by Bruce Lansky

If your kids aren’t enjoying reading by the age of 7, don’t give up. You might just need a new approach. My son didn’t read much until he discovered the “Garfield” cartoon books. After that, he found “The Far Side” cartoon books and then Dave Barry’s humor books. From there, the problem became getting him to [I]stop[I] reading so much. He went on to write a humor book at the age of 17 and a nationally syndicated adventure travel column in his twenties; now he’s an international bestselling author and speaker on the college and corporate circuits.

How can you turn a “don’t want to” reader into a “can’t stop” reader?

First of all, don’t make reading a “chore” or a “have to” activity. Instead, read to your child at bedtime. Better yet, read [I]with[I] him or her. For example:

  • Perform books like a “reader’s theater.” I used to let my son be Pooh. He would read aloud, “Tut tut, it looks like rain” whenever Pooh uttered those words in A.A. Milne’s book.
  • Check out the website, which has almost 50 humorous poetry scripts that are easy and fun for two or three people to perform as skits. You’ll soon be laughing your socks off and your child will be begging to read “one more funny poem.”
  • If your child is old enough (over the age of 7), try reading a “Can You Solve the Mystery?”™ story together at bedtime. When you reach the end of a story and you’re ready to solve the mystery, offer your services as a “consulting detective.” Ask your child how the detectives, Hawkeye and Amy, figured out “who done it.” If your child doesn’t know, go back and read the most important passages aloud in your search for clues that will help him or her to solve the mystery.

Never give up on putting new books, newspaper articles or interesting web content in front of your child’s eyeballs. Take your child to the bookstore or library and let him or her pick out any book, audio book, magazine, or newspaper that’s of interest. If your child likes cooking, pick out interesting recipes or cookbooks. If your child likes sports, offer up the sports section in the newspaper or e-mail an article about a favorite ballplayer. If your child is observant and clever, bring home a “Can You Solve the Mystery?”™ book and pick out a story that might be of interest. For example, if your daughter has a sweet tooth, try “The Case of the Chocolate Snatcher.” If your son loves video games, try “The Case of the Video Game Smuggler.”

Think about this: Most children crave attention from their parents. By spending time reading books and solving mysteries together, you’ll be giving your child what he or she really wants. In trade, you’ll get what you want (your child to enjoy reading).

Now let’s talk briefly about how to turn your child into a creative problem solver (aka detective). After reading some stories from the “Can You Solve the Mystery?”™ series and discussing possible solutions (prior to reading the “mirror type” solution printed in the book), your child will be ready for some easy cases around your house, such as:

  • Finding a missing purse, pair of eyeglasses or house keys
  • Figuring out who ate the last cookie in the jar (don’t forget to check for telltale clues: cookie crumbs and cookie breath)
  • Finding your lost cat or dog—or the hamster or parakeet that got out of its cage

Suggest that your child ask, “What would Hawkeye and Amy do?” Here are few actions they might take that your child can do, too:

  • Look for physical clues.
  • Interview witnesses or suspects.
  • Ask intelligent questions. (When was the last time you remember using your glasses to read or drive? Did you take them off when you went out for a run or when you took a shower?)
  • Look for “tells” that suggest someone might be bluffing or not telling the truth.
  • Write down the clues and keep track of hypotheses that new evidence has disproved and hypotheses that new evidence suggests.
  • Discuss cases with friends, relatives and teachers—the more people who are involved, the more good hypotheses you’ll have to consider and the more fun solving mysteries will be.

By asking your child to help you solve a real mystery, you are demonstrating your faith in his or her intelligence and judgment. Just as reading together will help your child pick up the reading habit, solving simple mysteries together will help your child solve creative problems that arise every day.