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Simple Secrets to Growing Readers Part 1: Turn Television to Your Advantage

Reprinted from Think504.
Beautiful Six Year Old In Glasses Readign Large Book.jpg

As a teacher and one of the first of my friends to have children, a lot of people have asked me for parenting advice. I always tell them the same thing: “Parenting is relative. I can tell you what we did, but your mileage may vary.” That statement is true for the most part, but not the whole truth. You see, I have a piece of parenting gold that—until now—I have kept to myself: how to (pretty much) guarantee that your child will love reading. With all the research showing that being a good reader by 3rd grade is key to school success, I figured it’s time for me to stop hoarding and share what I know.

Warning: Some of this advice goes against what experts currently recommend, and some of it I would never do in my classroom. But home and school are two different places, so if you’re a parent who wants to support reading in your home, read on.

Screen Time Is Bad for Kids.

I had to write that part. You know. Just for the record. Screen time is terrible for children, especially younger children. Television is full of inappropriate images and situations, including programming designed for children. But even if we can look past that, watching television is inherently passive. Sure, Elmo or Dora might ask your child a question, but since neither Elmo nor Dora can actually react to your child’s answer, eventually your child will stop responding. Young minds need to interact to develop well. Despite our society’s growing dependence on technology, children would be better off with a good set of wooden blocks than with a computer. (Read what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about screen time.)

Be Honest. Your Kids Use Screens.

These days even the most diligent parents let their children watch screens. Here are a few questions to determine if you fit into this category.

  • Has your child ever been in the room with a television that is powered on?

  • Has your child ever been in the room with you while you read email or check Facebook/Instagram/Vine?

  • Has your child ever operated your tablet or smartphone?

If you answered yes to any of those, then screen time is a part of your child’s life. Unless you’re willing to throw away all your devices or keep them powered off until after your child goes to bed each night, screen time is here to stay. So since we won’t get rid of screen time, how can we turn it to our advantage?

Using Screens to Help Grow Readers.

There are many ways to tame the evils of television, but let’s focus on a big one: Subtitles.

Simple, but powerful. Whenever possible, put the subtitles on. Subtitles create a direct connection between spoken and printed words similar to what happens when adults point to the words on a page while they read to children. This helps children recognize new words and make the connection that reading should sound like normal talking.

If your children watch tv anyway, you can control what they watch and promote reading at the same time by limiting them to watching only DVDs and shows you approve on streaming services like Netflix. Most of these give you the option to turn on the subtitles in the Languages menu. In our house, children are ONLY allowed to watch things if the subtitles are on. If the show doesn’t have subtitles, they don’t watch. In fact, I’ve banned the “For Kids” version of Netflix because it doesn’t offer subtitles.

Note: Closed Captioning on live tv is not exactly the same since the printed words often lag behind the spoken words, but it’s better than nothing!

Subtitles alone won’t turn your child into an excellent reader, but when applied consistently it’s a huge step in the right direction. Add in a few other simple techniques and your little reader will be begging for more before you know it.

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