Getting in the good books
How to use technology to create happy readers
For today’s parent, figuring out how to instill a lifelong love of reading in a child is an increasingly complex affair. In the midst of the digital revolution, kids are more likely to encounter text on a screen than they are on the page, and, as publishers and booksellers know all too well, people just aren’t buying books like they used to.
According to Susan B. Neuman, a former assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education in the United States who helped implement the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy, the difference between a child with early exposure to reading and one without is “astronomical.”
“The lessons a child learns from those early years will carry them through the rest of their schooling and the rest of their life,” she says.
Early on, kids develop a sense of place and importance of reading from what they see others doing in their home. So it follows that parents who read are more likely to raise kids who like to read. Shifting adult habits will likely change the way children perceive reading as the rituals of curling up with a novel or plowing through the daily newspaper are supplemented, or supplanted in some cases, by skimming on a smartphone or reading on a tablet.
In an economy that has spawned apps allowing you to propose to your beloved digitally, it’s little surprise that developers have spotted the enormous money-making potential of teaching kids to read and have created scores of apps that promise to launch your child into a future of literacy and perfect spelling.
For parents already feeling the pressure of ensuring their kids get a good foundation of reading in their early years, the choice can feel a bit overwhelming.
Luckily, research suggests that it doesn’t matter too much how you choose to expose your child to words and knowledge. Reading books together, playing with apps or watching DVDs that have a lot of words are all good options, especially if you mix them up.
As a benchmark, a child is generally expected to have around 1,000 hours of reading behind her or him by the time she and he enters school.
Barbara Moss, a professor of literacy education and author of a number of books on reading, is excited by the new options that are available to help kids learn to read. Like most people working in the field, Moss believes making reading fun and something kids choose to do
Children want to be masters of their universe, they want to know how the world works.”
is crucial for developing literacy skills. She sees new technologies as opening any number of doors to this.
“I have seen some amazing apps,” she says.
The strength of digital platforms is their ability to include a wide variety of media to enrich the reading experience and make it more entertaining. Moss is a fan of Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek ghost series, which is made up of four books with online videos that allow youngsters to switch between reading and watching the story.
One of the more popular reading apps for the iPad is Learn with Homer, which claims to be used by one million children around the world. It disguises around 1,000 lessons in games and activities and has been praised as one of the most comprehensive reading apps on the market.
The digital age is also a blessing for parents dealing with some of the most tricky readers out there: boys. Though all kids start off as wordgathering machines, boys are more likely to lose interest in books as they age. A school of thought suggests this might be because the reading material they are often given is fiction, even though adult men show a preference for non-fiction in their reading.
“Little boys especially love to learn about how the world works,” says Neuman. “Very often parents don’t want to read these kinds of books because they think they will be dry, but children want to be masters of their universe, they want to know how the world works.”
With the Internet, the largest repository of human knowledge ever assembled, and the rise of ebooks giving parents the ability to download books on virtually any topic in an instant, there is now a limitless supply of fuel to stoke their fires of curiosity.
Regardless of how parents choose to teach reading, the key is to start early. Infants begin picking up words at a very young age, especially from parents who talk directly to them using a rich vocabulary. With digital devices opening up a whole new world of reading options, it’s never too early to get a head start in life.
The key to getting your child interested in reading is to start early