Books can be overwhelming to children, even downright scary. When a child hates to read, just the sight of books can turn him off and make him want to run for the video game console. Frustrating as this may be to parents, hope isn’t lost. After all, books are not the only reading materials around. In fact, many kids who are not comfortable with books (yet) open the door to to reading through magazines.
Magazines are an authentic reading resource!
Just think as an adult how many magazines a month you read and when you read them. If you’re like most adults, you pick up at least one magazine a month, and probably more. If you enjoy reading or have a hobby, you probably even have a subscription or three coming to your home to keep you up-to-date on your thing - whether that be the news, cooking, or how to DIY your home. There is a magazine out there today for every hobby, job, sport and interest invented, and for every age group. Magazines for the littlest set start at newborn (start ‘em early!) and seniors have their own editions to look forward to (hello AARP!).
So if you’re looking to hook your child on reading, consider her interests and then scout out a magazine to match. I bet you’ll find the perfect one! The following are examples of popular kids’ interests covered by at least one child-friendly magazine (and in some cases many):
Science and nature
World history and archeology
Space, stars and planets
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts
Horses and riding
Cats and dogs; pets
Girls’ general interests
Boys’ general interests
Military family life
Get my free download: Best High-Interest Children’s Magazines for Ages Two Through Teen now!
Building an arsenal of reading materials is an important part of creating your reader-friendly home. One way to do that is to keep a basket of fresh magazines handy in an open spot for kids to find near a cozy chair with a pillow and blanket to curl up with. Subscribe to a few magazines in your child’s name and your child will receive his very own personalized reading materials delivered to the home. Kids LOVE this - even in today’s high-tech era children still love getting their own (snail) mail. So make a big deal of it when the magazine comes just for him and gather everyone ‘round in the living room for some good old family reading time after dinner.
One question that gets asked a lot:
Does reading magazines about video gaming count? Well, yes and no. While your child is reading in this case, he is reading so he can get better at the one interest we are trying to temper. So if your child already has a hard time self-monitoring his video game playing, or if you find yourself in a battle over screen time in the home, then play down or limit the magazines about gaming in favor of other healthier topics. After all, magazines are authentic reading materials about improving the quality of our lives - from cooking to outdoor sports - so if your child is reading about a pursuit that keeps him indoors on a sunny day and antisocial (and that is potentially addicting), this is not a healthy purpose for reading.
Get my free download: Best High-Interest Children’s Magazines for Ages Two Through Teen now!
We know that technology can be helpful for promoting reading if we take advantage of all the options out there. For example, kids can read on Nooks and Kindles, and there are endless software programs and apps that promote reading and vocabulary development. While I believe there is a place and time for these resources, if we solely rely on technology to help children read, they will be missing out on a critical piece that helps their reading improve – social interaction (particularly with an adult). After all, apps, software programs and e-readers are meant to be used 1:1 for the most part. While this allows the child to focus on the task, it is also isolating, not allowing for skills to develop through conversation, team work or parent modeling.
Back in the day
Before there were all these screen gadgets, we had board and card games (Remember them?!). These non-tech sources of fun and learning offered hours of endless entertainment – as well as opportunities for learning while interacting socially with peers, family members and - importantly – adults who model vocabulary, voice inflection and comprehension skills. While most people view board games as just an outlet to pass time on a rainy day, they were (and can still be!) so much more than that if you choose the right ones and play them deliberately.
Since many of us haven’t played board games in so long, how do we know which ones are still around and which ones we should choose if our goal is to improve our child’s reading?
Download my free cheat sheet: Dr. Carroll’s Top 10 Board and Card Games that Promote Reading Skills – Plus, their Basic Components and the Specific Skills They Build!
You might be wondering when you have time to play these games with your child. Try the following times to break up the monotony of screen usage in your home:
- Friday night family hour – dinner, then at least one hour of board games before a fun family movie (if everyone is still up!)
- Make Sunday afternoons tech-free and play board games
- Any rainy/cold/super-hot day it’s no fun to be outside
- Tech free vacations, such as a camping trip
- Tech free car time – OK this one is a little tough for actual board games, but card games that ask questions are doable!
- Use the “30 minute before or after rule”: 30 minutes before bed, or after a TV show, or 30 minutes before dinner or after dessert/snack is designated board game time.
- Instead of a read aloud
- Waiting in the doctor’s office with kids? See car time
- Afraid the iPad will get ruined with sand on the beach? That’s usually not an issue with a board game (Bring a good sun umbrella!)
- Suggest your kids play with friends on a play date and provide several fun options (kids can learn from each other as well)
Aside from the numerous benefits of reading, playing board games with your child will help build many other important qualities such as patience, sharing, taking turns, strategizing, concentration and memory skills, logic, cooperation and math. Doesn’t that sound like a load of good for a small time investment?
Download my free cheat sheet: Dr. Carroll’s Top 10 Board and Card Games that Promote Reading Skills – Plus, their Basic Components and the Specific Skills They Build!
This is a popular question that many parents wonder. Read on for the pros and cons of each and a list of reasons why and when you should choose one over the other.
You know that one of the secrets to getting your child to love reading is to introduce him to lots of great books. Some books are perfect for reading aloud by the parent or child, and other books are chosen for your child to read alone. Families who prioritize reading can easily go through hundreds of different titles a year! How do they choose to acquire these books? The question of whether to buy books for children or borrow them from the library is an important one to consider so you can make sure you keep the home bookshelves stocked in a way that works for you.
Why and when you should borrow books from the library:
Children can go through a lot of books over the course of their youth and book prices have steadily been on the rise. Kids grow out of books, and you may have spent money on books that your child doesn’t even like. Do that a few times and it will either lead to bookshelves crammed with options that your child isn’t reading, or trips back to the bookstore to attempt a return before the “14 day return policy” window closes.
The time to borrow books from the library is when you are doing any of the following in building your child’s reading arsenal:
- Trying out a new series to see if your child will want to read the rest
- Stocking up with lots of books to read over a stay-cation
- Guessing what type of books will interest your child
- Looking for lots of books around a central theme that you will only read at a certain time of year, like Halloween
- When you want to visit the library as a family outing and take advantage of the many opportunities they offer (especially on an extra hot/snowy/rainy day) such as read alouds and author visits
- When you are looking for the help of a knowledgeable librarian to give you guidance on titles that will interest your child
- Money is tight but you don’t want that to affect the choices your child has in reading material
Get my FREE cheat sheet here to share with friends and family - Dr. Carroll’s Top 10 List: Should I Buy or Borrow Books for my Child? 10 considerations before you decide.
Why and when you should buy books:
Owning books can be so wonderful though, right? That new book smell, rereading old favorites again and again, and the easy way Amazon delivers them right to your doorstep. Plus, we all feel relieved about not having to worry if the cover gets creased or your child spills juice on the pages. Plus, borrowed books must be returned, on time or there will be late fees - and sometimes it’s just so hard to get back to the library before the due date.
Owning books can bring a certain pleasure that borrowing books doesn’t. When a child sees the books he has read on his bookshelf, it brings a sense of accomplishment and pride. He can go back to the ones he loves again and again (a good practice to improve fluency!) knowing they will always be there. There is also joy in collecting a series – finding that next title can be a fun hunt!
The time to buy books is when any of the following is true for your family:
- You are collecting classic books that are timeless, and your child will want to read throughout the years
- You have several children that the book may be appropriate for, and/or the book can be passed down to younger siblings
- You want to stock up on books to fill your child’s shelves as you build a reader-friendly home
- Your child is invested in a series and gets satisfaction out of collecting the new titles and seeing what he has read
- You look forward to giving the books away to family members or other parents once your child has finished with them
- Your child is reading chapter books and likes to write her thoughts, ideas or questions in the margins
- You are unable to find the book title your child really wants to read at the library
There is one way you can have (some of) the best of both worlds – search for used books at libraries, garage sales, school fairs and flea markets. Usually you can get books for 25 cents to $2.00 – a fraction of what you would pay for them new. They may be a little torn, worn or marked up, but that just gives them character – You know they were well-loved before you brought them home.
Get my FREE cheat sheet here to share with friends and family - Dr. Carroll’s Top 10 List: Should I Buy or Borrow Books for my Child? 10 considerations before you decide.
One of the best ways to get children to do something positive is to tap into their natural desire to help others. There’s a lot of research on this, starting with this article on how giving even makes toddlers happy. Maybe you’ve noticed that most of the time what kids won’t do for themselves they will do for others if they see the good in it. Consider these examples. Does your child get excited about any of the following?
Feeding, walking or brushing a cat or dog (usually someone else’s!)
Baking cookies for a charity bake sale
Taking part in a walk-a-thon
Participating in a clean-up day, or helping build a school or town playground
Feeding stray animals, or backyard birds
Donating food or time to a soup kitchen or church pantry
Writing letters to soldiers
Participating in school or youth group service projects
Creating holiday gift baskets for the elderly or poor
The list of ways kids can help others goes on and on! I’m sure you can think of several times your child has helped another person this past year and has been eager to do it.
So, how can we use this innate enjoyment of philanthropy when it comes to reading? There are lots of ways!
Free! Get my list of Books that Inspire Children to Give below.
Who can your child read to that would bring them pleasure? That’s easy! Anyone in need of a friend or human contact. Let the following list be a starting point - add to it based on the needs of your family and community:
Seniors in nursing homes, senior centers or an elderly neighbor or grandparent
Animals in shelters (see my blog post on reading to animals here)
Newborn babies (especially if the new mommy needs a break!)
Terminally ill children in cancer wards
Veterans – start at the local VFW (It’s not just an old man’s club anymore!)
Why is reading aloud helpful to others? There are several reasons.
Listening to a story book is calming to people and animals
Creating a human connection through story is powerful, and sometimes the easiest way to interact with a new person (no conversation needed, let the book do the talking)
A good story opens minds and hearts
Stories help the listener generate new ideas of their own
Stories empower others to make good choices and try new things
Stories can help people form bonds of friendship across ages and cultures
Listening to a read aloud helps improve concentration and thinking skills
A read aloud allows the listener to experience the world right from their chair
Lean on your child’s natural tendency to give. Inspire them to act to help another in this world and reap the amazing benefits of feeling good by doing good, all while practicing reading. The best part is your child won’t even realize he is getting reading practice – what he will realize is how much he touches someone else’s life.
For a list of books of ways for your child to help others (and include reading in the process whenever possible!) get my quick guide to Books That Inspire Children to Give!
Imagine this scene:
You come home from work tired, arms loaded with groceries, and run in the door to start dinner. In the living room you spot your son, playing Minecraft again, a backpack full of homework sits untouched on the floor. “Didn’t we just talk about this last weekend?” You ask yourself, disbelieving he’d go back so fast to old (and not good!) habits. “What do I need to do to get across to him he needs to stop playing video games until he’s done with everything else?”
You are fired up. You don’t need this challenge right now. The first words out of your mouth after mumbling hello are fully charged, “Get off the video games, NOW! I can see your homework isn’t done, I’m sure you haven’t read, and it’s already 6:30! If you don’t start right now, I’m taking those video games away.” Exhale.
He rolls his eyes, tosses the joystick aside and slowly makes his way to the backpack to begin…
You fixed the situation, again.
Homework and reading will most likely get done tonight after all. But what about tomorrow night? And the next? Are you just going to keep on like this? You know you can’t, and you are right. It’s just.not.healthy. But yelling and threatning (almost) always work! So, what else can you do?
Get my free guide on 15 Phrases to Say to Your Child to Get Him to Read Without Threatening, Nagging or Yelling!
Yes, threats and yelling do work, most of the time, which is why so many parents often resort to using them. They don’t feel good, however, neither to you nor your child, and you know there must be a better way. So how can you get your child to do what he needs to without threatening him, yelling or nagging? You can do it by engaging with him (instead of directing threats and nags AT him) and being explicit about your request.
Ariadne Brill of Positive Parenting Connection shares the following ways you can get your child to comply readily without bribes or threats.
3 Ways to move beyond threats and yelling to get your child to cooperate:
- Avoid statements that are loaded and vague. Examples are:
- “You are being so bad! Just wait and see what happens!”
- “I’ve had it, get moving or else!”
These are not specific and are discouraging to children, making them fearful and may lead to retaliation. Instead, describe the behavior that is not acceptable, such as:
- “You may not hit your sister.”
- “Kicking my seat while I am driving is not OK.”
This will help children know exactly what they may not do, without question.
- Get children’s cooperation by making them feel encouraged and capable. Rather than threats, use statements that involve your child in a positive way, such as:
- “Hitting the dog hurts him. Do you want to brush him? The dog would love some special attention from you!”
- “Do you want to come over here and help me with dinner? Your sister would like some alone time right now but I could use your help and would love your company.”
- Use language that invites cooperation, such as:
- “I’m looking for two assistants to set the table! Any takers?”
- “I am happy to keep you company while you sort your books.”
Remember to ask yourself, “What can I do to help my child cooperate in this moment?
How can these strategies be applied to a child who doesn’t want to read? Find out here:
Get my free guide on 15 Phrases to Say to Your Child to Get Him to Read Without Threatening, Nagging or Yelling!
You’ve heard reading aloud is critical to your child’s success and you strive to get it in most nights when you can. Sometimes, though, it’s just hard to put in the time. You work long hours, you’re tired, homework went on forever or after-school activities ended late and you just want to skip a read aloud tonight. For all the many reasons why that seems like a good idea, here are 5 solid reasons in favor of reading aloud consistently for (just 10 minutes!) when you need a little motivation.
5 great reasons to read aloud to your child:
- Modeling fluency skills: Children need to hear adult, skilled readers model what good fluency sounds like when they read aloud so they can copy that sound. A reader is fluent when the words flow together well, and they are not choppy or slow. The more you can model how the words should flow well together when you read (as well as stopping at periods, pausing at commas, and obeying the other punctuation marks too) the better your child will pick up this skill.
- Modeling language and vocabulary: books are amazing for increasing children’s understanding of language and learning new vocabulary words. Even simple children’s books often have rich vocabulary that is not in our everyday conversation and therefore children do not hear it. In order to know a word, it needs to be used, in context (in the story) and so read alouds are the perfect way to share new words with children.
- Sharing quality time together: In the craziness that is life these days, we often don’t have more than 10 minutes a day of quality time to spend with family members. Reading books aloud together creates this time and allows us to be in the moment with our children, enjoying their company as well as a good story and it also builds memories that will last a long time.
- Make a statement: "We value reading." When we do it together every day, we are telling our children that reading is important in our home, and it’s a habit that is a part of our lives. When we skip days, or find too often that we allow other excuses to take the place of reading time, we are sending our children the message that reading takes a back seat to those distractions and that message is powerful.
- Relaxation: Reading is a relaxing activity. By choosing to read aloud at night before bed, we are winding down each day in a relaxing way in a way that screens such as cell phones and iPads don’t allow for.
"Where can I find time to read with my child?" If you are wondering this too, download my free resource, Finding Hidden Time for Reading, below.
Monica, mom to 11 year old Zane, says this about their read aloud practice, “It’s often very easy to slip into a million reasons why we can’t make time at night to read a book together. Once we started allowing ourselves to be distracted, it just got even easier. However, we knew that was not going to help Zane with reading so we promised each other that reading aloud would come first. Since we made it a top priority, we don’t let each other miss our nightly story and Zane’s teacher has told us that his reading has improved in school.”
If you’re finding it hard to get in the time, strive for just 10 minutes a night. This is enough time for a short picture book, or chapter in a simple chapter book, and will ensure you don’t let distractions get in the way of this time together. Then on nights that are less busy, work towards reading for 30 minutes together. I promise it will be one of the best ways you can spend time as a family.
Download my free resource, Finding Hidden Time for Reading, now!
For kids who don’t like to read, reading aloud can be stressful. Maybe they read slowly, or sound choppy, or just have trouble recognizing the words. When a child is anxious about reading and lacks confidence, it can lead to self-esteem issues. This can be compounded by having to read aloud in front of peers, which happens many times a week per child in the average classroom.
While children need strategy skills they can focus on to improve their reading comprehension and fluency, they also need practice, and lots of it. The more practice the better. This is why teachers assign reading for homework, and every school, library and blog about reading suggests you read aloud to your child (and have them read to you) every night.
While parents make very good listeners, let’s face it, you only have so much time to listen and sometimes your child may want to broaden his audience (no offense of course.) Enter…cats and dogs! They’re lovable, fluffy, sweet and have wet noses. What else could you want in a reading buddy? Plus, most will sit long enough to have a book read to them, especially if they get a tummy rub and treat.
Cats and dogs make exceptional read aloud partners for numerous other reasons. They calm anxious children, they are non-judgmental, they (usually) don’t interrupt and most kids love them, making our feline and canine friends very acceptable audiences to children who are nervous to read aloud.
There have been many successful programs launched around this idea; cats and dogs are getting read to in shelters, libraries, classrooms and homes around the world as teachers, parents and other caring adults are realizing the myriad benefits. For example, In Anita Stone’s article, “Reading” Dogs Help Children Learn,” she explains how trained dogs are used in schools to sit quietly as struggling readers excitedly read books they chose just for them.
Though the children believe they are teaching dogs to read, in fact, with the dog as a comfortable, attentive audience (and an occasional gentle assist from the dog’s adult volunteer partner), they are actually teaching themselves. As far as the child is concerned, however, reading is about the dog, not about the child. No pressure. No embarrassment. No humiliation.
Similarly, through the Book Buddies program, Humane Society dogs get help socializing from young readers who, after a short training program, helps dogs gain comfort with visitors who are prospective adopters. Dogs who are improved socially have a better chance of being adopted so if your child needs a very strong reason to read to a dog, this could be it. The children reading to shelter dogs are helping the dogs in the shelters as much as they help themselves.
Cats are getting in on the benefits too. At cat shelters everywhere, children are reading to them for the same reasons as shelter dogs. The children get to practice reading, and the cats get help with socialization. Plus, everyone has a darn good time. Take 7-year-old Colby of Berks County, Pa. His mom brought him to a local shelter running a Book Buddies for cats program in hopes it would help his tantrums and crying over reading. Now, “He goes right into the room with all the cats, opens the book, and they come running to lay down and listen,” she said, adding, “There’s no struggling anymore. He’s a joy to read with now, and he’s so confident.”
So how can parents use this idea at home? What if you don’t have a dog or cat for your child to read to? Fear not! Just download my FREE resource on 10 Ways Your Child Can Read with an Animal (even if you don’t have a pet at home!)
This guide also includes eight websites that give you more information on this practice, how it benefits kids and several ways you can get involved.
So what about the rest of the pet population in homes? Do they make good reading partners too?
They definitely do. Why not have your child read to the family bunny, ferret, gerbil, guinea pig, fish or gecko? If you have any pet at home, it just needs to sit still long enough to be read at least a few pages (this is where a cage may come in handy for some of the squirmier species…)
Parents and teachers who take part in the reading-to-animals programs all over share that the results are amazing. Children are reading more often, and because of this, are reading better, more fluently, and most of all, are enjoying reading. This is great news!
Grab my FREE resource on 10 Ways Your Child Can Read with an Animal (even if you don’t have a pet at home!) plus get eight websites that give you more information on this practice, how it benefits kids and several ways you can get involved.
As parents, we know how important it is that our kids read, and read often. We understand that reading plays a strong role in the development of numerous positive traits in youth, from academic skills to character development to relaxation strategies. When reading is difficult, so is almost everything else – particularly in school – so it’s critical for kids to read, and daily practice is the best way to go.
For many parents, however, we would just love to see our child pick up a book on his own and read it. If that doesn’t happen, we ask our kids nicely to read and they head for the first iPad they can find to play Minecraft. We finally beg our kids to read and they just tune out, or leave the room. So it seems to make sense that when kids simply won’t read any other way, and choose every different distraction from Tuesday to avoid it, that maybe we consider a little bribery to sweeten the deal.
Rewards for Reading
Outside rewards can be very motivating, particularly money, and for many children it works in terms of getting them to read. One study out of the UK suggests that 60% of parents of 3-8 year olds reward their children for reading, and I suspect that number only increases as kids move into preteen years. Parents do this because it gets results! Offer money, kids read, mission accomplished. I’ve heard of a variety of payment plans, such as a penny a page, a dollar a chapter, or a cool new T-shirt at the end of the book. Of course the beloved screen time is a popular reward as well. So if these rewards work and kids are reading more, what could be the problem with it?
Well, for one, research. There are many studies (if you want me to bore you with the details, send me an email!) that suggest paying children to do what they once enjoyed leads to them stopping the activity once the reward disappears. I would add that in my own conversations with parents, this may also lead to children looking for bigger and better rewards as time goes on, and a loss of internal motivation without it. That is not a culture we want to build.
Plus - and this is a big one - if we pay kids to read, they may internalize the idea that reading is something we do for money, or reward, and not something we do for pleasure. Since our end goal is to develop life-long readers with an interest in reading on their own, the monetary reward-for-reading system is definitely one that can backfire long-term.
Left with a Conundrum?
So, how do we get children to read if they don’t have the internal motivation and we can’t externally motivate them? For children lacking confidence or foundational reading skills (like fluency and comprehension), it’s an even harder battle and rewards seem like the only way to win it. Well, we can offer rewards, I am just suggesting we do it in safer ways that don’t lead to the piggy bank. Instead, we need to find externally motivating activities that kids will enjoy in their own right, that can be attached to reading so they associate reading (the task) with pleasure (the reward). Follow me here…
It turns out that non-material rewards may be seriously effective, and have the same (or better!) results than the material kind. Rewards such as an outing alone with dad (leave those brothers and sisters behind!), an opportunity to try a new activity or a trip to a local petting farm can be majorly motivating while healthy and lead to new interests. By the way, this can also lead to wanting to read more, in order to learn about the new pursuit, and a positive cycle begins.
Get my free cheat sheet on 15 Healthy Bribes to Get your Child to Read
As it turns out, I am not alone in making these suggestions. Dr. Ryan and Dr. Deci, professors at the University of Rochester, suggest that we should emphasize the fact that we value the love of reading, not just the act of it. Therefore, the “bribe” should convey that message as well. They write, “By setting aside time for reading with your child, or to discuss a book together, we are showing them we value reading, and we support them in developing this important skill.” When we read with our child, when we laugh, cry or get inspired by a book together and chat about that experience afterwards, we are sending powerful messages about the joy that can be found in books that money or treats just cannot duplicate.
Intrinsic motivation may need to be developed in some children, and that’s ok. When reading is tough for kids, it’s just not something they will want to do naturally. So while offering money is a quick fix that will most likely jump-start the reader to pick up a book, creating a home that values reading, with reader-friendly spaces, read-alouds before bedtime, book discussions around the dinner table, and trips to the library to check out the new releases will go a lot farther in both showing kids the value of reading and establishing habits long-term.
Get my free cheat sheet on 15 Healthy Bribes to Get Your Child to Read
Video games can be entertaining (though addictive) but kids who choose to play video games over other healthy activities do so because they actually satisfy several needs. The following are a few examples of why many children, pre-teens and teens cannot put the controller down:
- Boredom (no one to play with, limited other options)
- Addiction (lots of gaming leads to dopamine rush, leads to addiction)
- It’s easy to access (video games are always out and available)
- It’s fulfilling (shoot things, collect points, win, gain status, repeat)
- Social reasons (such as being bullied, being an introvert)
Get Dr. Carroll’s Top 10 Book Recommendations for Bullying and Social Isolation here
But what if we could satisfy these needs with something as healthy and wholesome as books? What if instead of choosing video games, your child chose books instead? It IS possible, read on!
While breaking an addiction to video games can be extremely difficult, ensuring that your child never gets addicted can be a whole lot easier in comparison – and worth the effort when you hear the stories of parents who have been down that road.
I have collected the following ideas from parents just like you who have firmly decided that books are better than video games for their children’s brains. Try a few tips or try them all! I am sure you’ll find something here that will help cut back on your child’s screen time.
9 Effective Ways to Cut Back on Your Child's Screen Time:
- Create “no screen zones” at home. There should be a few places in the home that screens should not be allowed. Good suggestions to start are bedrooms and at meal time. Blue light from smartphones and computers makes it hard to sleep anyway, and meal time should be for connecting with family members - so power off!
- Make your car a “no screen zone”. One mom from the UK described how when they are driving, no digital devices are allowed. Instead, on longer trips kids reach for books, magazines, dolls (plush puppets are fun) and small handheld games (think Rubik’s Cube). These items are stored in a basket in the back seat and are rotated every month to keep it interesting. They stay in the car so they don’t get lost.
- Pick a time each evening that all screens are turned off. Depending on the age of your child, maybe it’s 7 pm, or 8 pm, or maybe a different time works for you. Whatever time you choose, be sure you are consistent and you do it too. If you decide to check email on your phone after that time, you’ll lose credibility with your child.
- Set up a book nook in the home that is so dang cozy and attractive that it becomes your child’s favorite go-to place. Make it a “no-screen” zone and instead, stock it with his favorite items, art work he has created, and tons of books and fun reading material. Give him an option to read instead of play video games and he may just choose it.
- Put the video games away. Let’s face it, the easier they are to access, the more likely your child is to play them. If the video game console is hard to get out and set up, then it is probable your child will choose something else to do instead.
- Video games can feel sociable, because kids can play with other people in the house or outside it, however they actually promote social isolation. While books are typically read independently, they can encourage social activity if you take turns reading aloud to each other, listen to audio books together in the car or both parent and child read the same book and then discuss after each chapter (great for pre-teens with chapter books). Replace the isolating video games with family book discussions.
- Video games seem fulfilling in the moment but leave a hollow feeling long-term. A real sense of accomplishment instead can come from finishing a truly engaging, humorous or memorable book that shapes your child’s thinking. Find these kinds of books with help from your local librarian and create a deeper sense of well-being in your child far beyond what video games can offer.
- Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto are not babysitters, though they are often used to keep kids occupied. There are much better ways to engage children in stimulating activity that keeps them busy while you are cooking dinner or finally having a moment of peace. Art projects, craft activities and outdoor sports are all healthier activities that feed the brain and keep kids productively busy. Reading fun books such as graphic novels and choose your own adventures can be exciting ways to engage children with words when mom or dad needs a break.
- If a child is being bullied or having a hard time making friends, video games are often an easy way to cover up the shame, frustration and humiliation that comes from these experiences. There are dozens of books for every age group, reading level and gender to help address these issues instead and your child just needs someone to help guide her towards the titles. Librarians and book store clerks can be an amazing resource to find books where the main character is struggling with something similar to your child. Reading a story that your child can relate to can be a very important step in handling the feelings and the problem in a way that video games will never solve.
Get Dr. Carroll’s Top 10 Book Recommendations to Help with Bullying and Social Isolation – these books are relatable stories that your child will enjoy as he discovers that he is not alone and there are healthy ways to handle being bullied.
Although you may not believe it, your child may not want to be playing video games all the time. Video gamer children and teens often privately admit they wish they could stop, and that they had other productive outlets that satisfied the needs mentioned above. If you child is gaming for a few hours a day, Try a few of the tips suggested above and don’t take “no” for an answer. In the long run, you’ll be glad you stayed on it!
It’s no secret that kids love to spend lots of time on screens. All kinds of digital devices are popular these days and they seem to be present everywhere. While televisions used to be the only screen in town, with the invention of the computer, it wasn’t long before countless types of tech gadgets came on the scene. Now wherever you go, including malls, restaurants, schools and even summer camps, digital screens are unavoidable for both adults and kids.
Current statistics show that preteens spend on average 8 hours per day on screens (yikes!). This includes a combination of usage such as watching TV, playing music, watching videos, playing video games, and interacting on social media. In addition, as parents consider how much screen time their child is consuming, they often forget the time on screens kids get outside the home, such as at school (educational games, online assessments and learning software), on the bus (smartphones and iPads) and at friends’ houses (TV, video games, YouTube, Netflix, social media).
Take this quick quiz to determine if you need to consider reducing your child’s screen time.
Is this really a problem? Many moms and dads are asking this question lately, as the negative effects of screen time for kids becomes a hot issue around the globe. Research clearly shows that computers and personal devices can actually be problematic, particularly for the young not-fully-developed brain of a child and should be monitored closely by parents.
7 important reasons why parents need to pay attention to their child’s screen time:
- Studies suggest that screens such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, notebooks and desktops can increase depression, anxiety and aggression in kids while decreasing positive social interaction and interests such as playing outside and reading.
- Experts are calling video games and other online addictions (like gambling and porn) “digital drugs”. Much like cocaine and heroin, digital devices stimulate the front part of the brain, leaving the child hyper-aroused like only addictive substances can do. The dangerous part comes when the young user is not playing and finds regular life and people interactions boring, prompting a desire for more stimulation and creating a vicious cycle.
- When children devote all of this time to their screens, they spend less time on healthy fun such as getting exercise through outdoor games or sports, engaging in creative play or artistic pursuits, or mentally stimulating activities such as puzzles or reading. Each of these alternatives contribute to a well-rounded, healthy and intelligent child. For example, reading develops important skills such as reflection, critical thinking and imagination, and watching TV or playing video games contributes nothing to these areas.
- Over 200 studies show that screen time increases ADHD, aggressive behavior and social isolation, which may explain why your child’s attention seems to wander, or why he throws a tantrum when you ask him to put down the video game joystick and do his homework.
- It is WAY harder to treat a child or teen who is already addicted to digital media than it is to set healthy limits before the problem starts. Children who need to be treated for screen time addiction sometimes wind up going to “rehab”, such as a wilderness program, in order to detox and rewire the brain.
- There is a reason why parents from the techy world keep their kids away from devices as long as possible. Steve Jobs was a perfect example of a low-tech parent, as are countless Silicon Valley executives who enroll their kids in tech-free Montessori and Waldorf schools.
- While Minecraft and Facebook might seem harmless at first, time on personal devices can eventually lead to more dangerous and damaging sites. Hard as it seems to believe, kids today at very young ages are sexting, viewing porn and participating in depression-type blogs that glamorize cutting, anorexia and even suicide. These are easy for kids to access, particularly on their smartphones since they are small and everyone has their own.
What can you do about it?
As one mom points out, “The smaller the device, the harder it is to control it” so don’t think if you don’t see a screen your child isn’t using one. Parents need to keep a tight watch on how their child is using devices. The more time on screens, the more closely you need to monitor. Set smart household rules, such as no electronics in the bedroom, or after 8 pm, and stick to them. Consider limiting the amount of time he spends on digital devices each day, and guide him to use screens for more productive pursuits such as reading an eBook or listening to an audiobook. Be sure to set parental controls and blocking software on digital devices and let your child know you are monitoring what she is doing online to keep communication open.
How much screen time is too much?
There are no hard and fast rules to answer this question, so as a parent you need to be the judge. Many parents of younger children feel one hour of combined screen time is enough, while up to two hours per day for older elementary and middle school children may be acceptable. When you decide on a time limit and share it with your child, be sure you are clear on what that includes and stick to it. A sure-fire way to fail at keeping this boundary is to enforce it intermittently. Your child should participate in a healthy dose of non-digital activities that he enjoys every day to ensure that technology does not completely take over his free time.
The hard truth is that technology is too powerful for kids to handle alone, and they will always choose the fun, highly stimulating option over any other activity unless parents give firm guidance. You may be unpopular with the young folk in your house by setting up some rules and being the enforcer, but the rewards will be priceless for the whole family if you do.
If you notice that your child is no longer interested in healthy activities such as going outdoors, playing sports, being with friends and reading books, take this quick quiz to see if you may need to make some changes to help your child manage screen time.
Dunckley, V. (2105). Reset your child’s brain: A four-week plan to end meltdowns, raise grades and boost social skills while reversing the effects of electronic screen time. California: New World Library.
Kardaras, N. (2016). Glow kids: How screen addiction is hijacking our kids – And how to break the trance. New York: St. Martins’ Press.
Guernsey, L. (2012). Screen time: How electronic media – from baby videos to educational software – effects your young child. Philadelphia: Basic Books.
Kardaras, N. (August 27, 2016). It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies. New York Post. Retrieved from: http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/
Kardaras, N. (August 31, 2016). Screens in schools are a $60 billion hoax. Time Magazine. Retrieved from: http://time.com/4474496/screens-schools-hoax/
Field, G. (September, 2016). Parenting against the internet. Real Simple. Retrieved from: http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/technology/safety-family/internet-safety
Sometimes you just need a reason, any reason, to throw a little party. I can’t think of a better excuse to get your party on than to inspire kids to read. Wondering how a good birthday celebration will get your child to pick up a book? Read on for my best secrets for what cake and streamers have to do with reading.
Authors are people too. Like all people, authors have birthdays! Some authors are alive and well and still celebrating their special day themselves, while others are, well, not so much. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate on their behalf! After all, so many authors have inspired and touched our lives decades after their books were written. To keep the memory alive and thank them for all they have contributed, we should throw them a party. Plus, everyone loves a good time – including kids – and if we help kids see how fun and reading are connected we’ll be shining a positive light on something they don’t ordinarily want to do.
How to throw an author's birthday party in 7 easy steps:
1. Choose an author: This is definitely where you want to get your child involved! Brainstorm a list together of all the children’s book authors you both can name. Scan your own bookshelves for a mental jog, or go online to Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com and enter key words to help you out. Once you have your list, discuss together which authors are cause for celebration. Which ones have written books that your child likes (even a little) or could like if he was motivated? Highlight those names to get started.
Tip: If your child is a reluctant reader, then start by brainstorming the books that have been turned into movies and TV shows he loves. There is no end to these! Here are just a few: Goosebumps series, The Magic School Bus, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Coraline, Harriet the Spy.
2. Find the authors’ birthdates: This is as easy as cake. Just search their names and birthdays on Google. To up the fun, celebrate a monumental year. (Roald Dahl would be 100 on September 13th!) Choose the one whose birthday is the closest so you don’t have to wait too long to party. For a done-for-you cheat sheet, download my list of famous authors and their birthdays here to get you started.
3. Plan your party: It may be soon in which case you can keep it simple, or the date may be further away, allowing ample planning time as well as time to build anticipation. You’ll need to decide how you’re going to celebrate! You can do the customary routine, such as an easy meal (frozen pizza is just fine!), cake and candles, or add a little flavor by getting into a theme. For example, for Roald Dahl the theme might be chocolate – after all, he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, everyone can come wearing their pajamas. (YES!)
4. Learn some fun facts: Break out a few interesting details about the chosen author so you can share them during the party. Turn them into a guessing game (What was Maurice Sendak’s favorite character he created? Or Which book came second in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series?) for simple prizes such as a paperback book of choice from Amazon.com!
5. Enjoy the big day: Invite friends or keep it quaint with just family members but either way, be sure to have a good time and get into it. Yes, it’s a bit silly, but why not have fun and get some laughs in? Humor helps kids want to read so if your child sees the fun in the situation, she may be more open to reading books by this author.
6. Take the opportunity to make the connections to reading. We all like a good party, but don’t forget the purpose of this event is to celebrate a writer of wonderful books! Spend time during your celebration and whatever activities you have planned to actually read. Be sure you have a stack of books around – at least one for each person attending. Books by the honored author should be on prominent display and read aloud by the master of ceremonies (AKA mom or dad) at appropriate intervals throughout.
7. Plan your next party (or encourage your child to plan it!): Once you host an author’s birthday party, the kids will likely want to do it again. By choosing a new author to celebrate each season you’ll always have something to look forward to!
Helping children find the joy in reading is often a challenge. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while trying. It often takes creative ideas to draw kids to books so don’t be afraid to try something new at home. This idea may not be brand new to your child as classrooms around the world throw author birthday parties with great success (which equals kids having fun while reading). You can’t do this wrong so give it a chance and hey, it’ll be a good excuse to eat pizza and cake for dinner once in a while!
Don't forget to download my cheat sheet of famous authors and their birthdays!
If your child does not like to read, one of the most helpful resources in your world should be your child’s teacher. After all, assuming your district has hired highly qualified educators, she is an expert on both children and reading. It won’t take her long to get to know your child as an individual and learn what makes him tick. She sees a different side of your child than you do, too, and her perspective may just be the one that you need in order to guide your child to what books he should be reading at home.
How do I know this?
I taught elementary school for almost a decade, and then became a school principal with a serious focus on literacy. I trained hard, read a lot of reference books and attended many conferences and workshops to learn as much as I could about teaching reading. I focused intently on becoming a strong reading teacher and then literacy leader, and was thrilled when my students’ parents wanted to learn more about how they can help at home.
Even if your child’s teacher doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe reading instruction like I did, they will get to know your child well in the next few months and most likely be excited that you ask how to help at home.
What questions should you ask the teacher in order to have the most productive conversation? Get my free downloadable question guide here:
Here are some tips about how and when to hold this conversation:
Give the teacher at least several weeks after school starts to get to know your child before you reach out. Many teachers have 22-27 kids in a classroom so it takes a bit of time to learn about each of them personally.
Let the teacher know you want to support her efforts in school by reading with/to your child at home. Use my checklist ( click Access Now above) to help guide your conversation.
Make your first contact regarding your interests through email when you can. Email is an easy way to let the teacher know you are interested in a conversation without it seeming like an emergency. This will also give the teacher a chance to get back to you with her thoughts together about when you can talk, and what materials she might be able to provide you.
Greet the teacher at Back-to-School night and introduce yourself, but hold off on having this conversation until you actually set up a time to chat together. There are so many parents to meet that night and you don’t want this topic to get lost in a busy event.
When you meet with the teacher, be sure you have at least 30 minutes to discuss your thoughts, and take some notes so you don’t forget what she recommends. Many ideas and book titles may be new to you so you’ll want to write them down.
Don’t catch the teacher on the fly to discuss this, such as at a concert, back to school night or school play. There is too much else going on to give this the attention it needs.
Don’t try to have this entire discussion through email. In person is best, on the phone can also work too. Initiate by email, but move off email once you make contact.
Don’t make a big deal of it with your child. In fact telling him you had this discussion is completely optional. Use your judgement about whether he should know or not. You don’t want to make him upset and think that a possible reading issue is the reason his parent and his teacher are talking.
Don’t go unprepared. Instead, take the list of questions to ask with you and also a list of what you already do at home. You want feedback, as well as to let the teacher know the support you are already providing.
Don’t follow every word the teacher says if it doesn’t feel right. Consider the teacher just one resource out of many and only follow any advice given that makes sense to you for your child.
The bottom line: The more you and your child’s teacher work together as a team to help your child become a better reader, the faster he will make progress. A teacher can provide insight into your child as a learner, which can help as you support your reader at home. Don’t be a stranger - Towards the end of the first month of school, be sure to connect with your child’s teacher!
Don't forget to download my free question guide on the Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Child's Teacher About Reading here: Access Now!
As the lazy, hazy days of summer wind down, the days are getting shorter and families are getting ready to send the kids back to school. This time can be filled with such mixed feelings for kids (and parents!), including excitement, nervousness, enthusiasm, trepidation, delight or sadness. Many children have a mixture of feelings all at the same time. They may be excited about seeing old friends and meeting some new ones, while being nervous to meet a new teacher, go to a bigger school or take a different bus. Some kids love the fact that they are starting a higher grade level (Fifth grade rocks! We are the kings of the school!). Then there’s the sadness that summer is ending and with it, a lot of fun and relaxation. All these feelings are totally normal, though they can make everyone act a little loopy (I’ll include teachers in this one too!). Getting these feelings out in the open is a good idea.
Books can be a great way for kids to get in touch with their feelings. When they see how a character is also going through a similar experience (new bus, new school, new friends, new lunch meat…) kids can relax a little and maybe even laugh a bit as many insightful authors tell stories about kids in school that will have you rolling on the floor laughing.
Want a great list of both picture and chapter books that you can read aloud to get your child prepped for back to school? Download my free Top 10 List of Back to School Read Alouds!
Reading aloud books about the start of school is a great way to get your child excited for the first few days. However, I like to see parents keep reading books about school for the whole first month because the transition actually takes more than just a few days. Plus, there are so many wonderful stories to share about kids in school, and many teach useful lessons, such as how to stand up to a bully, understand disabilities or accept people’s differences. See the whole first month of school as an opportunity to share read-alouds such as the ones on my Top 10 List , and your child will build confidence in his school transition way into the school year. You'll also find a few titles to add to your family's favorites to revisit annually.
Be sure to download my Top 10 List of Back to School Read Alouds now!
Back-to-school season can be a distressing few weeks leading up to the first day in the classroom for so many kids. While some of the angst around this return to routine makes sense – after all, days get colder and shorter and we need to get back to tighter schedules and earlier bedtimes – there are also a few things we can do to ease this transition and actually make it an empowering time for kids.
Many kids dread, and even fear homework. Even the word can spark anxiety in some children (and parents!). This is understandable; as kids get older the homework gets harder and the time spent on it gets longer. However, you can be prepared in advance and lessen anxiety by creating a homework sanctuary of sorts for your child to feel safe, even empowered, as he gets his work done.
The following are my top 5 ways to empower your child at homework time:
- Create a homework haven in the house somewhere that’s bright, cheery, and full of all the items he needs to get his work done efficiently, with minimal distractions. Consider the kitchen to be close to a helpful parent, or a bedroom if noise can be a problem.
- Don’t let it be obvious that you dread this time too. Children pick up on your emotional state. Instead, be as positive as you can about this learning experience, even when things get tough.
- If your child is having a rough time on homework, let the teacher know. There is no reason to struggle for hours over a few problems when really the child just needs more instruction.
- Get the hardest subjects done first when she is less tired; trying to tackle the hardest at the end is never a good idea!
- Set up an afternoon routine to get homework done before other evening activities whenever possible so it isn’t hanging over your child’s head.
For a simple, child-friendly checklist to organize a homework haven in your home, download my free resource below: How to Create a Homework Haven at Home.
Kids crave routine; they (and most adults) do best when they know what’s coming next and they can be ready for it. By having a homework routine and a space that is comfortable and efficient, it probably won’t make homework fun but it will make it easier to accomplish and more organized for return to school the next day. This in turn will definitely lessen the anxiety around homework in general and allow your child to focus on some more pleasurable activities each evening, perhaps even a little reading.