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7 ways to promote positive reading habits for older children

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“I went on a really fun field trip today,” our son informed the family over dinner after a science trip to a local river. “We got to row, but not in actual racing shells.”

“Racing shells?” my husband inquired.

“Well, they were really just rowboats, but rowing with my friends reminded me of the book ‘The Boys in the Boat’ that we were listening to in the car.”

Daniel James Brown’s recent bestseller may not have yet made it onto the radar of most seventh-grade boys; it is certainly not a book my son would have chosen for himself. His introduction to the book and subsequent interest in rowing terminology were ignited during a family road trip. As we drove, my husband and I listened to an audio version of the story about nine young men from the University of Washington who competed in rowing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. A few weeks after we got home, my son was making connections between what he had heard and events on his field trip.

Research consistently shows that extensive reading increases vocabulary and broadens knowledge and understanding of various topics. Most middle and high school students who would greatly benefit from reading more do not have the luxury of time to enjoy reading for pleasure.

As children grow older and their schedules increasingly fill with activities associated with school, sports and social endeavors, finding the time and opportunity to read can become a challenge. Like many parents, I occasionally mourn the time when bedtime routines included reading books aloud while snuggling. I long for the days when the homework was to read for 30 minutes and keep a reading log.

As a parent and an educator I want to instill a love of reading in children. I intentionally model positive reading habits and provide time and opportunities for my older children to read. However, I do not want to make reading yet another requirement, just one more item for my children to cross off their already overflowing to-do lists. Here is how I encourage my older children to read for enjoyment.

Read physical books. I spend a significant amount of time reading a variety of material daily. However, this may not be clear to my children, because much of the reading I do is on electronic devices. For all they know, I might be spending time as they do: playing games, watching videos or engaging in social media. Although reading books in an electronic format is convenient and easy, children need to see the people they look up to clearly engaged in positive reading habits. That makes it critical for adults to read tangible books.

Subscribe to print newspapers and magazines. Although much news-related reading in our family is done online, a printed version of the newspaper is delivered to our door every Sunday. The newspaper provides access to current events, news and editorial content our teenagers may not otherwise encounter. I leave newspapers and magazines on the kitchen table throughout the week. I occasionally catch my kids leafing through them, reading bits and pieces as they eat breakfast, enjoy an afternoon snack or fill a few idle minutes while waiting for their next scheduled activity.

Schedule routine family meals. When our family takes the time to enjoy a meal together, we share not only the food but also the events of the day, including conversations about the books we are reading. These gatherings facilitate discussions on topics related to current events, ideas and opinions. These conversations offer insight into what each family member is doing, learning and thinking about, and they bring us closer to each other.

Listen to audiobooks. On our recent road trip we spent 30 hours in our minivan. I had looked forward to the opportunity to listen to a good book with my husband, but never thought about requiring the kids to listen with us. I realized, upon stopping for a meal, that our children were also listening. They asked good questions and made insightful comments on the characters and the plot. At some point, they had stopped listening to their music tuned in to the book. Check with your local library for to borrow books to listen to on phones and other devices. Listen in the car or while engaged in other activities.

Give books as gifts. Children learn to value the things adults value when they are presented as special treats. Books can be given as gifts for birthdays and other occasions. A boxed set of books, a subscription to a favorite magazine or a book by a beloved author could encourage older children to read for enjoyment.

Read (some) books your kids are reading. Books are more enjoyable when we share conversations about them. Books for young adults are interesting and engaging and we can learn much about our children’s worlds and values by reading what they read. We can also recommend our favorite books to our kids, as a way of sharing our preferences and ourselves.

Create mediafree zones. Establish family norms designating device-free times and places to encourage conversation, reading and other quiet activities.

My hope is that through sharing experiences, as well as offering encouragement and opportunities to read, my older children will feel supported and empowered in their reading. I want them to understand that having access to books, and time to enjoy them, is a pleasure and a privilege.

Merete Kropp is a child development and family specialist and mother of three. Kropp can be found at and @nurturance on Twitter and Nurturance on Facebook.

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