TIMR is an acronym that stands for Translates Into Minutes Read. It is a measure that will become increasingly prominent in the coming years. There are specialists all over the United States and beyond trying to figure out a way to get kids to read more often. It’s a valiant but fruitless effort. Those same experts know that the only way to increase literacy scores is to get kids reading more consistently at home, and I agree with them on this point. The problem is it just isn’t happening and it won’t happen in the future, unless we change the focus of our efforts. We need to move away from activities that do not translate into minutes read. Our focus must be on direct impact.

I’ve crossed a line knowingly. What I am proposing goes against everything we have been taught about literacy. We were told that kids must love reading, or they won’t read when they are older. We were convinced that making kids read is a bad idea because it’s punitive and they’ll end up hating reading. I have some news that we all already know. Kids don’t read at home. Reading isn’t as fun as video games or social media. That is the essence of the problem. No matter the effort, we will never be able to persuade kids into reading as an activity consistently enough for them to reach their potential. This obsolete philosophy has been around for at least 50 years, and at one time it worked for American kids, but it doesn’t work for the world in which we live today.

It makes sense that it worked. Consider that 50 years ago most households had 2 parents. It is a lot easier monitor reading when you have one parent staying at home. How many marriages are intact today? Of those marriages that survive, how many stay at home parents exist? The difference between then and now is immense, and yet we follow the same philosophy and hope it will start working again?

Now consider the options kids have today compared to when the philosophy originated. 50 years ago when there was bad weather, some kids would read. There was television of course, but with only a limited number of channels, kids would have a tough time finding something decent to watch. When the weather is bad now, let the games begin! There is xbox, Playstation, Wii, a zillion computer games and apps, not to mention social media. I’ve got news for you parents and teachers. There is no way we are going to convince kids to love reading so much that they put down their technology. Once you realize this fact we are left with no option but to regiment reading.

The philosophy doesn’t only impact American houses, but is prevalent and just as ineffective in American schools. Consider these fruitless scenarios: A school requires every teacher to post what he or she is reading on their classroom doors. The school makes up placards and spends hours gathering the information and readying the material. The next day the custodian places the reading placards on the teacher’s door. How much time and energy was spent on this activity? How many kids were moved to read because of this activity? (TIMR= Very low) That is the problem with what we are doing. We spend all of our time trying to get kids to love reading instead of just making them read. Literacy is that important. When kids don’t read well, things fall apart for them in school and options in their future are limited at best.

Parents and schools blindly follow this outdated and ineffective philosophy simply because it’s what we’ve always done. Any parent of a middle school student can attest that middle school students rarely read at home. Because they have been told that they cannot make their child read, they beg or nag. (TIMR= Very Low) Parents resent and get irritated by whatever the child chooses to do with their free time, especially if it’s gaming or going on social media. This philosophy is causing illiteracy and it contributes to stress because it clouds parental judgment.

Let me clear your judgment. All of this non-reading is harmful. Kids don’t recover from it. Every summer kids lose 3-5 points on MAP scores due to reading inactivity. Multiply that by 8 years (k-8), and that is a whopping 24-40 MAP points. That means that by simply regimenting reading in the summer, your child will increase their MAP score by 24-40 points over the course of their elementary and middle school career. If kids lose ground due to reading inactivity in the summer, it is logical to deduce that they lose ground due to inactivity all year. Simply stated, if your child isn’t reading at home, they are underachieving and you are allowing it. You once had an excuse because of our tainted philosophy, but no more.

So if that old philosophy will never work again, what are the options? Really, there are endless options. Once you get past the whole joy thing, it will all become clear. First, don’t make it a punishment. Make it a lifestyle. Use the things your kids hold dearly. They’ll want a DS when they’re 5 or so, and you’ll buy it. Make them read to use it.(TIMR=Very High) Then it will be a game system, and a phone, etc. Every step of the way, make the deal before you buy it. Children will eagerly agree to get what they want. Compromise with your child and always hold your end of the bargain. This one move facilitates children choosing to read on their own, and they do it consistently throughout their childhood.(TIMR=Extremely High) There is no bickering and they reach their full potential as readers.

Those video games parents hate so much are actually great for children, and they can be used to keep kids reading for 8 years. Forget that other philosophy. That’s for parents from the 1950’s. Think TIMR!

Michael Sibert