Family Reading Meeting
A while back, a mail carrier with "Thomas Jackson" on his uniform dropped off a package at my office. I see him regularly because I often one-click order presents for myself on Amazon (what I call a celebration of Todd, my wife calls a problem). On this occasion, Mr. Jackson noticed "English Education" on my door and asked if I had a moment to talk about his boy's learning problem. I invited him in.
The mail carrier had been told by his son's 7th grade teacher that Chris was only able to read at the fourth grade level.
"Tell me more about what he's into. How does he prefer to spend his time?" I asked.
"He spends hours on his iPad."
This was no surprise. On average tweens spend over 4.5 hours a day looking at screens: watching videos, texting friends, checking Instagram and Facebook. The same study suggests that teens watch a whopping 6.5 hours.
"Who else is in your family?" I asked.
"Just me, my wife, and Chris. We're a close-knit crew."
"And how much do you and your wife read books at home?"
The mail carrier leaned back in his chair. He knew where this was going.
"Not so much. We both work and are pretty tired when we get home."
I told him that his experience was similar to others. Only 72% of U.S. adults have read a book in whole or in part in the last twelve months.
"I have a strategy for improving Chris's reading skills that is guaranteed to work, but brace yourself. It will take a big shift in your family routine. I call it a family reading meeting."
I handed him a legal pad and pen and described the approach.
The Family Reading Meeting
Semi-Monthly Library Visits - Every other Sunday, take the entire family to the library. Ask the librarian to suggest high interest books that your child might like. At the end of the visit, everybody brings home at least three books to read. If one is uninteresting, you've got two more texts as backup.
Reading Time - Designate a reading time and space where your entire family silently read their own books for 30 minutes four times a week. It's even better if the time is 30 minutes everyday. The U.S. Department of Education states that if daily reading for 30 minutes begins during infancy, a child will have consumed roughly "900 hours of brain food" by the time they enter Kindergarten.
Bonus Reading Time
Buy Your Child a Magazine Subscription - Have your child pick out a magazine. The Parents' Choice Awards has a list here. Or buy a subscription to comic books. Magazines stay in the car for reading on the go.
Why Reading Together is Important
Reading is a social experience. We read because important members of our community model the practice and make it a priority. We read to share what we've learned or experienced, hence the popularity of social share buttons that accompany blog posts. Ultimately, writes C.S. Lewis, "We read to know we are not alone."
When I saw my mail carrier recently, he announced, "My family all have library cards now." That's how building a culture of literacy starts.