Jennifer Buth Bell, MS EDL - Manager of Literacy Programs
Individuals are born with approximately 10,000 taste buds. Like all living cells, these sensory receptors go through a life cycle where they grow from basal cells into taste cells and then die, become sloughed away, and reproduce (BistroMD, 2018). According to Dr. Linda M. Bartoshuk with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, this normal life cycle can occur as frequently as every 10 days to two weeks; and this recurrence opens the door of opportunity to try new foods as time goes on. (Greene, 2011).
Culinary, health, and medical experts alike suggest a handful of ways that people can take advantage of their bodies changing tastes. These include:
1) Breaking old eating habits
2) Combining familiar and new foods
3) Trying new foods more than once
4) Attempting alternate preparations
Just as our tastes for food change over time, so does our disposition toward reading. Knowledge, both fact and fiction, comes in variety of colors, flavors, and textures; and the willingness to attempt and embrace new varieties may change over time. This can be especially true for tweens and teens as they move from childhood to adulthood. As parents and teachers, we can play an important role not only in enticing our children to try new foods, but to encourage reformation in their reading habits and preferences as well. The four aforementioned suggestions for inspiring dietary modifications apply.
1) Break old habits: Younger students read often in elementary school, but these reading minutes become quickly replaced with screen-time as students grow older. As a result, older children may be inclined to turn on the television, grab their computer, or run to their phone the second a moment of free time arises. To counter this tendency, tweens and teens can benefit from frequent reminders to turn off their devices and carve out time for reading.
2) Combine familiar with new: Young people develop biases toward certain genres from an early age. As a child, I gravitated toward mysteries. I still enjoy them, and likely always will. But, through the years, I have learned to appreciate other types of reading including poetry, historical fiction, and biographies. This transition did not occur naturally, nor overnight, but was fostered by several well-meaning adults in my life who introduced me gradually to new mediums of expression. Just as we acquaint young children with new foods, as teachers and parents, we can help our tween and teens read more widely by making out of box suggestions. Websites such as commonsensemedia.org and www.goodreads.com; literary magazines like Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA); or your school’s media specialist are often good places to start.
3) Try new more than once: Change is never easy and when trying something new, we often need reassurance. Young people especially, can be unwilling to break away from the reading that they have found traditionally enjoyable, especially when the alternative is something for which they have already developed a distaste. As a result, they can be quick to find fault in new or different literary styles and reluctant to give them a second glance. In these instances, it is important to remember that the kinds of reading we may have dreaded when we were young can become more appealing or interesting as our age or life circumstances change. So just as we ask children to take “more than one bite” of a food they do not like, teachers and parents can help support tweens and teens efforts to read differently. This can be accomplished simply by probing their attitudes and opinions of what they have read, asking them what they like or do not like about certain genres, and reintroducing previously attempted texts on a routine basis. As the old advertising slogan implied, if they “try it AGAIN, they just might like it”
4) Attempt Alternate Preparations: Just as meat or vegetables might be broiled, boiled or barbecued….steamed, roasted, or baked, so can authors prepare literary material. Even within the same genre, fiction for example, characters, plots, settings, and themes can vary extensively; and one style may not appeal to everyone. So, before your tween or teen completely abandons an entire class of literature, challenge him or her to try another author, another time-period, or a different topic. He or she might find that instead of omitting it altogether, “a little salt or pepper is all that is needed”.
In addition to these tips for helping your tweens and teens refine their literary tastes. Here are some more suggestions for increasing the frequency at which your adolescent reads.
1) Make both print and online reading materials (as well as audio books) available and accessible in your home, car, etc.
2) Model reading and make different kinds of reading (i.e. books, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc.) a part of your regular routine.
3) Share what you are reading with your tween or teen and explain why you like or dislike it.
4) Inquire about what your tween or teen is reading at school or at home for both information and pleasure. Occasionally, make an effort to read the same material and engage your tween or teen in discussion about the facts and ideas offered in the reading. Literature can make an excellent conversation starter.
Just as trying new things and refining your child’s palette can help him or her enjoy and appreciate a wider array of foods; embracing new types of reading has the potential to increase his or her understanding of their own identity, increase their empathy for others and expand their worldview. For more tips on how you can entice the reading appetites of your tweens and teens, visit boystowntraining.org/expedition-literacy.