Once upon a time, you had a small child who left a trail of books behind her wherever she went. She loved to snuggle up in your lap as you read her favorite story over and over. Then she would beg you to read it "one more time!"
The years went by, and that child grew. Suddenly, she was a preteen, and you realized that you were the one begging her to pick up a book.
If this story sounds familiar to you, you're not alone. Lots of preteens don't like to read. Ironically, formal reading instruction tapers off just as kids move into higher grades, where they face more difficult material. Factor in competition for your child's time, and even kids who start off as good readers can lose ground.
On top of all that, there's the summer slide. "For a lot of kids, as soon as school is out, books disappear," says Carol Rasco, president of Reading Is Fundamental, a national organization devoted to motivating children to read. "By the time September rolls around, reading skills have suffered a real setback." But summer is a great time to help your preteen discover -- or rediscover -- a love of books. So, what can you do to help?
"Find books that are related to subjects your child is interested in," says Catherine E. Snow, PhD, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Though that might sound like a no-brainer, much of the assigned reading in school can feel remote and irrelevant to kids. As you've probably noticed, preteens are quick to dismiss anything that doesn't have an obvious and immediate connection to their lives. Whether the topic of choice is hip-hop music, celebrities, or the supernatural, the key is to find books that are emotionally engaging and relevant.
Your goal is to get your child to think of reading as a useful, fun activity, not a chore. "If you have a preteen who loves NASCAR, for example, magazines and newspaper articles about racing might be more manageable than an entire book," Rasco says. The same goes for the sports page, the latest fashion magazine -- even an instruction manual is fair game. If you have a comic-book lover, introduce him to graphic novels. These books combine illustrations and text, often with sophisticated visuals and storylines. Other ideas: Print out interesting articles from Web sites or share movie reviews -- as long as it's a sustained reading experience, it counts.
"Rediscover your local library," says Ellen Fader, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, part of the American Library Association. If you haven't been in a library recently yourself, you might be surprised: Today's libraries are vibrant places. Many have special programs for preteens, offer lists of recommended books, and are staffed by specialists who are just as invested in getting a great book into your kid's hands as you are. And remember, it's totally appropriate for 9- to 12-year-olds to select their own reading material.
"Choose a specific time -- after dinner, on a Sunday morning, or before bed -- when everyone in the family reads," says Dr. Snow. If you don't put reading on the schedule, it will get lost in the shuffle of your busy life. And reading should be for everyone, not just the kids. Keep in mind, however, that this doesn't have to be quiet time. "One sad fact is that once kids learn to read independently, parents usually stop reading to them," Fader says. Buck that trend by starting a family book night. Vote on a book (or rotate who gets to choose), then take turns reading it aloud by paragraphs, pages, or chapters. Finally, make sure books, magazines, and newspapers are available throughout your house.
If your child reads four or five books this summer, chances are when he returns to school he'll be reading on grade level, says Rasco. If, as a family, you make reading an integral and valued part of your daily life, you'll increase the chances of having an avid, passionate reader who appreciates the written word as much as he does the flickering glow of the TV, computer, PlayStation, and iPod nano.
Lure your kid to read and discuss.
Connect your kid's personality to a great read.