Start a great new springtime story: Challenge kids to a “reading challenge”

It’s a big month! March Madness. First official day of spring. Time change. National Reading Month. Take special note of that last one because books can change a child’s life, and reading challenges, whether DIY or hosted by schools and libraries, are a great way to encourage a deeper dive.

Beanstack, provider of tools and services to educators and librarians, in their Zoobean blog, explains that “Reading challenges offer a set of shared goals for a community of readers over a defined period.” They trace the history of reading challenges back to 1895, adding that “Today, reading challenges often focus on encouraging students to move out of their reading ‘comfort zones’ to sample diverse authors or themes.” Because they have a mildly competitive, game-like feel, reading challenges can be a way to motive both avid and reluctant readers.

For example, consider putting together a “21 for 2021 Reading Challenge.” The 21 genres/categories might include a mystery, a biography of a famous American, a book set in another country, a book of fairy tales, and a book set in winter. The possibilities are near-endless!

Included in the titles at the top of Spring Lake, MI, kindergarten teacher Megan Dean’s own favorites list are the picture book about inclusion, Strictly No Elephants; the iconic story, Where The Wild Things Are; and the tale of crayons wanting to break out of their usual roles, The Day the Crayons Quit. Dean also praises School Zone Publishing offerings that include the adorable Level 1 Start to Read! series tale, Jog, Frog, Jog and the recently released non-fiction books available on Anywhere TeacherFantastic Frogs, Awesome Owls, and Busy Beavers.

Find a fabulous collection of reading challenges on Pinterest, compiled across the years by the Bertha Bartlett Public Library in Story City, IA. (The city was named for a judge, but what a lovely place name!)

Check out what your local library is planning and also touch base with your child’s teacher or school library. But if nothing jumps out, put together your own Reading Challenge with discussion nights and prizes for the whole family!

Having books within reach makes it easier. Back in 2017, Parents magazine posted “18 Genius Ways to Make Kids Love Reading,” by Erin Zammett Ruddy. Under the tip, “Stash books all over,” the article quoted Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., a child development expert at Syracuse University, who says, “Surrounding kids with books at an earlier age gets them hooked.”

The host of the Happy Home Fairy blog agrees. In “How to Get Your Kids Excited About Reading,” she urges families to “have books everywhere and read aloud often,” noting that she started really early. She writes, “When my kids were babies I kept books on the changing table and they would look at them when they were old enough to hold a book while I changed their diaper.”

The Parents list also encourages parents to “ask questions,” about books their kids are reading, noting that “This enhances comprehension--and enjoyment. (It’s no fun if they don’t get what’s going on.)”

Modeling reading is one way to show kids it matters, and that’s definitely an advantage of a family reading challenge, but the benefits go well beyond influencing kids. The website for America’s Charities, an organization that “inspires employees and organizations to support the causes they care about,” promotes National Reading Month, saying that “Reading is fun and has many benefits, regardless of your age. It’s a key component of education and professional development. It also has immediate and long-lasting health benefits such as increased cognitive function, memory, vocabulary, empathy and decreased levels of stress.”

And if your family, like many, is still staying closer to home, consider books a “travel” opportunity too. As columnist and best-selling author Anna Quindlen has suggested, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”