TRENDING NEWS:  Friday, June 5th 2015

Why Parents Aren’t Making Their Kids Read This Summer

All over the country, libraries and towns are rolling out summer reading programs that have a singular objective: encouraging kids to keep reading between late June and September when they won’t be landlocked in a classroom all day, anchored by a teacher.

Libraries and educators have one major impediment to these annual campaigns: parents.

A new study that looked at the reading trends of children in 2014 by the National Literacy Trust found that nearly one in four students agreed with the statement: “My parents don’t care if I spend any time reading.” If there is a positive aspect to this finding, it’s that this was an improvement from the previous year, according to the Trust.

Yet nearly one in six boys surveyed by the Trust have never been given a book as a present and one in five say they haven’t been taken to a bookstore. The numbers shrink a bit for girls.

Literacy is a generational gift, passed from parents to children, grandparents to grandchildren, teacher to student. It is also an intergenerational gift that older siblings confer on their younger brothers and sisters in families.

The best-selling author-turned-children’s-book mastermind James Patterson (full disclosure: my daughter loves his Treasure Hunters series) announced last week at BookExpo America the launch of his own children’s book imprint as well as a campaign to pump money back into community bookstores to encourage young readers and parents.

Greater than his monetary donation, Patterson explained in a recent television interview how reading proficiency rests on two very specific sets of shoulders: parents’.

Patterson said a lot of parents know they are supposed to work with their kids on their soccer skills and teach them how to ride a bike. “And that’s all good. But what I think people really have to get into their head is that it is our job as parents and grandparents—it’s not the schools job—it’s our job to get our kids reading so there need to be books in the house,” Patterson said. “I’ll have people come up to me and say I can’t get my kids to read and I’m going like ‘do you get them to the dinner table?’”

White boys in particular are a hard crowd to excite about reading, the Trust report says, with almost one in six saying they have not read a book of any type in the previous month. Imagine not seeing your son sit down once in thirty days to read? Not on the couch, not at the table, not in bed. Or as Dr. Seuss might say, not in a box, not with a fox, not in a house, not with a mouse.

A mother asked me last summer how I get my children to read. In my best impression of a benevolent dictator I replied, “They aren’t given any choice.”

It turns out Patterson’s own son wasn’t a big reader at the age of eight, but certain things are nonnegotiable in Patterson’s house. “That summer, we said you are going to read every day and he said ‘do I have to?’”

Patterson’s response: Yes, “unless you want to live in the garage.” Patterson’s son, Jack, opted for the house and read around a dozen books that summer. Patterson isn’t the only parent pushing books and reading time.

If a dozen books sounds too modest a summer goal for you and your child, consider the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program (1K be4 K, for the texting generation), a relatively new initiative backed by a group of Nevada lawyers that taps into the American competitive instinct, parental stress about school preparedness, and the iPhone generation’s love for apps that let us track anything. Libraries around the country are adopting the program, from Arlington, Virginia to Austin, Texas.

As the programs site says, “The key is perseverance” and not worrying. “If you consider that most children start kindergarten at around 5 years of age, you have more time than you think (so get started).” If you read one book a night with your child, you’ll be done in less than three years.

Patterson’s fear is children living their lives without books. Yes, he makes large chunks of money selling books to children. But Patterson must also invariably share the world with these children. According to Patterson, children without books translates to a world run by “the shortsighted and the glib” and the “apathetic and the narrow-minded.”

Headlines: Friday, June 6th 2015