This week Aunt Betty was invited to speak to children and parents at two of our local schools. At Field Elementary, they celebrated Dr. Seuss’ Birthday with a Literacy Night. After Aunt Betty’s storytelling, parents and children rotated to three different activities: bookmark making, reading as a family and listening to stories in the library. The Cat in the Hat made a special visit.
At Loma Portal Elementary, after Aunt Betty told stories, the students went by grade level to areas around the school where they listened to books. After they left, Aunt Betty was able to meet with the parents to talk about how to get their children to read. She offered two bits of advice.
Advice Number 1: Let Them Read
One of the best ways to get them to read is to let them read- whatever they want to read. Adults have a tendency to want children to read “good literature.” Bottom line is that readers read- everything. From menus to manuals and newspapers to cereal boxes, real readers read. By allowing children to choose what they like, parents can lessen the pressure that often happens at school. Let them read too hard, too easy, or books they have read five million times. Let them read about underwear and bugs. Let them read books that were adapted from movies. Let them stop reading a book that doesn’t interest them. Life is short. Reading- especially at home- should be a pleasure, not a punishment.
Advice Number 2: Don’t Give Up.
Sometimes kids get into a reading rut. They read the same book over and over. I once taught a boy who checked out There’s a Nightmare in my Closet the entire year he was in kindergarten. Then there are kids who read the same series- and only that. There are kids who “never finish a book.”
In my experience, I have found that time changes most things-even reading patterns. Eventually the kindergarten child went on to read books about eagles. He read every book about eagles. Of course, he only read about eagles, but this too, eventually passed. Kids will only read Captain Underpants for so long- not that there's anything wrong with that. As their interests change, as their friends grow, their reading patterns adapt.
When you have a child who doesn’t finish reading a book, perhaps it’s time to investigate. Perhaps he doesn’t have enough time to properly choose a book. Perhaps it’s too hard or easy, so he loses interest. Perhaps the cover was misleading or he didn’t know enough about the book before he chose it. Ask questions about his library visits. Take him to the library or bookstore and watch him select. Then you can ask more questions and perhaps determine how to help him select. Your librarian or book seller can help you guide him to good choices.
Maybe your children are different ages and bedtime stories are difficult. Perhaps you can allow the children to take turns selecting the books. You might choose books from the list of 100 books everyone ought to know. From time to time offer separate story times. Allow your older child to read to the younger. Allow your younger child to “read” to the older. He can picture walk through the story. You may want to discuss this idea with the older child so he doesn’t try to “correct” his sibling. Remind him that he began to read in much the same way. You may want to vary your reading time. Perhaps you can read after dinner instead of just before bedtime. Read in the doctor's office while you wait.
□ Allow children to stop reading a book.
□ Do some legwork as to how your child selects books.
□ Find out more about the newest and best children’s books.
□ Read shorter picture books with multi-age groups.
□ Use booklists. Nancy Keane has “if you liked this” kind of lists on her wiki. Your public or school library may have a database like Novelist.
□ Take your child to the school or public library.
□ Ownership is important. Add to your family bookshelf as often as you can.
□ Look for reading opportunities in your every day life. Read menus, road signs, cookbooks, the newspaper.
□ Be a role model.
□ Real readers read and real writers write.
□ Don’t give up. Everyone has spurts of “non-reading.”
For Further Reading
Backes, Laura. Best Books for Kids (who Think) They Hate to Read, Prima Lifestyles, 2001
Codell, Esme. How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003
Trelease, Jim. The Read Aloud Handbook, Penguin, 2006