Teachers and parents know that kids want to do what they want to do. Children only readily agree to do things they anticipate liking, and they will signal us, sometimes bluntly, about what fails to inspire. Savvy adults pay attention to their signals if and when we want to engage them in learning complex things, like reading.
One of the most effective engagement strategies we can employ is to show them the behavior we want them emulate, not just tell them about it. If we want them to enjoy reading, we need to show them how much fun and empowering reading is for us
Once children witness adults’ genuine excitement about something (note: they can spot fake enthusiasm a mile away), they will spontaneously generate the energy to try things for themselves.
Hence, if we wish to succeed in teaching children to eagerly engage in book reading then we have to figure out how to convince kids how delightful and fulfilling reading is–TO US. Unabashedly showing OUR delight in OUR OWN book reading is the start.
“Oh Wow! This is a good one!,” we might say to ourselves out loud enough for them to hear, but with our eyes still glued to the pages. This powerful lesson can’t be left to chance. We must work hard to clearly demonstrate for children the satisfaction WE feel in our reading of amazing books. For us, inner satisfaction is fine, but kids need to SEE and HEAR it.
Coupled with showing that reading is an enjoyable activity should be helping children to discover the thousands of books “out there” that will completely capture their imaginations. In the beginning of their discovery period, adults should guide them in finding and getting delightfully lost in fulfilling books–a lesson they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
In the absence of this kind of dynamic in our teaching and parenting, we know that we can still MAKE children DO lots of things, although kids will lack enthusiasm for the activity and end up learning it badly. For example, musical instrument practice and youth sports offer plenty of opportunities to see the pitiful results of kids being made to do what they really don’t wish to do.
Rather, adults should cultivate and take advantage of teaching moments. Seeking adventure and learning in the moment are possibly the most powerful lessons children will ever learn. So, learning to love the promise of new books, diving into reading them, totally giving themselves over to a story or grasping a book’s rich information must become just like needing to finish that video game and not wanting to stop for dinner.
When kids choose reading over other enticing activities, that is when we can know we have succeeded in ensuring lifelong reading and the resulting powers of independent learning.