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If you love to read, you probably can’t imagine why someone would not like to read. But if you talk with kids, or the grown ups they’ve become, it’s not hard to find out why they don’t. Often you’ll find they were treated something like the following when they were learning to read:
First misstep is when we treat kids as little passive dummies that we adults pour “stuff” into. Ain’t so! They have lives, they have interests, they have concerns, they have thoughts about their world. They are involved.
If that’s the case, what happens when we read aloud to them or give them a “bad” book–one that’s poorly written, one that has nothing to do with their lives or worlds, one that in uninteresting? The sheer mechanical act of reading is not enough to make a reader. They probably have the same reaction that children’s book author Jon Scieszka had:
“At school I was trying to learn to read by deciphering stories featuring two lame kids named Dick and Jane. They never did much of anything exciting. And they talked funny. If this was reading, I wondered why anyone would bother.”
“Bad” books would make any thinking child wonder, “WHY bother!” Or to put the shoe on the other foot, what if you were in their position? What if someone gave you books with bad, uninteresting stories to read? After you read one, would you want to read another? Why do we ask our kids to do something that we wouldn’t even do?
There’s too many good books out there with good stories to risk losing a child’s interest in reading by insisting they read a bad one or one they don’t like. Those first years of being read to and then learning and practicing reading are just too critical.
Thanks to Anita Silvey for the Scieszka quote and check out her blog, Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac for a daily dose of “good” stories and books for kids of all ages.
Off my soapbox now, 😉
I began my school year visits to Head Start in the past few weeks. I’m a new piece of the school day for most of the kids so I talk about who I am, where I work, and what a library is. While explaining about how the library has lots of books, I asked who had a book of their own at home (hoping to then talk about how they could come get more at the library!).
One child raised his hand.
I know this. But it still took my breath away.
This is why we do storytimes. This is why we have book giveaways. This is why we have libraries in neighborhoods and in the poorer parts of town. This is why we are librarians and teachers and Friends of the Library members and Board members and active parents.
This is why we read to kids. Because during that week, that may be the only time they see how to use a book. That may be the only story they hear. That may be the only time they sing a song and have fun with words.
That may be the only time that week that the part of their brain that’s trying sooooo hard to develop language–it may be the only time it gets fed.
Support programs that give good, new books away. And read to a child. You’ll change a life,
It’s just a book. It’s just a few minutes. (Or maybe a few seconds, if you’re reading to a baby. ;-)) You’re just a (fill in the blank); you don’t know anything about teaching a child to read.
Is it really making a difference?
Absolutely! The results will not show up for 1-5 years (in other words, not until after a child is developmentally ready to learn to rad around age 6-7 and after he or she starts school). Here’s one reason, though, why you can trust that those minutes of reading aloud are making a difference:
- According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, about half of children under 5 are read to seven or more times a week by a parent or family member.
- Children under age 5 whose families are living below the poverty line were more likely to be read to seven or more times a week in 2009 (45 percent) than in 1998 (37 percent).
Both those statistics are reported by Early Martin Phelan and you can read more here.