partner mustn't read, and ideally not your friends BUT Uncle Sean or Aunt Liz - "the black sheep of the family " must read till books come out of their ears. Ideally they should own a second hand bookshop which you never visit because you don't approve and on your child's 18th birthday, this ostracized relative can illicitly take your progeny out to a bookish lunch at the British Library Cafe - about which you express deep and constant reservations for months afterwards.

4) Make reading in public illegal The more reading is confined to bus shelters late at night, the back row of the bus, or nightclub toilets, the more it is likely to catch on. Celebrities could be photographed on zoom lenses reading paperbacks on the loo, and stock buying in countries where reading is still legal.

Or, alternatively and what feels actually more controversial in our current upside down discourse: at home, at school and in the library, begin by giving every child the time, space and liberty to independently discover the joy of being lost in a book by themselves.

Piers Torday
@Piers Torday


Becca McCallum said...

More people should read. More children reading is great!

My younger brother (now 22) never really liked books when he was wee, despite me being the type of reader who would read while eating breakfast, read in the car to school, and be still reading as I walked into school.

However he always liked 'fact' books, and recently he's got into reading autobiographies as well, and is even starting to look with interest at the books I'm reading. It might take time - but books ARE for everyone...they just don't know it yet.

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Sharon K. Goetz said...

It's a joke, sure, but regarding #1, I did grow up in a household where most punishments involved not being allowed to read--for as long as a week. Schoolwork was permitted.

Then I went and got a PhD in medieval manuscripts and literature.

The necessary, non-jokey intermediary: some good teachers and a solid local public library. I couldn't afford to buy books and my family refused to buy them for me, but in any event no one could have bought me the volume and variety of books held by that small library branch.

Piers Torday said...

I agree Becca - it is so often a case of finding the right book, whatever the age. And sometimes, it just takes time for people to discover that. And thank you Sharon for sharing - another reminder of why free and unhindered access to our libraries is so important. Not everyone has access to books at home, which I guess is the serious point I was trying to make with my jokey post.