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How to get kids off smartphones and into books (sort of)

20 July 2016

OK, here's the least startling thing you're going to read today: children who read for pleasure eventually get better jobs. Obvious right? But don't take our word for it. In 2011, researcher Mark Taylor at Nuffield College, Oxford did a study into 17,000 grown-ups in their 40s and found those that read for fun while children were more likely to get a professional or managerial position in later life.

I know it, you know it, we all know it. And that's why the sight of a child with their head buried into Angry Birds instead of an Enid Blyton adventure is beyond frustrating. As the yawning chasm of the school holidays starts its seemingly endless journey, STEPHEN JAMES-YEOMAN has pulled together some simple ideas to trick (sorry, encourage) your child into learning to love literature.

All the books in this year's Summer Reading Challenge

Hide the charger

Probably the biggest dilemma facing the 21st century parent is how to distract their little charges from their hand held devices. If the lure of Pokeman Go is just too much to compete with old fashion page turning then hide the charger. Unless of course your kids are already reading on a device. Then, change the wi-fi code to keep the concentration on the book and off Snapchat.

We're being flippant of course, but recent research by The National Literacy Trust into technology and reading suggests that alongside books technology can play an important role in supporting early communication, language and literacy by offering new opportunities, such as interactive and intuitive story telling e-books and apps. So maybe get them off Doodle Jump and onto apps that help with language and communications skills. There's a list here.

Let them choose

Don’t prescribe what kids should read, let them choose. Often children like to read books that are aimed at a slightly older age group, and the majority are robust enough to cope. In praise of Roald Dahl, the best-selling author Deborah Moggach said: "Children love being alarmed and you can push them quite far." There are some exceptions to this rule of course, but allowing children their choice of book, within reason, will make reading seem less like a chore.

Head over to the The Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge where there's a fantastic selection of books for inspiration for early and older readers.

Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood might not be your choice of book for a 10-year-old

What are they interested in?

If you are choosing your child's book then think along the lines of what they’re already interested in. Animal lovers and would-be vets could find the works of Michael Morpurgo instantly loveable. Tapping into an existing interest is half the battle.

When was the last time you settled down and read a book?

Lead by example

Put that smartphone down. Yes, you. Stop checking your work emails, or the news, or Facebook. When was the last time you settled down and read a book? I know the dishwasher needs emptying and the clothes need folding and the car needs washing but children copy behaviour. It’s what they do and how they learn. If they see you enjoying the pleasure of reading then they’ll more than likely do the same.

As this article by Jordan Shapiro says, it's not about technology as many adults are reading text messages and emails on devices, but the trick is to get back into the habit of enjoying literature rather than tweets.

Pack a book for the beach

Along with the deckchair, inflatable ball, bucket, spade and factor 50, pop in a paperback. Even children get bored with splashing in the sea and sandcastles. A book is the perfect sandproof accessory for the beach to give you a little peace-time and pretend it’s tea in the flask.

What is the Summer Reading Challenge?

Every year, thousands of families all over the country take part in the UK’s biggest reading event for children in libraries, the Summer Reading Challenge, run by the charity The Reading Agency.

The aim of the challenge is to get children to read any six books of their choice from their library during the summer holidays.
Every year there’s a different theme; this year it’s The Big Friendly Read, as it links up with the global year-long Roald Dahl 100 celebrations, honouring the world’s No.1 Storyteller.

Children can use the Book Sorter to track down the right read for them. Find out more about the Summer Reading Challenge here.

Go on holiday to Crib Goch near Snowdonia

OK, this is a bit extreme but the area with the highest average annual rainfall total is Crib Goch with 4635 mm. Meanwhile, Martinstown in Dorset still holds the dubious accolade of being England’s wettest place having suffered a deluge of 279mm of rain in 24 hours on 18 July 1955. If it’s raining outside then a book is a great distraction from the weather!

A magazine’s better than nothing

Don't insist that they have to read your favourite childhood book

Don’t fantasise about your little ones being engrossed in Wind in the Willows or Alice in Wonderland and insist that they have to read your favourite childhood book. If they’re more comfortable flicking through Match or Horrible Histories or the Beano then that’s getting them into the habit of reading too.

Good old fashioned bribery

Read now, ice cream later. Putting carrots on a stick has worked for centuries for donkeys. But don’t make reading a chore. How about making half an hour of reading a prerequisite for time on the smartphone. Try putting books in places around the house where your children naturally hang out. Making it as easy as possible to pick up a book could start paying dividends.

Let us know your tips for encouraging kids to put away their smartphones. Head over to our Facebook post and leave your suggestions.

Watch: The LAB Scotland

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