Today we have a guest post from author Leah Petersen
You’ve got a lot of competition these days. Kids have more to do than ever.
Mind you, I’m not of the we-walked-three-miles-to-school-uphill-both-ways generation. Technology came along in my day. We had computer games (so maybe they were DOS based,) cable TV, console games (Atari, anyone?), even handheld games (TETRIS!)
But I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that kids today don’t have much more, much cooler stuff than we did. And it’s everywhere. Kids are watching DVDs in the car, playing handheld games or games on their parents’ iPhones in line at the grocery store, even at the table in family-friendly restaurants. Everywhere there’s a TV. It’s insane.
So where, in all of this, are children ever going to pick up those non-flashy, black and white things called books that take forever to get to the end of, unlike the next level of angry birds?
The simple answer is, you have to be a mean parent. That’s right, you have to deprive your little darlings of unlimited access to all that other stuff long enough for them to realize how AMAZING books are.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a struggle. I’m raising my 2.5 kids through this time in history, and I know exactly how hard this is. And yet, my kids love to read. This was hugely important to me. I would have been devastated if they didn’t. So I put a lot of effort into it. Here are some of the things I did:
- Limited “screen time,” the all-inclusive term for TV, computers, and any form of electronic game. They got thirty minutes a day when they were younger and an hour now. All the rest of the time they’re free to play as they choose, with toys or outside, or reading. I made sure not to set reading up as the bad guy by letting it be perceived as the reason they weren’t allowed on the screens. There were plenty of other things they were encouraged to do when screen time ended. Reading was just one of them.
- Read to them. I don’t just mean Green Eggs and Ham. In fact, I do it more now that my kids are into chapter books and beyond. My son’s reading Young Adult books now and my daughter is plenty old enough to enjoy them being read aloud to her. Now I get to share my favorite stories from my childhood with them. A Wrinkle in Time, the Dragonsinger trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, and on and on.
- Read in front of them. This one I think was a big deal. They saw me putting a high priority on my reading time and encouraging them to spend time sitting with me reading their own things. It was something people did. For fun. Even if they could have all the screen time they wanted. It was something they chose instead.
- Shared my excitement over a good book. As they got older, this includes reading amusing or interesting bits to them as I come across them.
- Didn’t allow reading to become a chore, or worse, homework. There’s this thing they do in school to teach reading, and it’s require a certain amount of reading time per night and the kids have to log this by listing the book read and having the parent sign off that they did their time. Well, I very politely told their teachers that I wasn’t going to do this. I don’t read every night myself, certainly not for a regulated slice of time and then stop because I don’t HAVE to read anymore. I want reading to be perceived as fun, as play. I worked hard enough at promoting reading as a fun activity that my kids probably ended up reading more than their peers. If it was no reading at all for two nights in a row and then a straight hour of not being able to put a book down the next night, then that’s how it was. I have never regretted this.
- Let them stay up late, but only to read. Maybe some won’t agree with this, because bedtime is important, but I allow them to stay up as late as they want after I tuck them in, if they are doing it because they’re reading. This wasn’t a deliberate choice I made, exactly. But one night after I’d tucked them in more than an hour before, I went to check on them and was met with a frantic hiding of books under the covers and not-that-great attempts to pretend they were sleeping. I said, “Are you two hiding books under your covers because you’ve been reading past bedtime???” They said, “Yes.” I said, “Good, I’m proud of you.” They thought that was really funny, and really cool, this thing they could do to cheat bedtime. They don’t always stay up reading, so I’m content that they’re not being harmed by this. On the contrary, they’re READING.
I was so terribly afraid that the changes in the world and the explosion of technology in our daily lives was going to take reading away from my children. Well, rest assured, it doesn’t have to. Just make it a priority.
Leah Petersen's debut novel, Fighting Gravity, was released earlier this week by Dragon Moon Press. You can get your copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon in either paper or eBook versions (paper or eBook for those who use Amazon UK).
Author JM Frey describes Fighting Gravity as "... touching, emotional, and a comfortably domestic love story set against the backdrop of politics in an empire that spans the Galaxy."