Boredom: A good reason to read

Just before a long weekend I gave my students one homework assignment: to carry a book wherever they go.  I said it doesn’t matter how much you read or what book it is, just bring it with you.  You might be stuck waiting for your parents (it was parent teacher conference week), you might be in the car, you never know when you might be bored and need a book.

Fast forward a few days at one of my parent conferences.  As our conversation turned to reading a parent remarked on how independent his child now seemed with books.  He said, “I mean, she is even insisting to take a book in the car and wanting to read all the time!”

Boredom, or lack of anything else but a book, is a good reason for kids to read.  In fact, it might be one of the best motivating factors of reading aside from having that just right book that can’t be put down.  Here are four intentional suggestions for getting kids to read during those boring times, such as a car ride (tried and tested with my own first grader).

Explicitly suggest reading, but not at that moment.  Chances are if you tell a child to read they probably won’t do it right then and there.  Plant the seed about reading in the car or doctors office before it’s going to happen.

Define free reading. Sometimes beginning or reluctant readers think of reading as a chore, and rightfully so, it can be.  Free reading, anything outside of school or homework, should be just that – free.  That means reading only the pictures, reading your favorite part, or just looking at the book.  Chances are this will eventually turn into some actually reading with zero pressure to perform.

Secretly plant highly engaging books in the car or other “readable” places.  This one might seem a little strange, but it works.  Graphic novels, nonfiction texts, and magazines are all great choices because they can easily to read for a few minutes or a long time.  They can often be opened up at various points and you don’t have to remember the story from the beginning to engage in the text.  The secret part gives novelty to the situation.  Who doesn’t want to pick up a new book laying on the seat?

Zip it. The other day I got into the car and within 30 seconds asked my son “How was your day at school?”  When he didn’t respond I looked in the rear view mirror to discover him reading a book.  Sometimes it’s best to follow your child’s lead. Talk if they want to talk and be quiet when they need it quiet.  Chances are with the other three things in place, a book will eventually find its way into those eager little hands.

My commute to school and back is a lucky 12 minutes a day.  Over five days that could be up to an extra 2 hours of reading for my son.  So whether you are a parent or teacher, simply telling kids to read when they are bored might just increase their time with text dramatically.