Get­ting in the good books

How to use tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate happy read­ers

The Kids Post - - Education Feature - by David Pater­son

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

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