Up Close With Dr. E

What parents can do to help their children love reading


The first time I heard the song by Alice Cooper, “School’s Out,” it was the same day I had started summer vacation (as a school kid). Remember the feeling of walking out of school knowing June, July and August were free of homework, tests and quizzes?

Yes, it is the beginning of summer soon, and all children and teachers are excited about a school break. But do you, as a parent, want your child to go 2 1/2 months without learning? If your answer is no, then here is the point of this article: Summer Reading ­— for fun — is important for your child or adolescent. Why? There are two basic ways your child learns about the world — through people (family, friends, teachers), and through reading books written by people.

Books have been placed, in all cultures, into the category of precious stones. Like rubies, emeralds and diamonds, books never lose their excitement, beauty, joy and intense attraction. Books, and the writings they contain, are the repository of mankind’s history, struggles and knowledge. (OK, parents, you know this, but what about kids and adolescents who say, “I hate to read,” “books are boring” and “video games are better than books.”)

The past 20 years as a psychologist who has dealt with kids who hate to read has prepared me for this article: Here is how to set up a summer reading program for your child:

1. Reading is reading. Comic books, baseball cards, Pokémon cards, newspapers (including comic strips), are all real reading. Allow your child to read books they like, or to read anything in print.

2. Children need help in selecting books they like. When I was nine, my mother knew how much I liked to fish, so books on fishing magically appeared. I tell parents to go to their local library and ask them for help in finding topics your children would like to read (my mother kept up her habit of giving me books throughout my life).

3. When your child reads a book, you read it also. Why? Here’s how it works. The parent reads the book the child is reading, and then asks questions about the story. For example, in the Harry Potter series, the mother might ask the daughter, who was the Half Blood Prince? Your child will immediately start talking about the book. This process turns the written text into an interactive cycle where your child is excited to share, verbally, with you, about the book. You know this method is successful when you hear your child say “Dad, I want to talk to you about this great book I’m reading.”

4. Allow your child to re-read books. This increases mastery and a sense of confidence in your child’s reading ability

5. Adults need to read also. This is like “monkey see, monkey do.” Kids who read come from homes where books, magazines, and newspapers are available (including computer reading). Adults can create a home library.

6. Video games which contain a lot of text. Reading is reading.

7. Know your child’s reading level. If you aren’t sure, ask their teacher.

8. If your child starts a book and wants to quit, let them. I follow this rule by reading 50 pages before I stop reading a book I don’t like.

9. Book series are great for children who are slow readers or have reading disabilities. The book series, “Magic Treehouse,” is an example. Kids quickly learn the core characters and love the series because each new book carries on with the same characters.

10. Reward your children for reading. A reward does not have to be monetary. Here are a few ways to tell your child you value reading:

• Allow your child to stay up late

• Pitch a tent in the backyard

• Special dinner for reading one book.

11. Help your child build their summer reading program. Encourage them to take books on vacation, or while staying at grandparents, or recommend a reading habit of reading 30 minutes before bedtime.

If you observe your child really struggling with reading, or if you believe your child might have a reading disability, seek professional help immediately. Children with reading problems will, without help, eventually give up on reading.

A book is the written life of another person’s mind (the author). Reading allows children to visualize and create very personal “brain pictures” which feed their active imagination. A small splinter of any book will, perhaps, remain in your child’s mind and create a foundation of knowledge about themselves, their friends, and about the world they live in. Remember this, students who do well in college are always good readers.

As my mother would say to me when I would make a bad face about having to read over the summer, “This is how your brain grows.”

The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.