Inspiring Readers in a Digital Age

The following post is by contributor Emily Carter.

We live in a world that is changing constantly.  It seems I am just getting the hang of the latest technology when something newer and shinier comes along. Even my toddler has technology skills that astound me. I have trouble imagining the digital world he will live in as an adult, but I’m sure it will be incredible.

My concern, though,  is this: how do we, as parents and teachers, cultivate a deep love for reading when so many light-blinking-touch-screen-noise-making distractions call to our children more loudly than books with simple text and pictures?

Developing a Love for Books

There are some simple things you can do to encourage your children to pick up a book instead of the latest gadget.

1. Create a reading routine.

Even if only for 15 or 20 minutes, make time during your day to sit with your child and read. Bedtimes and before naps are our family’s typical routine, and my son knows instinctively to go find a few books during these times.

2. Make books accessible and appealing.

A few weeks ago I took a good look at the way I was storing my son’s book collection. Most were piled in baskets, on the coffee table, or in stacks on the shelf in his room.  He would have to do a lot of digging to find the book he wanted.

I ordered the shelf pictured at the top of this post, and we are all loving the results.  Since I thinned out his available books, and they are easily within his reach, he is spending more time with his books.

If you have older children with an extensive book collection, I suggest sorting the books by author or subject and putting them in labeled containers.  They will be more appealing and easier to find.

book basketsPhoto by Jennifer

3. Let your child see you reading.

This may seem obvious, but children want to do what they see adults doing.  If you read on a regular basis, your children will want to pick up the habit, too.

Along the same lines, let them hear you talk about the books you’re reading with your spouse or friends. Send a clear message that reading is important and enjoyable.

Developing a Love of Books through Technology

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Because technology and electronics are a such huge draw for kids, why not use it to further their love of reading? There are many valuable digital resources available to our children right now.

1. Websites

Some of my favorite websites that encourage reading:

  • Starfall – this site is really wonderful for beginning and young readers to develop their skills
  • Speakaboos – audio books are available for children to listen to and read along with, and there is a neat “record a story” feature
  • StorylineOnline – a great selection of books read aloud by celebrities

2. Games, Gadgets, and Apps

electronic readingPhoto by Emily Carter

There are tons of products out there that claim to be educational, but here are a few that we’ve tried and loved:

  • Tag Junior– all of the LeapFrog products get excellent reviews, but I have first hand experience with this product. My son received this for Christmas and wants to use it all the time.
  • Smartphones, e-readers, and iPads- these items can be really pricey, but if you already own them, use them to your advantage
  • Apps for apple products- Our hands-down favorites are the Duck, Duck, Moose apps. I even love playing them!

No matter how you encourage your children to read, the old fashioned way or with the latest technology, the important thing is that they are learning to love reading!

How do you inspire your kids to read? And do you use technology to foster that?

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  1. LOVE this post! We just added some forward facing bookshelves to our little ones’ room and they’re loving it so much. They always love book, but it’s so great to see them reach for books even more with them a bit more accessible:
    Lillian´s latest post: Getting Back to Normal

  2. We are BIG readers around here. Since my children were very young, I’ve read to them at least 15 minutes every day in addition to before nap and pre-bedtime stories.

    But honestly, the best thing we’ve done is to not have a TV in our home. This makes a HUGE difference for both parents and kiddos–our free “entertainment” time is always spent with a book. My parents chose not to have a TV until after I went to college (I am the oldest of five), and all of my sisters and I are really into reading. I think that taking the TV out of the equation entirely can be hard at first, but it is the best decision my husband and I have made to promote literacy in our home.
    Rachael´s latest post: Wordless Wednesday- Isaacs favorite game EVER

  3. What a great article! I’m a mom to a three year old who LOVES to “read” and be read to. One of the things that has really fostered her love of books is frequent visits to the library where she can see her peers and adults engaged with books. Watching a group of older women laughing and chatting about their recent read while sharing snacks opened my daughters eyes that reading can even be a social event outside the home. We love our local library storytime which often ends in a craft. Our library is truly our second home around here!

    We check out a lot of books with CD’s that allow my daughter to read independently. Those are always a big hit and although she’s not following along word for word like with the LeapFrog, I find the whole page approach allows her to listen to the spoken words as they were meant to be read. It also lets me cook dinner and listen along to a great story at the same time.

    I suppose the another thing we can think about is limiting those blinking, bleeping toys in our homes. Creative, imaginative play is nearly impossible when the toy “plays” for you – let alone reading! But you’re right, if you can’t beat ’em join them! My daughter and I especially love the Pop Out Peter Rabbit application for the iPad – what a beautifully executed piece of literary technology it is!
    Regina @ Chalk In My Pocket´s latest post: This ones for the birds!

  4. We’ve created a reading-friendly home by: 1) going to the library every week and 2) not having cable TV (or even an antenna). Still, even with books galore, I have to force myself to stop and sit down to read with my kids.

    Fortunately, even when I don’t read to them as much as I wish to, my oldest daughter (age 7) now likes to read to her siblings. I guess all those times of reading to her are bearing fruit!
    Julia´s latest post: Winter Activity Week- Snowflake Flying Disks

  5. Here’s a book display tutorial I found recently:

    I have been disappointed in my 2-year-old’s lack of interest in books, but I know I only have myself to blame. So, my new year’s resolution is to take my daughter to the library 10 times before July. We’ve gone once already and she really liked it. She even let me read library books to her last night!
    We have “reading” computer software geared for her age, but we haven’t even installed it yet. I suppose that would be one way to use technology to our advantage, because even though she’s only 2 she loves the computer already.

  6. I love the book display shelf! I’ve always wanted one of those. I’m in full agreement with Rachael above: if there’s no TV, there’s no temptation to watch TV. I know most people wouldn’t find this appealing, but my children have never lived in a home with a TV. Books don’t compete with the TV in our home because it’s not there to compete with. Mind you, I myself watch things on the computer in the evenings sometimes, and I now allow my 4 1/2 year old one “show” per week on the computer (and believe me…she looks forward to Thursdays!). But TV as a daily option is something my kids have really not heard of.

    I will admit, however, that my kids are small (2 1/2 and 4 1/2), and most of the people we hang out with do not watch TV with their kids, and many of them don’t have TV’s either. I’m sure once my kids are older, I will have to work harder on this.

    One sort of “multi-media” thing I have done with my girls is to have them listen to books on tape/CD. They enjoy that very much.
    Two Chicks and a Hen´s latest post: Book Talk- Winter-themed Childrens Books

  7. I have three-year-old twin boys (almost four) who love read-aloud time. I’ve been doing regular story times with them throughout the day by reading for a little bit after breakfast, after lunch, and then before bedtime. They are both extremely high-energy and reading together is a very calming time (for all of us). It’s been a fun surprise to see how much they are enjoying simple chapter books already. We also do weekly library trips and enjoy having new books to read along with the tried and true favorites.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I realize that you have good intentions in this article, but I see so many problems here. I don’t know why one would need technology and gagets to get children interested in reading. They are a distraction from the content and the magic inside a real book, both in its text and the pictures, that every child loves if given the proper *attention* and *modeling* by the *adults* in their lives. When the focus is on pushing buttons or manipulating objects or watching a screen, it becomes a sensory overload for the young child and the act of manipulation and sensory understanding becomes the focus. What is lost is a rich understanding of language, the experience of magic, and the connection that is created while two humans share a story. Children learn from live language not recorded lanuage (this has been proven over and over again). I think parents should be really reflective about these issues, and think about how they want to shape their child’s literacy and therefore their life(!), instead of just “Oh well Jonnie doesn’t like books so let’s get him something techie so that we get him to like reading that way.” It’s a bit like learning a foreign language on tape: you may get a word here and there, but only by speaking with others do you understand the usage, context, creativity, and multiple meanings of words and word-combinations. It’s not about joining up with technology, it’s about not letting technology do the work that caring humans should be doing. Not letting technology babysit our children while thinking we have a break and the kids will be smarter for it.

    • Hi Elizabeth!

      I appreciate your comments and I’m glad you felt comfortable sharing them here

      I DO agree that technology, educational or otherwise, should not be used in leiu of quality time reading with adults.

      However, there are huge benefits for comprehension and reading skills through listening to reading, even recorded reading.

      And, I am an avid book lover. Libraries are my personal haven. But I also really love my kindle and reading blogs. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

      Again, I’m glad you shared though because I can feel how passionate you are about reading. I have to respect that!

      • Yes, but you are an adult. You already understand your language and how to use it. You can read a kindle, do an ap on an iPad, or read a blog, or listen to a recording and for the most part understand its many layers of meaning and sensory information. Children, especially young children, do not have the level of understanding and processing that you do. We cannot mistake our own abilities and needs with those of children. It’s a matter of understanding where children are developmentally and how best to meet them at that stage. It’s really alarming that American children are scoring lower on international standards of competence (esp literacy) and on the CQ (creativity quotient) than children from other developed nations. And how compared to these other children, Americans are less likely to become avid readers as adults and more likely to be comsumers and users of high-technology. Are these tech-based literacy games and gagets really teaching children how to meaningfully and creatively use and love their language? Everything has its place, including technology, but at the right time and in the right context.

  9. “We Give Books” is a great website we found thanks to The Activity Mom. We have tried it and it works great. There you´ll find beautiful and meaningful free e-books to read along with your young kids. Each time you read, you help share a brand-new hardcover or paperback book with a child who doesn’t have one.
    Great, isn´t it?

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  10. Great post – although I have to agree, the technology is more of a distraction than an enhancement from my perspective. For generations, parents have taught their children to read without technology and it is truly a challenging and wonderful experience to try to help them figure out how to get this abstract perspective. I do get concerned about how much technology shortcircuits our ability to focus, wrestle with concepts and work through ideas without immediate gratification.

    Full disclosure – we have a tv and a computer that our kids use.

    One of the best things we’ve done to help our kids love books is create chunks of boredom. Unscheduled, unstructured time where they have to entertain themselves. They have never had a lot of toys so this time often got filled with books – picture books when they were young, eventually turning into chapter books.

    Almost as dangerous as technology these days to our kids’ imaginations and ability to think is the over-scheduling of their lives and feeling as a parent you need to constantly entertain them or occupy them.

    The other piece to the puzzle that you didn’t quite mention but I’m sure is a rich part of your reading together time is just that – together time. It’s not just reading to them, but having them pick out the book, snuggle on your lap, get cozy in bed and feel that delicious feeling that comes with these special times.
    Sarah Clachar´s latest post: Goal Setting For Kids

    • “One of the best things we’ve done to help our kids love books is create chunks of boredom. Unscheduled, unstructured time where they have to entertain themselves. They have never had a lot of toys so this time often got filled with books – picture books when they were young, eventually turning into chapter books. ”

      Sarah, this could almost be another post entirely 🙂 I know for myself, as a parent, I’ve really had to work at breaking the habit I used to have of answering every “I’m bored” with a list of suggestions. There is something to be said for boredom and the things that come about when kids learn to entertain themselves and make their own discoveries.

      “It’s not just reading to them, but having them pick out the book, snuggle on your lap, get cozy in bed and feel that delicious feeling that comes with these special times.”

      My oldest has been reading on her own for years now, but I appreciate that she still wants me to read to her, too. I don’t know how long these days will last …

      I’m sad more families don’t make time for this. Even just 15 – 20 minutes a day, as the article suggests, would be SO worth it.
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Inspiring Readers in a Digital Age

  11. In our house, daily time reading together has been a part of our lives since my oldest was a baby. My husband and I are also bookworms ourselves, so our kids have grown up seeing us reading and enjoying books, discussing books, and taking trips to the library and bookstores. Reading is a part of our family culture.

    We also, as a previous comment mentioned, have a computer and a TV at our house. And, as part of my job involves being on the computer writing/editing this blog, I am on the computer and use technology myself every day.

    However, I know that little eyes are always watching my example and I limit my own computer time. Though, I’m certainly not perfect in this, my sincere hope is that, at the end of the day, my kids have observed me spending MUCH more time with real books, reading to them, reading for my own pleasure and learning.

    I don’t think technology can or should be a replacement for teaching the skills of reading, but I do think there is a place for it with a child who already has an established love of reading. We’re considering either a Kindle or an iPad for our family, for example. And the StarFall website mentioned above is a favorite at our house and we listen to audio books on a pretty regular basis, too.

    Great topic, Emily! Lots to think about, for sure 🙂
    Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Inspiring Readers in a Digital Age

  12. I like the idea of having forward-facing books, and that post with the link about using spice racks– perfect for space saving.

    I’m writing in because I want to point out the other side to the idea of organizing books in baskets. There’s something to be said for browsing through picture books. When books are sorted by topics and labeled that leaves less to the imagination, and sometimes the structure could discourage young “readers” who just want to leaf through and explore. And, parents are prone to become fixated on putting the books back in the proper places (clean up becomes more complicated).

    On the other hand, non-fiction becomes more useful when arranged by topic, for those who are looking for answers to questions. Color-coding the spine can help with keeping these in some order.

    To add to the literacy and technology discussion, I believe our goal need not be focused on teaching young children to read, but rather our goal is more aptly focused on inspiring a love for language, including in the written form. Reading books together, and also singing, and telling stories and inventing silly rhymes, imaginative play, and the rest. While technology may help with some aspects of literacy development, it will never substitute for interaction with someone well-loved. If we can inspire a love of language before the pressure is on to learn to read, the rest will fall into place more easily. And then, a variety of tools may be appropriate, and fun.

    For the record, we discarded our tv when our first was 1, and we are all the more happy for it. We spend more time together, more time using our imaginations and other resources, and even thinking (including time for reflection) more. Of course we read more too. We go to the library regularly, and I have not had an open-face book shelf for our 7 yrs of parenthood. Both children love books (a girl and a boy), and the oldest pretty much taught herself to read, asking questions along the way, and remembering the answers.

    Thanks for opening an inspiring discussion about reading and books for our young ones.

    • Oh I agree that it might not be appropriate to have all books organized, it would just depend on the amount of books you have and your child’s personality. But it is something to try if you find that your child is having a hard time finding books they want to read.

      Thanks for pointing that out Jackie!


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