Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 | Reading
**This article originally appeared on QueryCat.com**
As a professor specializing in children’s literature and literacy, I am commonly asked this question by concerned parents and teachers. While some children devour books, others avoid reading like the plague. Not surprisingly, there are no easy answers to this complex question. In this article, I will explore some relatively straight forward ways to foster not only a love of reading, but also an overall sense of independence in children. Whether it’s reading, or any other aspect of life which requires independence, children need healthy practices modeled for them by caring adults.
Fostering independence and a love of reading… and writing, too!
Quite simply reflecting on our own experiences with reading and writing are powerful ways to inform our teaching and parenting. Children need to see that you read and write for real purposes, and that it’s a natural, healthy part of your everyday life, just as you would eat a healthy diet and exercise.
Here are some pointers and ideas:
• What were your favorite texts as a child? Perhaps you remember cherished classics like Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, or Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter? (Who could forget mischievous Max, who gets sent to bed with no supper in Where The Wild Things Are? Max goes on a delightful adventure with not-so-frightening monsters. Just as memorable is good-ol’ Peter Rabbit, who is equally as naughty as Max, when he defies his mother by entering Mr. McGregor’s garden.)
Merely share your favorite books with children. That energy will be contagious, trust me. If you don’t have specific or fond memories of reading, or of favorite books from your own childhood, don’t worry! Please see this as a wonderful opportunity to start a new tradition, and a healthy routine in both the lives of your children, and yourself.
• Carve out special time in the day and/or week, whether it’s at bedtime, or Sunday afternoons, when you can create “warm fuzzy” memories together that are associated with reading. By “warm fuzzy” I mean a multi-sensory experience, which doesn’t have to be fancy. The fact is that the reading will be more memorable and enjoyable if you bring your child’s senses alive along with the experience, whether it’s enjoying a mug of hot chocolate along with the book, or reading beneath a make-shift tent made from chairs and a blanket. Be creative!
Honestly, I don’t ever remember my parents reading to me. My mother says that she did, but I just don’t remember it. This is probably for two reasons: one, it wasn’t frequent enough; and two, there was no sensory experience surrounding the reading. On the other hand, I do have very clear, tender memories of reading with my grandmother. That is because we would read frequently together, and I can picture the pink blanket with which we used to snuggle, and the musty smell of the library books. Reading with my grandmother became an honored ritual. Consistency is key!
• Writing is very much the same as reading. If you do write frequently, involve your child in the writing, even if it’s as simple as a grocery list or a greeting card. Similar to my suggestion of creating “warm fuzzy” memories associated with reading, do the same with writing. In his book A Fresh Look at Writing, Donald Graves gives the suggestion of writing for 10 minutes about a photo from your wallet. This is an uncomplicated way to make your writing meaningful, in a way that directly relates to your life, and to your child’s life, while preserving precious memories.
• Last, and perhaps most importantly, please give yourselves and your children credit. You are all reading “the world” on a continual basis. That is, to read, you need not always read books. You are reading the television, movies, video games, the Internet, etc. on a daily basis. That is reading! Do yourselves and your children a favor by considering these activities as reading, and equip your children to read critically. Today’s children are bombarded by a range of media, and it is our responsibility as parents and teachers to provide children with the eyes and tools to engage critically with media, so as not to get taken advantage of. Get involved in your children’s passions, whether it’s comics, web pages, etc., and foster their critical reading lenses of these texts.
Children need to constantly see that we all read and write for real purposes.
Once again, I must emphasize that the key to fostering great literacy practices in our children is that they must see that we all read and write for real purposes. In fact, most people see reading/writing in one of the following two ways:
Authenticity (enjoyment and function)
Artificial uses (assignments, extrinsic rewards)
There is absolutely no need for children to think of reading and writing as the boring and meaningless activities they do in school, for assignments and empty extrinsic rewards. Show children that we read and write for real purposes in our daily lives, both to function as citizens (to balance/write checkbooks, vote, read/send mail) and to be happy human beings (in the ways we make a point to enjoy various reading and writing activities, such as writing to friends, joining a book club, etc.)
Remember… fostering any love is really tied to fostering independence.
Whether you want your child to tie his/her shoes, eat healthy, or read, it is all tied to fostering independence. As adults, we cannot expect children to love and want to do anything unless we foster the autonomy and respect in them to want to do it, and to see the value in doing it. When fostering independence, or a love of reading in your child, follow the 4 following steps:
- Model the reading behavior for the child. You can’t expect the child to read unless you read… regularly!
- Try reading together, whether you read to your child, or your child reads to you. You could even share the reading. Many people have had tremendous success co-reading the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling with their children.
- It is not until this point that you can necessarily expect the child to be reading independently. Once he/she does read independently, praise him/her. Don’t harp on the child for not reading.
- Consistently check in to see how your child is doing with his/her reading. Make a regular point to read with him/her. Make sure children have stimulating reading materials, which are at an appropriate reading level for them. Often, children simply get frustrated, and understandably so, when considering their reading material is just too hard for them.
Parents, here are some good, concrete things you can do to help:
• Be readers and writers yourselves.
• Be bookbinders for your children’s home-made books. Contribute to book- making materials, both at home, and at school.
• Either volunteer in your child’s classroom, or help to coordinate the volunteering schedule and efforts for your child’s teacher, especially if you can’t make it to school during daytime hours.
• Fill out book club orders with your child. Bring your child to the library on a regular basis.
• Help your children type their self-authored stories. This is a great way for them to learn the intricacies of the keyboard, too.
• Coordinate an effort for older students to read and write with younger buddies.
• Consider hosting a home literature discussion group for your child and his/her friends. (If you’re looking for ideas on how to organize a book club for your child, I would suggest reading Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels.)
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