Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Creating Avid Readers

My children are avid readers. Okay, they’re grown and are not under my supervision any longer. I’m not actively promoting this addiction, ahem, I mean, worthy pursuit. But, the love of reading sprang out of childhood habits. I confess, when I’m asked how did I, as a mom, encourage reading, I’m tempted to shrug my shoulders.

I come from a family of readers, so this tendency of ours to plant our noses in a paperback is not so bizarre. But out of courtesy to those who are trying to install the same “need to read” in their kids, I’m going to take a stab at answering the question, “How do I get my child to read?”

The best way to answer that question is to ask others. Let’s look at four basic questions: who, when, where, why.

Who in your family reads? Ideally the answer is everybody. But most famibasketball or paint her toenails or tinker in the garage. If lack of literacy is a concern for parents (and really, folks, thirst for knowledge or entertainment through print should be a crucial goal in every family), then both parents should exhibit a united front.

Mom and Dad must demonstrate an lies have at least one holdout who would rather dribble a appreciation of reading by reading where kids can see them reading. And the adults need to express their enjoyment of the exercise. If you read the stock market reports, scream, and tear up the paper, your child may not be getting the proper picture of how much reading fulfills your needs and brings satisfaction. If you are reluctant to put down a good book, the same child will wonder what is so intriguing on those pages.

Strategy: Read a book. Enjoy the book. Do this where your child will observe your activity and your obvious pleasure. Think about Bob, played by Bill Murphey, in What About Bob? Remember his manifest delight in eating his hostess’s dinner. Yum, mmmm, smack, uhm, awww. Demonstrate, model, show your manifest delight in reading.

Get excited over going to the library. Display your stack of books with pride. And . . . vocally, dramatically reward yourself with a new book via an exuberant visit to a giant bookstore or a quaint, old bookshop. (“Breathe deeply, children. Do you smell the knowledge of a hundred years?”)

Okay, so you aren’t really going to be quite this hammy when you present reading as a preferred lifestyle choice. But you get the idea: be a role model of the dedicated reader.

When do the people in your family read? This one is a bit tricky in our present culture. Busy schedules and interest in videos, computer games, and all that high-tech stuff robs us of hours of productive time. (Raising hand, here. I’m guilty of playing computer solitaire for hours.)

Strategy: Have an electricy-free night once or twice a week. The only thing the members of your family are allowed to turn on is a light bulb. It’s a read-to-yourself or be-read-to free-for-all. Make sure the fam arms itself appropriately, because you can’t pop popcorn after the “begin” signal, and no one can open the fridge to get a snack.

There’s also the old earn-time-on-the-computer or Nintendo™ strategy by reading. Five minutes of reading=five minutes of tech-fun.

Have a goal chart of how many minutes read by the whole family. Accumulate enough points for a night out at the most motivating place you can afford. Or make it for ice cream at home. Whoever has the most points for the week gets to choose the flavor of the week.

Where do you read?

I love this question because I see ole Brer Rabbit hopping along a country road, singing, “Everybody’s got a laughing place.” Let’s stick a book under his arm and change laughing to reading. Choosing a reading place may be as simple as a reading lamp and a soft chair. But making tents, nests of pillows, or taking a flashlight into the closet may be more fun for the reluctant reader. However, put a limit on the amount of time spent on “settling.” There are some reluctant readers who will gladly spend hours constructing a three level tent.

Strategy: Brainstorm ideas about where to read, including what would be a safe place and what would be dangerous. If you choose to make a game of it, everyone hides in their reading place. (Mom or Dad knows where each reader is.) After a designated time, Mom or Dad chooses one reader to go find all the others. Sometimes you can rotate around the house into various reading spots. Take pictures. Have a contest: most comfortable, worst idea, quietest place, least used, most used, smelliest . . .

And now we come to why.

Why do we read? You’ve got to get beyond “Because I said so,” “Because it’s good for you,” and “Because you’ll learn something.”

Who in the world jumps into something because some authority figure makes this vague assertion that it’s good for you and you’ll learn something? Not me. Doctor says, dieting is good for you. I’m not buying that! My kids invite me to a rock concert because I’ll learn something. No way!

So how do you impress the whys and the wherefores on the younger generation. I’m afraid this goes back to our first examples. You have to model why.

You look through a recipe book, reading to find a yummy new mealtime concoction. You study a gardening book to find the best flower for that shady spot next to the fence. Of course, reading is a significant part of your day. But are the kids aware? Make sure they make eye contact with the image of you, the parent, with book in hand.

Here comes the killer: you TALK about the fiction you read. Do you tell stories at the dinner table about things that have happened? Include the things that happened to the characters in the book you are reading.

“Mr. Miller came into work late today. He had a flat tire on the Trumbleridge overpass.” Yeah, that happened.

“George Mueller prayed for breakfast for his orphanage, and a milk wagon turned over practically at the front door” True, it happened. A long time ago, but just yesterday in the book the reader was enjoying.

“A ghost came into his bedroom and took him to a Christmas he’d experienced as a child.” Happened in a book, of course. But when you announce this “fact” at the dinner table with the same legitimacy as the account of Miller and Mueller, you validate the worth of fiction. You open a discussion.

Experience teaches. Experience, whether in person or through vicarious reading, teaches. That’s a good thing. It means I don’t have to journey to the center of the earth and get blown out a volcano to learn something about interpersonal relationships.

Strategy: Occasionally change the “What did you do today?” question into “What did the character in your book do today?”

If your child is really into a book or book series, try dressing or eating or living like a character from the book for several hours. Do charades of familiar books. Write a letter to a character and enlist someone to answer (Grandma?) as the character.

I mulled over our question quite a bit. What did I do to get my children to read? The truth is I wasn’t thinking about strategies and incentives. I assumed my kids would like to read, because I love to read.

  • ·Talking about Lobel’s Frog and Toad as if we might run into them in the backyard,
  • · taking a book with me to read in the doctor’s waiting room,
  • · making a special trip to the library when notified that my “hold” title had come in,

all these proofs of my love of reading came naturally. Trying to create a healthy attitude toward reading is like any other influence we try to exert over our children. They are more likely to take walks if we take walks. They are more likely to eat vegetables if we eat vegetables. They are more likely to speak respectfully if we speak respectfully.

My best advice for creating avid readers is to be an avid reader.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mem Fox

Mem Fox sounds like the name of a character in a book, but she's for real. An Australian, she is a noted author of many books for children and adults and a former professor of literacy education.

More information at Mem Fox.

Currently I am reading Reading Magic . The subtitle of Mrs. Fox's book is Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever.

Now you know why I am reading it.

Of course we as parents want wonderful things for our children, the best education, the best opportunities, the best this and that. What we often don't focus on is that we want our children to be happy. And reading aloud fosters a well-rounded character and a person who can enter relationships in a healthy manner. This isn't the emphasis of Reading Magic, but it is included. Here is a quote from chapter one:

"Reading aloud to my daughter was a fabulous experience.

We bonded through all sorts of marvelous books.

We came to know and love each other better through a variety of stories we shared."

I'd read aloud with my child if that was the only reason that existed. In this scattered society, it is hard to connect with people. Many of the social ills in our world are rooted in a form of attachment disorder.

  • First, I want to have a strong relationship with my children.

  • Second, I want my children to experience a strong relationship so they have that as a base for relationships in the future.

  • Third, I want them to learn how to develop a strong relationship through practice.

Reading aloud is important for your mental health!

I know that sounds extreme, but one dad I know said it this way, "He (4-yr-old) can be a trial all day. He can drive me crazy. He can push all my buttons. But at night, when he snuggles under my arm and we read a half-dozen books, it is like the equilibrium settles on both of us. The day's trials are erased and only the love remains."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Brown Bear, Brown Bear

What do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.

I wonder how many times that has been read by parents, by teachers, by babysitters, and by children. It is so simple and such a beautiful introduction to literature.

Bill Martin, Jr had a hard, hard time learning to read. He still wasn't proficient by the time he got to college. College!
However, his early influences weren't completely devoid of literary input. He said one teacher, Mrs. Davis, stoked his creativity by reading novels to his 5th grade class every day.
Mrs. Davis opened the world of books by "[tuning] his ears to literate language and to the voice of the text."

In college, he stumbled on poetry. How very unlikely for the son of a paperhanger with four brothers. He was born in Hiawatha, Kansas. I'd love to know what went on in that home when they were young. At least two brothers loved books. Bill wrote 300. Bernard illustrated the first ten. Robert Frost and Walt Whitman taught him to read. No, they weren't contemporaries, but in college their poetry unlocked the key to Bill's reading. He finally took the sounds of words in his ear and connected them to the words on the page. This enabled him to reverse the process. He took the words on the page and was able to produce the sounds of words.

He went on to get a doctorate in Early Childhood Education. Here is a concise list of things he did in his career that ultimately promoted literacy: Reading Rockets and a video interview.

My favorite quote from Bill Martin, Jr. :

"I don't write books, I talk them," Martin explains.

"I write to a melody."

Bill Martin is my second hero as a promoter of literacy. He understood books need to delight the child aurally as well as visually.

Look at his books in the library. Most of them show that they are loved with smudged pages and wrinkled edges.

I pray I will leave books behind that are so intriguing, they lure children into reading.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Two Men and a Book

Actually lots of books. There are two men I admire in the world who are very influential in connecting children with books. One is Jim Trelease and the other is Bill Martin. I was introduced to these men's work in my early thirties, after I had my BS in Elem Ed and after I had taught. Now I had my own children and I wanted to know more. Here is a more extensive look at Jim Trelease , his work and his career.

One of the things that struck me from Mr. Trelease is this bit of wisdom:

There is a connection between
want to read and how to read.
My very first principal looked over my first grade next-to-the-bottom reading group and told me these children would not learn to read that year. I was floored. He was giving up on me? on them? on us? before the first day of school? His next sentence freed me to be one of the best first grade teachers in the district. He said, "Your job this year is to convince these kids that reading is the most fun class of the day, that reading is exciting, and they will read. You don't have to mention that it won't be this year."

This wise principal and Jim Trelease know that no one learns to fish, unless they love fishing. No one learns to swim unless they love the water. No one learns to read unless what is in a book is seen as a treasure.

Reading aloud to children motivates them
to want to read themselves.

It's almost as elementary as climbing the mountain because it's there. A person has know the mountain exists. He must see the mountain in all its glory. He develops the need to be swallowed up in "mountainness." In other words, be at one with the mountain, fully experience it. So he begins the climb. (Disclaimer: this is an analogy. I am not a flower child or someone who worships nature instead of the Creator.)

Children who are read to latch on to reading. The research proves it. And in a less scientific proclamation, my family proves it. We are one generation after another of readers. Reading aloud sustained that gift.