How To Help Your Children Put Down Their Screens And Take Up Reading

March 27, 2024

Josh Applegate

Leading author, Wendy Milton, shares simple and engaging ways to turn screen time into reading time for kids

Many parents these days complain that their kids spend too much time glued to their screens. In a very short space of time, children went from spending their weekends and holidays playing outdoors, camping, crafting and reading to being holed up in their bedrooms watching TikTok and YouTube and playing online games for hours on end.

According to children’s author Wendy Milton, creator of the much-loved Zach’s Story series, given how addictive a phone or a tablet can be, it’s no wonder that children are fast becoming screen addicts.

“There is a definitely a place and time for devices, because they can be educational and you can do a myriad of things on them. I’m not opposed to them, but they can definitely be used in better ways than just letting kids space out for hours on end watching video after video or playing shooter games,” Milton said.

Milton has penned thirteen books, including her most popular five-volume series, Zach’s Story. Her books are available from all good bookstores and online from Amazon, Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.

“In Australia, literacy rates have been falling for years and there is a strong correlation between children who are poor readers at school remaining to be poor readers throughout their lives,” Milton said.

“Reading is an important life skill, not just because of literacy but also because being readers makes us better thinkers by improving our critical thinking and problem solving skills. It can also bring about other benefits like increasing our general knowledge and developing our social and communication skills.

“The problem is that for a lot of children, reading is not considered cool.  So it is important for parents to try and overcome this by helping their children to realise that reading is cool – in fact it’s so cool, they will thank you for it years down the track.”

Milton provides tips for parents on how to encourage children to read.

Family time reading

“Family time reading is a wonderful way to bring the family together and involve children in reading.   Regular reading time activities with fun treats makes the process even more inviting.    Why not turn reading into a family activity and building it into your daily routine as a wind down sort of activity in the evening? For younger families, it can be a beautiful family bonding thing when everyone sits down and takes turns reading and the younger ones just adore watching their older siblings read aloud and it gets them excited about learning to read too,” Milton said.

“The best thing to encourage children to read more is to let them choose what they want to read. When you put this power of choice in their hands, they’ll choose stories based on what they’re interested in, and you might even be surprised by what they choose! As long as kids are reading, it doesn’t matter what the topic or genre is. It can be fiction, non-fiction, magazines, and even graphic novels.”

Go to the library

“If you haven’t recently taken your children to the library, make sure you put it on your to-do list as soon as possible. Libraries are no longer dim, dusty old buildings. They’re active community hubs with lots of activities and life happening,” Milton said.

“These days libraries host events for people of all age groups, from babies and toddlers to adults. They’re innovative information and resource centres now and your kids will likely want to go again soon!

“They have displays of all the latest books with wonderful informational materials. Your child can see and experience all the wonder of books at the library and even pick out some books they would like to read at home.”

Visit book fairs

“Book fairs are a wonderful day out that usually involve plenty to see and do.   They normally include a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books, including rare books and collectables, children’s books, textbooks and foreign language books,” Milton said.

“They often also include magazines and pamphlets, sheet music, comics, maps and atlases, talking books, records and CDs, DVDs, games and jigsaws, and much more.  Many authors also attend to promote their books, sign books and talk to people.  They are great events full of activity and buzz.”

Become a reading role model

“Children are incredibly observant and they watch what adults do and say.  If you would like to encourage your child to read, engage in reading too,” Milton said.

“Read often and within plain sight.   If your child sees you reading and getting enjoyment out of reading, they will become interested in reading too. Stock your shelves and coffee table with a few colourful and interesting books.   The more books that appear around the house, the more likely your child is going to be interested in reading them.”

Giving the gift of books

“Parents are always saying that their kids have everything already and they don’t know what to get their kids. It’s certainly not true! To give a child a book is to give them the gift of a few hours of entertainment. For the same price as a movie ticket these days, you can get several hours of reading rather than just a 90 minute movie. That’s value for money right there,” Milton joked.

“If you’re stuck for ideas on what book to give your child, try the Zach’s Story series which I wrote and which comprises five books. Once children are familiar with a set of characters, they often want to read more and find out what happens in the next instalment! It’s extremely gratifying to see a child finish a book and look satisfied with the ending and excited about the next book. And if they’ve reached the end of the series, why not encourage them to continue the story with their own! Good readers often morph into good writers, and I’m excited to see what the next generation of Aussie authors will write about.”

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