Reading is becoming a lost art. Twenty-one million Americans can't read at all, 45 million are marginally illiterate and one-fifth of high school graduates can't read their diplomas, according to ReadFaster.com. Fewer than half of American adults read literature.
Kids who learn to read when they're young are less likely to end up in prison, drop out of school, or take drugs. In fact, a child's entire lifestyle can be enhanced by picking up a novel now and then. Literary readers are nearly three times as likely to attend a performing arts event, almost four times as likely to visit an art museum, more than two-and-a-half times as likely to do volunteer or charity work, and over one-and-a-half times as likely to attend or participate in sports activities. Unfortunately, many children are struggling with learning how to read, haven't had exposure to interesting reading material, or simply don't have examples of reading for understanding and leisure.
Many school children are stuck with ill-equipped libraries created decades ago. These small collections of antiquated materials are unable to meet the needs of today's kids. In Southern California, for example, the average copyright date for a nonfiction public school library book is 1982, predating many political events, social changes, and technological inventions that are a part of children's lives. Many public libraries aren't much better. Some only have the funding to stay open for short periods of time, and others are unable to hire librarians with specialized knowledge about childhood reading.
In fifteen minutes or less, you can make a difference by promoting reading with children and teens. Influence a child to pick up a good book – it just may change her life.
I Did This!
Reading should be natural and fun. Try one of these quick ideas to support reading:
- Be an example. Let children and teenagers see you as a positive example of reading. If families with children visit your home, let the kids browse your book collection and invite them to join in discussions about books. Never lecture or force kids to read. Just let them see your enthusiasm, and they will be more likely to catch the reading bug.
- Start a lending library. Offer to let children borrow the books in your collection. You may want to keep track of your books and give kids a chance to check out your "library catalog" with an online program such as LibraryThing.com. If you live in an apartment complex, consider starting a give-one-take-one laundry room lending library. Just fill a cardboard box with a few books and leave the collection in your common laundry room. Tell your neighbors about the idea and watch as the people in your complex discover and share their favorite books. (Be sure to get the go-ahead from the apartment manager first). You can also start a book swap at your church, community group, or child’s school. Or, encourage kids to swap books online with sites like PaperBackBookSwap.com, or FrugalReader.com. Do be sure that they have the approval and guidance of their parents when using online book swaps.
- Release a book "into the wild" with BookCrossing.com. Simply choose a book you think would inspire kids or teens, and register it on the site. Follow the on-site directions to label the book and leave it somewhere it will be found. Kids will be delighted to "capture" the book, mark its progress on the site, and leave it somewhere for another reader to find and enjoy.
- Give books as gifts. Instead of giving toys that will soon be broken or forgotten, consider giving books to the kids and teens in your life. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, and other celebrations are opportune times to promote reading. You may even want to give books as baby shower presents. Choose quality copies that can be read again and again, and be sure to choose books that suit the child’s interests.
- Donate books to classroom libraries. Teachers often spend hundreds of their own dollars to get a decent selection of books in their classrooms. Encourage reading by giving kids a wide variety of age-appropriate books to choose from within the walls of their classroom. Check out classroom wish lists at school book fairs, or simply contact a local school or teacher and ask how you can help.
- Give kids booklists that fit their interests. There are books on every interest, from horses to the electric guitar. After being forced to read school books they consider boring, kids are often surprised when they learn that there are books about subjects they really care about. Get kids hooked on reading by printing off a list of subject-specific books from ATN Book Lists, The Boston Public Library, About.com's Children's Books, or Lots of Lists from the University of Calgary.
- Email reading websites to teens and their parents. Introduce teens to the reading community by sending them to Teen Reads, Teen Angst Books, Reading Rants, Teen Link, or Guys Read. Note that some pre-teen and teen books (otherwise known as young adult or YA books) contain mature content.
- Celebrate reading holidays. The National Education Association sponsors the Read Across America celebration on March 2nd, Dr. Seuss's birthday. Their website has ideas for how to plan a kid's reading event in your community. National Library Week is generally celebrated the second week in April and many libraries across the nation hold library activities for kids during that time. National Poetry Month also comes each April, along with many opportunities for kids and teens to experience poetry. Get Caught Reading Month, held each May, gives kids the excitement of getting "caught" with their nose in a book. Library Card Sign-up Month is held in September and Teen Read Week is observed each October. For information about more literary holidays, see a detailed list at LibrarySupportStaff.com.