Many families struggle with convincing their children to read. Others have difficulty pulling their children away from the book shelf – that would be our household! What makes the difference?
We need the ability to read, process and sift through it – quickly and efficiently.
Get rid of the television
I don’t mean restrict their screen time because that just doesn’t work. And I don’t mean that you just get Netflix instead of cable because, really, who is that fooling? Without any hidden meanings, I will simply say – ditch the television.
Sesame Street. I know. And whatever other great educational shows are out there. It’s true – all television is actually educational. (The problem tends to be what is being taught!) And there are some great shows out there, like Sesame Street. But for every one of those, there’s a Caillou or Yo Gabba Gabba.
If you’re afraid they’ll miss out, set one day a week in which they can watch something really good and wholesomely educational … on your computer, with you watching, too. Talk about restricting screen time. You won’t get through a whole day. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll be lucky to make it through an hour. (If the show is so stupid or mind-numbing that you can’t bear to watch it, why are your children watching it?)
Seriously, the television is your enemy when it comes to raising a reader. It is possible to raise a reader with a television around, but the job is going to be much, much more difficult.
Most people will agree that limiting or even getting rid of television is good, but most will argue that children need lots of toys.
We made the decision early on to restrict toys to simple classics – nothing mechanized, computerized, capable of speech or independent mobility – in other words, we have restricted them to blocks, wooden trains and tracks, cars and trucks, dolls and stuffed animals, play food and child-sized household tools like pots, brooms and mops. (Of course that will change as they grow – they’ll get more books!)
Get Them Library Cards
The public library is a wonderful resource that we should all support.
Library books are to be read carefully since they do not belong to us. They teach us respect for other’s property and they teach us deadlines. It’s funny how much that twenty-five cent a day fine scares me even though …. seriously, it’s a quarter. I can afford it, and it helps fund the library.
The public library teaches us that books are a public treasure.
I had my first library card when I was seven. It was a small green piece of cardstock and my library number was 6060. About ten years ago, I was in my hometown and dropped into the very tiny library – my card number was still valid, listing me as living at the house in which I grew up!
Every Saturday, I would ride my bicycle across town to the library, usually waiting outside the door until the librarian arrived. The library to me was an incredible smorgasbord at which I could nibble and taste and explore. When I left, my backpack was so full that it would threaten to topple me.
Surround Them With Books
If there were no books at home, though, I doubt I would have developed such a passion for them. My earliest memories involve books. I used to spend hours sitting beside my father, both of us quietly reading.
Our father built a special bookcase to replace the upstairs banister because we were running out of places for our books. We had encyclopedias, dictionaries, Readers Digest condensed books, novels of all sorts, and plenty of non-fiction.
Having plenty of books in the home teaches children that books are ordinary, something to be accepted as a normal, every day part of life.
Give Them Books
This scares a lot of people. Make sure your children have books that they can handle, chew on, rip and generally love to pieces.
This does not mean handing a child a century old classic until they have proven they can be careful enough, but it does mean accepting that books will be trampled, torn and otherwise destroyed.
Take a deep breath. A few ripped books is a small price to pay for lifetime literacy.
This means children need books of their own, books that they have chosen and that they love. They may not all be “at grade level”. Some will be easy, safe old favourites, while others will challenge and need to be nibbled at in small amounts. The important thing is that these books must be loved and wanted.
And so now “library” needs an adjective, because a lifetime reader needs access to the public library, a family library and a personal library.
Unless someone in the home is an avid reader, it is going to be difficult to raise readers. Model that the television and internet has a priority, and your child might read, but will not grow into an avid reader.
The effects of that – modeling reading to your children – will last for generations.
My grandfather learned to read first in Scots Gaelic and then in English. He had not a single day of formal education, but he loved to read and he loved to learn.
His Gaelic Bible was worn to tatters when he died, because he would start at Genesis 1:1 and read through to the end …. and then turn back to Genesis 1:1 to begin the cycle again. But he read everything he could, and he instilled that love of reading in four of his five children.
Those four created homes with plenty of books, minimal toys and parents who read … and a dozen or so children who have done the same and are now raising Grandpa’s great-grandchildren, a fourth generation of readers.
Thank you, Grandpa.
Some children do not like to read because it causes headaches. Get their vision checked. The opposite is not necessarily true, though – an avid reader may still have vision problems. I certainly did.
Other children who have speech problems or are overly sensitive to criticism may worry that they will be mocked when reading aloud. It is certainly important to be encouraging when children read (or do anything scary!)
Many children are scared off reading because too much is expected of them. Reading is a very complicated thing for our brains. Young children tend to sub-vocalize – that is, they read “aloud” in their heads, seeing the words, hearing the sound in their heads and then processing the meaning. Mature readers, however, turn this into a much more efficient one-step process. Do not expect adult reading from children – that simply sets them up for failure.
The only way I know for children to mature in their reading is to be exposed to plenty of reading material – some that is “too easy”, some that is “too hard” and some that is “just right”.
The more children read, the better they get at reading.
I don’t know if reading challenges or other encouragements (as in, read so many books to get a free pizza) increase a child’s likelihood of being a lifetime reader, but I suspect that any positive effect is temporary.
What I do know is that having books in the home, introducing them to the public library, limiting (or eliminating) television, limiting toys and modeling reading are all actions that will greatly increase the likelihood of your children reading.