Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March - National Reading Month - Draws to a close

March is National Reading month.

Yay?  Well sort of. Reading is intrinsic to learning and readers will agree instantly, but non-readers are another animal altogether.  If you take a minute to check the stats (and you can find a lot of those by googling “reading statistics for kids” or “national reading month”) you’ll see how reading takes a severe dip when kids hit their teens and doesn’t really recover.

Lots of folks would say, so what, sign of the times. Well, maybe, but I still can’t help cherishing those times when I read to my niece when she was very young and she’d look up at me with eyes large and round with expectation and say, “more please!”.  Now it seems even the smallest children can’t wait to get up from the lunch table to grab a cell phone and start texting friends. Or play some sort of video game. For those who enjoy the wonderful escape world provided by books that is very sad to contemplate. Even though statistically little kids are still enjoying being read to, by the time they reach their teens reading appears to have become an entertainment and enlightening choice of last resort.

It’s a revelation to a writer who loves to read and who’s many friends also love the pass time, to have it brought home that reading just doesn’t seem that important or interesting to the teen-agers coming up. Yes, there’s the iPad and there’s Amazon’s Kindle (reader/tablet or computer App ) or any number of other gadgets, but it’s time for us writers to wonder if the upcoming generation is going to be reading stories/books/scripts or just texting/playing games. The interest in reading is declining, that’s a fact. I mean think about it. If the average person reads 15 minutes a day he or she would read about one million words in a year yet 80% of US families didn’t buy a book in 2014. Scary? It should be for writers who love to create novels.  Yet, weirdly, at the same time, 56% of young people (‘young people’ is not clearly defined) claim they read more than 10 books a year. Huh? It’s complicated.

So, presuming we want to do something about this and change the minds of kids so that they actually read what can be done about it? Personally I believe a great deal of the effort has to come from the home which is a bit of a scary thought when it seems most homes don’t care to or have the time to really work on the problem.

What would they need to do? Well, reading aloud to kids is still the number one way to get them to want to read. And it leaves such wonderful memories. Remember that niece I read to? She wound up being a writer for graphic novels and comic books and a very well-read individual. On top of actually reading to them, they need to see you read. I may be preaching to the choir here as folks reading this are no doubt ‘readers’ and perhaps ‘writers’, but maybe if we press things a bit and spread the word we can make an impact.

Another thing you can do is discuss books in your home. When they’re little, talk to the kids about books you’ve read aloud to them. When they’re older encourage reading and talk about books they’re reading for school or (OMG!) for pleasure, and don’t judge. I remember talking about all sorts of books with my mother as I grew up. She’d read books I had read before her and we’d talk about it and I’d read the books she read. And I mean there were no ‘banned’ books in our house. We read anything and everything. Even when I knew J.D. Salinger occasionally made her cringe, she’d read the book I read and we’d discuss it. Great times!

And that’s another key. Variety. Of course we all settle into our favorites; genre novels, non-fiction, whatever, but exposure to variety is always a plus.

You can find ways to make reading something fun to do. Yes, they have all sorts of electronic doo-dads and there’s nothing wrong with reading a book on a tablet or some other device, but the key here is they must be reading. You might consider allowing your kids to stay up a few minutes later (remember that 15 minutes = a million words a year above?) if they want to read (and seriously, make sure they’re reading and not playing games). Most of the time they’ll actually read in order to stay up later. If not, they can go to sleep.   

Tuck books into the car if you spend a lot of time in it with them, real old-fashioned books (and they don’t have a motion sickness problem). Take them with when you travel. Reading on a device is okay, but be sure you check occasionally to make sure they’re reading.

Speaking of devices, and I know this will bring shrieks of dismay, it seems like about time adults take charge and limit some activities – like time on phones and other electronic gadgets. Seriously, don’t you think it’s about time the kid raises his or her head and takes a look around at life? That they choose to do something (anything) else but be immersed in electronics for at least a short time each day? I mean think of all the other stimulation found in other quality activities for kids and young adults when they have to shelve the electronics.

Reading is amazing, fun, and, darn it, necessary. Do you know that 46% of American adults can’t even understand the prescription label? And 33% of high school graduates will never read a book after graduating? Whoa, time to change that, don’t you think?

So, as National Reading month draws to a close remember, there are lots of reading events throughout the year – just ask the American Library Association and pick up that book and read.


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