Tricking Kids Into Reading

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times today. Scholastic is now launching a new book series that will be integrated with computer games, in an attempt to lure children who are not big readers to open a book. They figure that if these kids are attracted to the characters and the challenge of solving the mystery (prizes will be given along the way), then they will want to actually sit down and crack open the book too.

I am not so sure their reasoning is correct. I think that if a book is good enough (like Harry Potter) then the content itself will attract the reader. The computer game/internet website will not make a difference.

The best way to “make” good readers, in my opinion, is to turn off the tv/computer altogether. I learned a very important lesson right before we made aliyah, and it made me decide not to allow a tv into the house in Israel. We had a tv in our New York apartment before we moved to Israel, but without cable the reception was lousy. My oldest was a toddler at the time, and since we couldn’t get Sesame Street he basically ignored the tv. He loved for me to read him stories, and would sit and listen avidly whenever I read a book to him.

We moved out of our apartment about three weeks before our flight to Israel, and we stayed at Savta’s (grandma’s) house. Savta had great tv reception, and Sesame Street was there in full color. My oldest quickly became hooked to the color, and sound, and perpetual motion. At one point I wanted to read him a story, and he wouldn’t sit still for it. Hearing Ima read was suddenly very boring. I made the decision right then and there not to buy a tv for our lift, and I am extremely grateful that I did.

I have three boys, and they vary in their scholastic ability and their patience for schoolwork. They vary in their aptitude and love of sports and exercise, and they enjoy different hobbies. But one thing they all share is their love of reading. All three of them love books, and can get “lost” for hours in them. I am absolutely convinced that this would not be the case if we had allowed a tv into the house. (I also object to a tv because of religious reasons. The commercials and the content of most of the shows here in Israel are very vulgar compared to what I was used to in the States, and the way women dress is completely immodest. (I know this because of the time spent in hospital waiting rooms – another aspect of having three boys(!) – when the tv is on constantly.)

The “tactile” aspects of reading books are also appealing. Sitting at the computer and playing or surfing the net is a solitary activity. Snuggling up on the couch with a good book can be a great group activity. Westbankpapa has read portions of Harry Potter out loud to the kids – especially when the English version came out before the Hebrew one, and he had a “captive” audience. My kids will sometimes see me reading and will decide to grab a book themselves and cuddle next to me – one on each side.

So, good luck to Scholastic, but I don’t think they will create many new readers.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lena
    Dec 26, 2007 @ 05:26:38

    Another good trick (the one my parents used) was to have a TV but to only allow us to watch limited programming. I grew up with Reading Rainbow, Carmen Sandiego/other PBS television, National Geographic, and Britcoms. And that was about it.

    On top of that, my parents (but especially my mother) read to us from the time we were newborns.

  2. soccer dad
    Dec 26, 2007 @ 16:03:29

    When I was in my 20’s, my roommate got “Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?” I played it a few times and was impressed how it taught research skills. I really had it confirmed when I was discussing the game with my father and mentioned a clue that a suspect was looking for teak wood. My father said, that he must have been headed for Thailand. (And that was exactly the case in the game. Thailand is a famous exporter of teak.)

    So I realized that I learned something without even realizing it. Or I guess you could say, I was “tricked” into learning.

    Still I do wonder if that works all the time. Or perhaps learning facts can be disguised, whereas a skill, like reading can’t be (to be effective.)

    On a different note, reading Harry Potter with my (originally 6 now 9 year old) son has been one of the highlights of parenting. At first I read to him. Then he started wanting to read to me and then he just wanted to read them himself. So this summer at the age of 8 1/2 he finished the series.

  3. RR
    Dec 26, 2007 @ 18:00:34

    Scholastic- wow, what a blast from the past!

    My kids are avid readers, just like their parents 🙂 I started reading to them when they were babies and could do little more than chew on the pages.

  4. westbankmama
    Dec 31, 2007 @ 16:16:26

    Lena – reading to your kids from a very young age is fundamental, in my opinion

    soccerdad – good old Harry Potter. Someday it will be considered “old fashioned” and another talented author will have to create the next great kid classic.

    rr – I hope blogging doesn’t take away from reading. If I have the choice, the book wins every time!

  5. tnspr569
    Dec 31, 2007 @ 23:36:35

    All of my nephews, knayna hara, have been read to from a very early age, and it has already paid great dividends. Just asking the magic question of “Do you want to read a book with me?”, especially with one nephew, will result in the nephew running to pick a book to read. Once that book is read, the nephew goes back to pick another book, or requests a repeat reading of the current book- and this cycle usually repeats many times!

    I’m very certain that the love of reading my parents instilled within me contributed to my high marks in the English sections of various standardized tests, as well as challenging English courses in school (Honors and Advanced Placement, most recently).

    Visits to the library are always a treat for me!

  6. Lynn
    Jan 08, 2015 @ 10:23:39

    It’s a pleasure to find such ratilnaoity in an answer. Welcome to the debate.

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