How to Inspire Your Child to Love Reading and Achieve More – Interview with Dr. Danny Brassell

What’s the deal with kids and screens?

Earlier this year we held a virtual ‘Screen Zombie’ Summit where we interviewed 13 leading child development experts about how to raise happy, healthy kids in the digital age.

We learned that not all screen time is created equal, but that it can negatively impact a child’s development if it gets out of control. Our 13 experts shared how families can manage a healthy balance with screens, without all the drama.


So, how should kids be spending their time?

Reading. Whether it’s a physical book, digital book, or audiobook, kids should be spending their time reading.

Why? Because according to sources like the National Commission on Reading, the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home.

Ready to dive deeper? 

During the Summit, Devin Cowick (Co-founder of Code Pineapple) interviewed Dr. Danny Brassell, “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador.” Below you’ll find the major highlights of the interview.

Note - To help make it easier to navigate, we’ve added subheadlines for the major themes of the interview.

Who is America’s Leading Reading Ambassador?

Devin Cowick:
Welcome everyone. My next guest is an internationally recognized speaker, a top selling author, a trainer, coach, and professor.
He's the creator of an online program called Read Better in 67 Steps, which transforms struggling and reluctant readers into more passionate and proficient readers. He's a father of three and he's known as America's Leading Reading Ambassador. I'd like to welcome Dr Danny Brassell.


So far we've been talking mostly about tech screen habits and now, we'll be talking about one of the best offline alternatives or ways to leverage technology, which is reading.

You're known as a reading ambassador, which is a really great title. What does that mean and what inspired you to do what you do?


Dr. Danny Brassell:
Well, Devin when I was a kid I hated reading. My father was a librarian and so I always hated the public library. It always smelled funny, the furniture was uncomfortable. There was some elderly woman telling me to be quiet. There's always some freaky guy that thinks he's a vampire hanging out by the shelves. So I always hated books. I always hated the library and everything.


And it wasn't until I became a teacher in the inner city when I had to point to that myself and say, shame on you Danny. Cause I had a whole lot of advantages a lot of kids don't have. I had two parents that read in front of me and to me all the time, I had plenty of access to wonderful reading materials and I had a lot of supportive people in my community.


And so when, you know, basically the last 25 years as a tutor, a teacher, a professor, a researcher, and as a writer I've really tried to spread the message of how to make sure to get kids excited about reading. I think schools do a decent job of teaching kids how to read. But I always challenge them. I'm like, well what good is it teaching a kid how to read if they never want to read. 

Danny Brassell

-READING AMBASSADOr-

What good is it teaching a kid how to read if they never want to read.

I see so many people that are concerned with, can my kid get this done really quickly or can my kid read faster. I mean, and those are skill sets. But it's kinda like teaching a kid to play basketball just by dribbling all day. Sometimes you want to actually play the game. And so that's what I'm about is getting kids excited about playing the game.

The challenge with getting kids to read

Devin Cowick:
Can you tell us about some of the challenges that you've experienced as you've tried to spread the word about how to bring fun to reading and the joy of reading?


Dr. Danny Brassell:
Well, the first thing I see, Devin, is that a lot of kids are given limited access. In one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the mother gets all excited, she decides to create a mother-son book club. And so she brings all these books that she wants to read with the boys. It's like Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Sarah Plain and Tall. 


And then the boys, they've all brought books that they want to read and it's like How To Cheat At Video Games, The Book of Bodily Functions, things like that. And I think that's the one big thing I see people really misinterpret. And, this is something I point out whether I'm talking to students or to teachers or to parents. 


The research is very clear on this. It doesn't matter what you read, what matters is how much you read. It doesn't matter if you're reading James Joyce or James and the Giant Peach. People who read more, read better. 


I'll see a little boy and all he wants to read is Captain Underpants. And the teachers and the parents are all freaked out about that. Now I always have to point out to them that the little boy who's only reading Captain Underpants is going to be a better reader than a little boy that's not reading anything. Captain Underpants is the gateway drug to Shakespeare. 

Danny Brassell

-READING AMBASSADOr-

"Captain Underpants is the gateway drug to Shakespeare.”

How to make reading fun for kids

Devin Cowick:
We actually have a question from Mike, which is how can we make reading fun, especially if the child doesn't already like reading? 

Dr. Danny Brassell:
You know, if you were my student, Devin and I find out that you're interested in soccer, well I'm going to find all kinds of soccer books to get you excited about reading. And then once I get you excited, then I can expand your horizons to things beyond soccer and that's the trick. And it's our duty as parents to do that.


It's a little bit tougher for a teacher when you have 33 kids because then your goal is to find 33 different reading methods for those kids. It's a lot easier for us as parents and that's why I love working with parents because you know, once teachers and parents work together then you move mountains, the kids connect, you've got a dream team supporting that kid and that's what we really need a lot more of.


And I guess the only thing I would add, Devin is based on your personality, you know, for me, I like to do voices and so when I'm reading in bed with my kids, I do lots of different voices and sometimes we move around, making it into a memorable experience.

JESSE JACKSON


"Kids don't need your presents. They need your presence."

I mean I think that's what, you know, Jesse Jackson said that, I always thought it was a great quote. He said, kids don't need your presents. They need your presence. And that's what we can give. It doesn't matter who you are. All of us can give that to our kids.

The #1 way to improve reading skills & future success

Devin Cowick:
We have another question here from Dennis. You mentioned success habits earlier and he would like to know, is there a connection between reading to your child and success in school and for that matter life?


Dr. Danny Brassell:
It's a great question, Dennis. I appreciate that. So I'm kind of a nerd and I've actually read every government study on reading over the last 50 to 75 years. You know, they're always like 2000 pages long, you know, becoming a nation of readers, a nation at risk, why Johnny can't read, the national reading panel, you know, and all these studies are always 2000 pages long.


And it's usually around page 100, there's a tiny paragraph that always says this. It says, the research seems to suggest the single best way to improve reading skills is to read aloud to children. And then they never mentioned it again because it sounds too easy.

Danny Brassell

-READING AMBASSADOr-

“The single best way to improve reading skills is to read aloud to children.”

It's the simple things that really produce the biggest results. If there's one thing I could emphasize to all parents out there, it’s read aloud to your child. 

The sneaky way to teach reading skills

Devin Cowick:
How can technology play a positive role in developing a child’s love of reading?


Dr. Danny Brassell:
I have three children of my own and it's great, you have this idealistic vision of yourself as a parent. Then you actually become a parent you know, like, oh, I'm never going to let my kids watch TV. And then, you know, week two of being a parent, you're like, stop asking me questions. Go watch TV.


I get it. We're all crunched on time, but there are some basic things that we can do to utilize technology as a friend. So one of the first things I train parents to do is turn the closed captioning on for TV. 


A friend of mine who used to teach first grade, one of the best readers he ever had was this boy who was deaf. And he asked the parents and the parents could both hear. He asked the parents, how is their son such a good reader already? And they said closed captioning since birth.

Danny Brassell

-READING AMBASSADOr-

“He asked the parents, how is your son such a good reader already? And they said, closed captioning since birth.”

Now, the scientific research: if you look at studies around the world of reading scores and television viewing, the more kids watch TV, what do you think happens to the reading score? The more TV you watch, your reading score goes down.


Except for one country, the country that watches the most TV actually has the highest reading scores in the world. It's Finland. And how can that be? Well, Finland makes really bad TV shows. And so what they do is they import Gilligan's Island and Brady Bunch from America and then they have to put subtitles on all of them. So the kids are watching the subtitles all the time.


Devin Cowick:
Closed captioning, that’s a great tip and something that a lot of us probably wouldn't think about as a source of reading. So I guess you can find a lot of sources of reading, not just books.


Dr. Danny Brassell:
Yes and I’ll give you another example. When I was a kid, my mom, whenever she drove us anywhere, she would have us point out signs and we would have to read the signs. You know, she'd be like Danny, what's your name start with? I'm like, 'd', she's like point to signs that start with 'd'. I'm like, Dairy Queen, Dunkin Donuts, you know, I was a large child.


There was a great educational philosopher of the mid 1960s named Mary Poppins. And Mary Poppins once said something which has guided my teaching and administrative philosophy now for over 25 years. She said, “for every job there is to be done, there is an element of fun.”

Mary Poppins

-MAGICAL BABYSITTER-

“For every job there is to be done, there is an element of fun.”

So the translation is turn it into a game because kids choose to do games on their own. If it's work, even us adults, we don't want to do homework, you know, but if we phrase it, what's our home game tonight, well all of a sudden it sounds interesting, the words we use are very important.

Danny’s book recommendations

Devin Cowick:
Now I have to ask, what is your favorite book?


Dr. Danny Brassell:
Oh dear. I was afraid of that. People always ask me that. I'll give a couple just to get people excited about them. As a teenager, the book, and it's crazy cause I would still consider it one of my favorite books of all time. I love To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I just think that Atticus Finch is just one of the most heroic figures in literature. I love Scout. She's so inquisitive.


I love The Killer Angels by Michael Sharat. It’s about the battle of Gettysburg. And it's written from the points of view of different Northern and Southern generals and soldiers. And I'll tell you right now, Devin, if somebody had given me that book in high school, I would have been a history major.


My favorite children's book growing up was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, I just loved that it was a mischievous boy. I love the illustrations. And I just adore Maurice Sendak. 

How to transform kids into readers for life

Devin Cowick:
What's your number one tip for how parents can transform their kids from moody screens zombies to happy, healthy humans?


Dr. Danny Brassell:
Twenty minutes a day of reading with your child or reading to your child. Because this is fascinating. There's research that was conducted to look at reading habits of successful people and they looked at the low kids, the average kids and the high kids.


They looked at kids in the 20th percentile and they average less than a minute a day of reading outside of school. That's not surprising. That's why they're at the bottom of the class.


But then they looked at the middle of the class, the 70th percentile, they average 9.6 minutes a day. And this is when I'm doing a parent training, when it gets real quiet and the first parent raises their hand and says, well, wait a second, are you saying if I can get my kid to read for 10 minutes a day, I can take them from an F to a C? That's exactly what I'm saying.

  • 20th Percentile

  • 70th Percentile

  • 90th Percentile

Kids in the 20th Percentile

Kids in the 20th percentile average less than a minute a day of reading outside of school.

But then the kids at the top of the class in the 90th percentile, what did they average, three hours a day? No, an hour a day? No, the average was just over 20 minutes. And that's my goal is to help you help your child find those 20 minutes and they don't have to be consecutive. You know, you can do five minutes here, five minutes there.


You know, if you drive your child to and from school and it's a 20 minute drive, put a book on tape. You just covered your 20 minutes right there. You know? So there's some basic things that all of us can do.

Devin Cowick:
Any last words of wisdom?

Dr. Danny Brassell:
The most important thing I really want to convey to everybody is that I know it's not easy being a parent, especially in today's digital age. And I thank you for giving Devin your time during this summit. This is a wonderful conglomeration of people trying to help you be a better parent.


And I commend you for wanting to be a better parent because I know there's all kinds of distractions out there, but the things that we'll have later on in life are our memories and our kids, so let's do the best job that we can with them.

Devin Cowick:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Danny. You've provided so many useful tips and strategies for reading and screen balance and leveraging technology. I hope that everyone has gotten a lot of out of the session.

Dr. Danny Brassell:
Thank you, Devin. God bless.

Conclusion

Wow, what an incredible interview I had with Danny Brassell. There were so many powerful tips but my favorite takeaways were:

  • It’s not about what you read, it’s about how much and how often
  • Get books about things your kid is actually interested in
  • Get your kid exited about reading anything, then expand their horizons 
  • Kids in the 90th percentile read about 20min per day
  • Turning on TV subtitles are a sneaky way to help kids develop reading skills
  • If you read to your child or encourage them to read independently for just 20 minutes a day, you will change their life

Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed these highlights from the interview and want access to Danny’s full video interview you can get it for FREE here.

If you want to find out what type of reader your child is, take the quiz HERE.


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