I was an informal surrogate mom to a pre-teen boy who stayed with me every summer for seven years through a program based in New York City called The Fresh Air Fund.
When I first met Ivan he was in elementary school and, like many inner city kids, he was reading a few years below his grade level. I felt obligated to do everything in my power to get him caught up in the six weeks he lived with me each July and August.
As a reading specialist, I knew a lot about how to help kids read better. I had learned tons of strategies to improve comprehension and fluency issues. However, in the booming digital age, getting a pre-adolescent off video games to pick up a book, especially as a struggling reader, was no easy task. So I decided that if Ivan had a space of his own at home during the summer, perhaps that would help his interest in reading.
It turned out Ivan loved his little nook carved out just for him in the corner of the living room. It was small but cozy, and only he used it. We agreed it would just be for reading, and we filled it with library books on topics he enjoyed, with characters that were relatable. I would read in the living room too, hoping that my modeling would set a good example.
I wasn’t disappointed. Ivan gravitated to that spot each evening, and told me years later that he never liked reading until he felt like he had a safe, relaxing and personalized place to do it.
As parents, we want our children to know the joy of diving into an amazing story and getting lost in the pages for hours. We hope that our child turns to books when he wants to learn a new skill, and values the diversity of writing found in newspapers, magazines, blogs and manuals. We can’t wait until she experiences the books we enjoyed as a child (and would love to read again!). Even more, we want our child to be a lifelong reader, so the practice continues to bring joy into adulthood, changes her life and shapes who she is as a human being.
Today, children don’t choose books so quickly anymore, with all the digital distractions around us. Instead, iPads and smartphones with video games and social media are at fingers’ reach. These gadgets seriously interfere with kids choosing to read.
As Holly, mom of an 11-year-old digital native, said, “The iPhone is an appendage he doesn’t know how to live without.” So Holly decided that screens will inevitably have a place in their home, but she also created a no-tech-zone so that her kids can relax and get lost in a book without the lure of technology. “Sam now reads there daily, and we protect the space and the time to be in it,” she shared.
NYS licensed psychologist and Professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, Dr. Kerri Zappala-Piemme has years of experience educating children, so I asked her where parents can start in creating a reader-friendly home. She suggests asking yourself, “Does my home invite my child to read?”
She states, “Change your lens for a moment as you consider this question. Instead of a parent lens, the one that scans for tidiness, efficiency, or decorative style, try viewing your home through the eyes of a child. Look around for the spot that invites a little one to get cozy and read. The niche you choose together should be free from distractions.”
Consider the following questions:
Is there somewhere a child (with or without mom or dad) can curl up and be comfortable?
Is there a quiet place, away from the sounds of TV, loud conversations, or other noisy distractions?
Where can my child read without the temptation of electronic gadgets?
Where can books and other reading materials be showcased?
Do we keep reading materials out for the family to access readily (rather than putting away)?
Are words, letters, comics, poems, and other fun sources of writing displayed?
Are distractions like video games hard to access while reading materials are easy to reach?
A yes answer to any of the above means you’re on your way to creating a reader-friendly environment. Wonderful! Your child is benefiting from this effort by feeling an invitation to read.
If you want to take it up a few reader-friendly notches, here are some helpful tips.
10 ways to create cozy reading nooks at home without spending lots of time or money:
- Have an extra basket laying around? Fill it with books, comics, magazines and graphic novels and put it where you child can see it.
- Look for a space that just needs a little tweaking. Is there already a child-sized chair in the corner? Do you read-aloud on the couch each night? Add the book basket and an afghan to increase the inviting-ness.
- No perfect child chair right now? Throw some brightly colored pillows on the grown-up chair to size it down. If your kids are little, position a step stool to the side to make it accessible.
- Where are the video games and other distracting devices? If they are within easy arms’ reach of your child, move them. Store in a closet, storage bin, or armoire and insist they are returned after each (time-limited) session. Make your child’s room a TV-free zone.
- Create a place where your child can read and relax free from loud noise (think TVs, running appliances, etc.). If that is a challenge, try to carve out some low noise time.
- Good lighting is essential. Invest in a fluorescent lamp or put bright LED bulbs into a big table lamp in the reading zone.
- Involve your child in decorating the area. Older children can pick out some posters or their artwork for the walls while younger ones may want their drawing, coloring or finger painting to surround them.
- Rotate the books and magazines regularly so there’s always something new to read. Align the choices to your child’s interests so she’ll gravitate to the options naturally.
- If your child prefers devices, keep a Kindle, Nook or tablet available. This is an acceptable substitute to paper books.
Model for your child that you’re a reader too. In addition to nightly read-alouds together, parents need to carve a little time out for reading themselves.
In her July 23, 2016 NY Times article, “The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read,” KJ Dell’Antonia, contributing editor and mom of four between ages 10 and 15 suggests that motivation to read comes from, “living in a home where books and reading are part of family life” which can be created by, “reading together, choosing books, talking about words and stories…”
In her experience, it is often helpful to give children an incentive to encourage them to read—healthy rewards without monetary strings are best.
Creating a cozy nook together, meant especially for reading is a strong and healthy incentive. If we can create a reader-friendly space at home, children will have a place to develop a deep and lasting relationship with books.
Author: Dr. Colleen Carroll
Image: oakenroad/ Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren