As parents, we know physical fitness is an important component for our kids’ overall well-being. We know that kids who exercise focus better, sleep better, eat better, and feel better. All this actually makes them better students, and that’s what most parents (me more than anyone) want for their kids. Yes, even after being a first-round NFL draft pick with an eight-year career in the big leagues, the message my kids hear over and over again is: school before sports. It’s simple: sports end, even if you make it to the pros, but the impact of education on your life never wanes.
The NFL isn’t the first organization to espouse the benefits of physical activity for our kids, but they’ve spread the word nicely with their PLAY 60 initiative. Public service announcements during primetime football games with kids and NFL stars having fun together just “playing” has imprinted the idea in millions of young brains. Two years ago, I approached a friend in the NFL’s head office and suggested the league expand its message to include another important daily regimen: READ 20.
Educators (and millions of parents) already know that reading 20 minutes a day is the established break-point for making our kids better students, and better human beings. Studies have shown that kids who READ 20 not only develop more empathy for others, they also perform better in every academic subject, not just reading and history, but also science and math. What? Yes, which is why I’ve come to call reading “Weightlifting for your Brain.”
The wonderful thing about both reading and playing is that they’re FUN. Unlike weightlifting to become a better athlete (a grueling endeavor), weightlifting for the brain should be as pleasant as playing for 60 minutes on the playground. That’s a big part of my message to kids, and I suggest it should be yours: reading should be fun. Here are my five tips to get your kids Reading 20:
1. YOU get them started. Find a chapter book and read a couple chapters with your son or daughter. Time has never been a more valuable commodity. If they see you spending time to get them started on a book, it makes a big impact. Once they’re into the story, encourage them to find out what happens next by reading on their own.
2. Reading before screen time. Unless you’re in a rare minority, your kids spend a significant amount of time on a screen—TV, tablet, computer, or phone. That’s fine. It’s the world we live in, but have them get their reading in BEFORE screen time.
3. There are no bad books. If your kids want to read picture books, graphic novels, cheesy series books, or classics, let them. It’s the act of READING that gets their brain stronger.
4. The more you read, the more you can read. Remember, reading is like ice skating, the more you do it, the better you get and the more things you can do. Don’t rush your kids to skate backward (or read advanced material) until they’re having fun just skating around with a walker (or reading Captain Underpants).
5. This is my big one! If they don’t enjoy a book, put it down. I tell the thousands of kids I speak to each year that if they don’t love a book after the first five chapters to put it down (unless it’s a school assignment). I hope you’ll do the same.
As adults we know that there aren’t a lot of things that greatly benefit us that don’t involve struggle and sacrifice. PLAY60 and READ20 are two hugely beneficial, daily activities we can encourage our kids to do that should both be something they look forward to. Most important is getting books they enjoy into their hands. I hope some of them are mine!
Tim Green, a former NFL football player, is the New York Times bestselling author of the Football Genius series, the Baseball Great series, Best of the Best, Unstoppable, First Team, and Kid Owner among other great sport titles for middle-grade readers.