What is the golden rule for keeping kids, especially your gifted reader, interested in reading?
Let them read whatever is around, whenever possible.
It’s simple, but it’s true: students continue to choose to read when they are personally interested in what they are reading; research has borne this idea out again and again.
Along with interest as a motivating factor for young readers, studies show that when kids see parents reading, children are more likely to pick up a book or tablet too.
But, how do we get them really interested in reading, and how do we keep them interested?
It’s easy — let them read.
Lego Club magazine? Counts as reading.
Hundred-volume series about fairies, devoured in 20 minutes each? They count as reading.
Anime books or graphic novels, which feel an awful lot like picture books, but are way cooler? They count as reading.
Books based on movie characters, or cartoon characters, or TV show characters? They count as reading.
Websites full of hundreds of awful jokes and terrible, painful puns? They count as reading, too. (No, really.)
Some parents may ask: Why should I indulge my gifted reader and let them read these things when it is clear to us that they are capable of so much more? Or, my child may be gifted, but he/she still struggles with reading, so what can I do?
Frankly, the “whatever’s around” approach how kids begin reading in the first place, probably — the STOP sign at the corner, the bumper stickers on cars you drove past, the signs at the grocery store — for a while, it was perfectly fine with you for them to read anything they saw and could figure out…and it should still be that way.
Gifted Reader Danger Zone
It’s important to note that the “danger zone” of beginning reading happens when children have just started to learn to read on their own — the books they can read for themselves are flat, boring, and overly simplistic, especially when compared with the richly imagined, exciting stories they have been hearing their parents and teachers read to them. School textbooks may be a gifted child’s first encounter with a frustrating reality, in fact: sometimes their brains are faster at one thing than they are at another (note: this precise problem will often occur or recur when students learn to write, as well, and they find that their thought processes zip along much faster than their little hands can record).
To avoid this “danger zone,” parents must keep reading aloud to their students…more than ever, to keep the spark of interest in stories and books alive while their child is building up the capacity to read independently.
Let your gifted reader read what they like!
It’s true that gifted students are capable of tremendous achievement, and of advancing fast through ever more complex material. But, advancement occurs most often when the student is interested in making progress. And it’s worth reiterating — there is a way to let children fall in love with reading: let your gifted reader read what they want to read.
Here’s why: if children read for pleasure, research shows that there are long-term benefits that the kids who learn to hate reading will miss:
- in one study, researchers found that the amount of independent out-of-school reading that a student does accounts for 16% of the variance in the reading comprehension of 5th graders;
- another study found that amount and breadth of reading predicted growth of reading achievement during elementary school on different measures of reading comprehension; and
- the amount of reading a student chooses to do in his or her spare time even predicts participation in community organizations.
The critical piece is that the child must be the source of motivation for reading.
So is there still a place for book lists and assigned reading and classic novels? (Will your child have to suffer through Ethan Frome or Macbeth, too?)
Absolutely. But we are learning that the most important thing in creating readers is letting them read — as many texts as possible, in as many writing styles as possible, and on as many topics as possible. Let them think of the library as a playground of sorts for their brains, and see what they discover, what they try out, what they reject and what they love. It’s the best way we know to feed their hungry brains, and to grow a lifelong reader, while you’re at it.
For more information, read the full research review presented to The Grayson Parent Association by Jill Williford Wurman, Director of Research and Development at The Grayson School.
 Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1998) cited in Wigfield, A. and Guthrie, J. T. (1997) Relations of Children’s Motivation for Reading to the Amount and Breadth of Their Reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 420-432. — This is one of many revised versions of their seminal 1995 work about reading motivation in students, funded by the National Reading Research Project of the University of Georgia and the University of Maryland.
 Cipielewski and Stanovich (1972), cited in Wigfield and Guthrie (1997).
 Guthrie, Schafer, and Hutchinson (1991), cited in Wigfield and Guthrie (1997).