The Reading Rules by Karen Powers

Karen Powers is a Teacher Librarian and mother of two teenagers who spends her spare time writing about books and reading. You can read more about The Importance of Reading and a full description and explanation of The Reading Rules on her blog at

As a teacher librarian, a large part of my day is spent teaching information literacy skills to my students: how to find and use information effectively; and how to dig deep and use critical literacy to understand a question and research it with thought and understanding.

The other important aspect of my role is reading promotion. As we move further into the 21st century, I have come to believe that reading promotion must step up and take precedence over the teaching of information literacy. This is because information literacy and critical literacy cannot exist without proficiency in reading.  

As teachers, we know that online reading is leading to a generation of skimmers; students who cover the surface of a topic without delving deeper into any reading that is sustained and requires reflective, deep thinking.

This is partly because so many of our students just don’t sit quietly and read for pleasure anymore. These students now exist in an online world, conversing via acronyms and emoticons in a social networking sphere and obtaining instant information from a variety of questionable websites. This has a direct affect on their ability to read critically for research purposes.

Parents are aware of the importance of reading. Whenever I speak to parents, they don’t ask me about information literacy, databases or advanced Google searches. The most common question they ask me is how to get their child reading. This parental concern combined with the ongoing change in student research habits have led to me to do some deep thinking of my own. As a result I have made a shift in my TL approach, my aim being to prioritise reading for pleasure and thereby show my students that reading is an enjoyable and worthwhile pursuit.

To do so I need to involve parents as I am aware that I only have limited influence on the reading habits of students. And so I developed the Reading Rules. These are a set of ten rules for parents to get their child reading. Many of the rules can also be used by TL’s, and I use the majority in my wide reading lessons with Year 7. I have great faith in the rules, as they are already making a difference in my school library: in the twelve months since I started wide reading lessons with Year 7, borrowing figures in the library have tripled.

Here is a summation of the rules.  A more thorough explanation can be found on my blog:

1.      Create the right environment.

Surround your child with books and fill your house with books. Make sure your home makes the statement “we are a family who reads”.

2.      Be a role model.

Lead by example. If your children see you reading, they are more likely to follow your lead. This is especially true of fathers, as research has shown that boys in particular are more likely to read if they have a significant male in their lives, such as a father or grandfather, who models regular reading.

3.      Read to them.

So many parents stop reading to their children as soon as they are independent readers, but it is important to keep reading to children for numerous reasons. One reason is that you model pronunciation and intonation as your child’s reading develops. Another is that this is how you maintain interest. I read aloud to all my students, up to and including Year 12, and they all enjoy it more than most classroom activities.

4.     Redefine ‘book’.

If you want your child to be a reader, it is important to recognise that all forms of sustained reading are valid. This means books, magazines, newspapers, graphic novels and information books. As long as your child is engaged, it doesn’t matter what the reading material is.

5.      Don’t be a literary snob.

All books are created equal in terms of reading for pleasure. Whether or not you think the Twilight books have literary merit is irrelevant when you are teaching your child to love reading. I will always stand by the motto that “it doesn’t matter what they are reading, as long as they are reading”.

6.      Loosen your filter – or lose it altogether.

If you have a problem with books which rely heavily on so-called toilet humour then it is likely you are taking the enjoyment out of reading for your child. I haven’t met a primary school child who doesn’t love a good bum or fart joke in a book. Likewise, if you decide to restrict books written for young adults which involve sex or swearing, you are depriving a teenager of the illicit thrill of reading something which is enticing and exciting. If you want your child to read, let them read these books. They will never accuse reading of being boring again.

7.      Remember it’s the 21st century.

Our kids are surrounded by technology and screens so we would be mad not to use this to encourage their reading. If they prefer to read an e-book, encourage this. Look for online activities about reading: use social media such as Facebook and encourage them to join groups about books, where they can enter competitions and share their favourite books. If they are a writer, suggest they contribute to other sites such as Just because it is the 21st century doesn’t mean that they have to stop reading – quite the reverse in fact.

8.      Ask an expert.

How do you know what books to buy, borrow or recommend for your child? It is impossible for busy parents to keep up to date with children’s and young adult fiction, but you don’t have to. Your local independent bookseller or librarian will know the most popular titles for all age groups, they will be aware of the new releases, and they can tell you about the next book in the series. They like nothing better than to put the right book in your child’s hands – you just have to ask.

9.      Make reading routine.

Like everything that is worthwhile in life, being a reader takes time and practice. Reading needs to be a daily part of your child’s routine, preferably from an early age. And it is never too late to start.

10.   Don’t ever give up.

Persistence is the key. It takes longer for some children than others to take to reading, but the end result is worth the effort. Some rules will be easier than others to follow, but trust me, if you persist, you will get there in the end.

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