When I look back on my daughter’s progress in reading this past year, I am rather dumbfounded. In March, she was reading Dr. Suess books with help from me. Today, she’s reading The Tail of Emily Windsnap independently, only occasionally asking me for help in pronouncing some words.
When I was at the university and training to be a teacher, I remember the discussion and the debate over reading instruction. Topics that were covered included time, rules and phonics, reading levels, assessments, and finding books children might enjoy reading and having them readily available to the children. All of these topics are worth the discussion, although I’d lean more toward tossing assessments out the window, but I won’t jump on that soapbox today.
One topic of vital importance that was never covered was: cultivating a community of readers.
In my classroom and in my home, reading has always been simply part of daily life. In my classroom, we had free days, when my students could simply curl up somewhere in the room to read a book. If they didn’t have a book, they were allowed to go to the library to get one. Many of my colleagues thought the children would use this time to socialize and sometimes they did, but more often, they took the time to read. When children are given time to read and when everyone around them, including their teacher, is reading, they begin to see the importance of the activity.
I’ve found the same to be true for my daughter. Her father and I read daily and she sees us reading. We don’t just read on our phones, or on our computers, but we read novels and nonfiction books, as well as magazines, and any other materials we can get our hands on. We cultivate a reading community right in our own home and I think it makes a world of difference.
We can’t simply tell children they must read. We cannot present reading as work and expect children to want to do it. Work is work and while some of us are lucky enough to have work we love doing, most adults avoid work like they try to avoid getting poison ivy, especially if the work is dictated by someone else.
When we give reading assignments, it crushes the joy of reading. It turns a valuable tool into something to be dreaded.
When we assign reading levels and points to books, we force children to view books as something that labels them, rather than simply a source of enjoyment or information. It gets even worse when those points and levels become part of a grade in a class. I remember students who carried around thicker, more “advanced” books to hide the fact that they were on a lower reading level. It pained me to see them carrying around such unnecessary shame, as they carried those books to each of their classes.
Why do we do this to children, when such things like this make children not want to read? What can we do instead?
How we view reading may influence how our children view reading, but if you are a reluctant reader, don’t worry. You can still help encourage your child to read. If you are not interested in reading a novel, try a magazine on a topic you enjoy and have them around for evening reading. Every little bit helps. The most important thing is to be enthusiastic about what you’re discovering. If you’re finding something challenging in what you’re reading, share that as well! Children need to know that adults sometimes struggle with material they read and it’s perfectly okay. The key is to share so that we can all learn and grow together.
Were you a reluctant reader, or a voracious reader?
What book/s do you remember enjoying as a child?