Kenneth Kunz, an assistant professor of literacy education, is such a print fanatic that he installed a Little Free Library outside his house.
But that’s not the only way Kunz, who’s president of the New Jersey Literacy Association and a board member of the International Literacy Association, is encouraging people to read more.
At Monmouth, his research focuses on literacy interventions in public schools, and this spring, he will co-publish a new book: Literacy Changemakers: How to Bring Joy Back into Focus for Reading and Writing with Teachers and Students.
Here, Kunz offers five tips for parents hoping to raise the next generation of book- lovers.
Access is key.
“If you want a child to grow up to be a reader, you have to surround them with books,” Kunz says. “We need print-rich environments.” That means a house filled with diverse, high-quality reading material, displayed with titles facing out—and cozy, defined places to cuddle up with a book. (Kunz is a big fan of book nooks.)
Bring stories off the page.
To get kids excited about what they’re reading, tie it into real-world experiences. Read a book about wild animals? Treat the kids to a day at the zoo. Young readers also love retelling a story they read by acting it out with props. (The perfect audience: you.)
Make time for reading, but don’t time it.
Kunz calls out a misconception about requiring kids to read 20 minutes a day. Noting that reading aloud should happen every day, especially with young children, he acknowledges that it isn’t always possible to find 20 minutes. Rather than setting minimums (or ceilings) on book time, Kunz offer this advice: “Read as much as humanly possible with your kid.”
Encourage their interests and embrace their choices.
You know what your kids like. Buy books that echo those interests. Have a daughter who adores trees? Get her some Berenstain Bears books. If your son loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid, encourage him to read the whole series. Then let him re-read it. “People get hung up on reading level or challenge, but choice is going to lead to that,” Kunz says. “What develops our kids’ skills is voluminous reading.”
Be a reading role model.
Let your kids see you with a book in your hands. Share what you’re reading with them. Talking about the characters and stories you’re discovering will encourage them to do the same.
The 10-Second Bonus Question: How can I reward my kids for reading?
The short answer: don’t—or at least not with tangible prizes. Kunz doesn’t recommend using reading logs or suggest offering pizza in exchange for book time. “The more you extrinsically motivate with prizes and rewards, the less value children see in reading,” he says. Instead, try accountability that isn’t linked to prizes. Have your kids tell you about what they’re reading. Ask them questions about it. Remind them of how reading teaches them new words and makes them more empathetic.
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