My daughter just completed the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. She’s 8 years old.
When I’ve mentioned this to my peers, many are astounded. But, to her, this is not a big deal. She has a friend in her class who’s done the same. And a few who are at various stages of making their way through the popular books by J.K. Rowling. Still, it’s not the norm at her age. Many parents have asked, “How did you get her to do that.” The truth is, I didn’t.
My daughter is one of those kids you’ll find tucked away in her room, reading for much longer than the 15 minutes per day recommended by her teacher. While I can claim credit for taking her to the library, modeling reading at home and providing a steady flow of books from virtual and brick-and-mortar stores, my role has been more about feeding her natural desire than encouraging a behavior. Reading is simply part of who she is.
However, I was curious about why she was particularly motivated to read the Harry Potter series.
“I like magical things. And everyone else was reading them,” she said. “Oh, and the ending was always a cliffhanger, so I wanted to find out what happened. Like, you thought this person was good and then, ‘Poof!’ or you thought this person was bad and then, ‘Poof!’ Like Sirius Black. You thought he was going to kill Harry but he turned out to be a really good guy.”
So, magic, popularity and an element of surprise. It seems so obvious. Yet, I’m not sure parents think in these terms when it comes to attempts to motivate their children to read. I’ve seen many treat reading as a task to be completed rather than an experience to be enjoyed with their child. Of course, every child is different, and I don’t mean to suggest these elements are a panacea. But it certainly can’t hurt for parents to give it a try. It could be fun. Here are some ideas based on the elements of Harry Potter that kept my daughter reading:
The Magic of Harry Potter
Not all stories chronicle the adventures of a young wizard and his friends at a school of witchcraft and wizardry. But many children’s books and rising reader level literature involves some form of miracle or sorcery. Look for those. Next on my daughter’s list: the Percy Jackson series.
The Popularity of Harry Potter
Few books reach the popularity that the Harry Potter series has. But we can also look for topics that are buzzing amongst our youth and match those up with reading opportunities. Right now, my daughter and her friends are very interested in farm animals, particularly horses. While browsing a second-hand store, she spotted a book about a horse for $1.75 that is so unpopular I don’t even remember the name. The shop owner recently informed me that she had a vintage edition of “The Black Stallion” available. My daughter had never heard of this classic until I mentioned it, but the fact that it’s all about a horse makes it popular in her mind. She had to have it.
The Surprise of Harry Potter
For my daughter, the element of surprise with Harry Potter had to do with the nature of the stories themselves. And good writing. My takeaway here: Don’t be afraid to challenge your children with books with more advanced writing. But parents can also introduce surprise into reading as an activity. Perhaps this means surprising them with a new book once they’ve finished one. Or surprising them with DVDs matching a book series they just completed, such as Harry Potter.
In the end, a child may be no more likely to read seven thick books than they were before. But there’s nothing to lose by trying and perhaps a little fun to be gained. Best case: more reading success and maybe a life lesson or good role model will emerge.
My daughter’s thoughts: “I learned that when you’re in a certain type of world where there’s good and bad people you pretty much find out who your friends and enemies are and avoid your enemies. And my favorite characters were Hermione and Ginny. Hermione is smart and interesting and helps Harry a lot. Ginny is quiet at first but learns to speak up.”
How do you motivate your children to read more? Please share your ideas by posting a comment.