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Your kids are likely a little more than half way through their summer vacation. You and kiddos resolved that this summer would be different–they would read and they would read consistently throughout the summer. Cuz you know it’s good for them (and tastes better than spinach).

But here it is, mid-summer, and everyone’s resolve is wavering. How do you jump start the reading? It’s an easy, one-step trick.

Let your kid pick the reading material.

Oh no, you wail, tearing into the street, heedless of oncoming traffic. But what if…

  • My kid chooses comic books;
  • My kid chooses books of less than stellar literary merit;
  • My kid chooses a cookbook or a how-to book;
  • My kid chooses a book with a lot of pictures;
  • My kid choose a book that’s not on the AR (or substitute your school’s reading program) list;
  • My kid chooses a book he or she has already read…
  • or a book too easy or a book too hard or a magazine or (fill in the blank with your concern).

What if? Well, bottom line, it does not matter. Really truly, it does not matter what they read. Research shows that what matters is the number of words they read and that they read consistently.

Remember that there are many purposes for reading and therefore many reasons for “teaching” reading. Summer reading, leisure reading, vacation reading, non-school reading develops the fluency and skills that lead to lifelong reading.

Reading is not merely an academic endeavor. Think about it: How would you like it if

  1. someone always dictated to you what you could and could not read,
  2. someone always “quizzed” you on it, either formally or informally, and
  3. someone was always handing you books like Moby Dick (I’d run out screaming into the street!)

You wouldn’t like it one bit, would you? And would you want to read very much if that’s what always happened when you tried? You betcha wouldn’t! 🙂

Your kid’s no different.

So recharge summer reading. Let the kiddos do the choosing!

It’s what summer’s for,

Babette

Ramona and Ralph the Mouse love DEAR!

Yeah, you can sing that to Aretha’s RESPECT and I won’t tell.

But DEAR and TCH really are not the latest in pop tunes. They are two great websites I discovered and wanted to pass on to you.

DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) has been around a while and is officially celebrated on Beverly Cleary’s birthday, April 12. But this video (1 minutes long) does a great job of showing how it can become a regular part of a school day–and the same can be done at home, of course!

Some of the things I love about this video are:

  • it’s noisy: reading and storytimes do not need to be quiet; reading aloud and the conversation that goes with it is a noisy kind of learning;
  • it’s wiggly: reading and storytimes do not need to be still; some kids like to sit and some like to move around or stand; they are all soaking it up;
  • it’s fairly unstructured: while reading (and more so storytimes) sometimes need planning and care, just as often all it takes is to pick up a book; some kids are read to solo, some are in pairs, some are in groups and these “reading groups” are not assigned or planned;
  • it’s easy: anyone can pick up a book and read to a child (and even if you can’t read, you can talk about the pictures or make up a story to go along with the pictures–it’s still “reading” for young children).

Finally, TCH Teaching Channel is one of the best sites for teaching and education ideas I’ve run across. Quality stuff! It’s worth exploring.

How could you adapt DEAR in your school, home, or library? Share your ideas with others!

DEAR,

Babette

 

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, 😉

Babette

Does reading aloud really make a difference?

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.

Read on!

Babette

 

What makes a reader? Someone who is read to and someone who reads. It’s that simple. How many words does a child consume–that’s the make or break point.

Many of my conversations with concerned parents are some variation of the “it’s the number of words” talk. Statistics from the new National Literacy Trust report bear this out.

Here’s a few:

  • 8 out of 10 children who read ten or more books a month are above average readers.
  • 77% of children who read for an hour or more at a time are above average readers.
  • Only 4% of children who read for an hour or more at a time are below average readers.

Basically, the longer a child reads, the more practice they get, the more words they read, the more internal reinforcement they get from the process (because the more they read, the easier it gets, and the more fun it becomes).

Interestingly enough, text messaging words don’t seem to apply–or at least not as well as sitting down with a novel. Children who read text messages but not novels are twice as likely to be below average readers. More research here would be great. My hunch is that it’s not the same because texts come in little chunks rather than continuous streams, ie, try to read texts for over an hour without interruption. 🙂

Want to read more? Here’s the summary article and link to the research. Or read Jim Trelease’s take on it in The Read-Aloud Handbook on pages 142-147. (If you’ve never read Trelease, you’re in for a real treat!).

Read on!

Babette

I’ve always taken seriously the matter of choice in books, movies, music, all things cultural. Choice plays a great role in motivating readers; kids (and probably adults) want to read more if they get to choose. There is another angle to the choice factor though.

Linda Holmes’ essay on NPR, The Sad Beautiful Fact that We’re All Going to Miss Almost Everything, puts another spin on choice. While not her point, it reminds me of my conviction that life is just too short to read baaaad stories. And for kids, surrounding them with good stories (that they can choose from) increases the probability that they’ll want to read another. A bad story leads to an unrewarding reading experience and can just prove their point–that reading is dumb, boring, and a waste of time.

So how does one determine if a story is good? Two factors are critical. The first is: Where is a child is developmentally (check under the tag Choosing Books to read more articles about this). And the second is: What critical elements does a story contain (or not)?

Kendall Haven in his book Story Proof: the Science behind the Startling Power of Story explains five key elements of good stories, whether for children or adults.

His five are:

  • character,
  • intent,
  • actions,
  • struggles, and
  • details.

Good stories are character driven. A substantive character gives the reader a chance to judge relevancy, emotions, beliefs, actions, and attitudes–and a chance to create meaning. With a flat character, the story just “goes through the motions.”

Intent is about goals and motive, the what and why for the character. Actions are what the character does, the plot, the how. Actions give the story a way to explain and illuminate the characters.

Struggles, like plot or actions, are well known as a story element. The character’s struggles, though, need to be significant. Struggles are against something–a conflict, problem, something internal or external, something real, with something at stake.

Finally, details make all the other elements work. They provide enough concreteness that the reader can fit all the pieces together and remember them through mental imagery.

That’s an incredibly short summary of Haven’s work, and I can’t recommend his book highly enough. On so many levels, it will change the way you look at and evaluate stories. I encourage you, too, though, to take some stories you consider good and check them against that list. You’ll find they have all of the elements. Take some bad stories and check them; you’ll find they are missing one or more of the elements.

Here’s to all the goodness of life!

Babette

You already know many of these, about how storytimes for the youngest ones are:

  • exposing children to a rich language experience,
  • modeling language play to the adults who love and care for these kiddos,
  • teaching rhymes, fingerplays, songs, and simple games to adults to share when they leave the library,
  • teaching adults through tips about the importance of early literacy.

That’s certainly not an exhaustive list, yet it covers a wide range goals for baby and toddler storytime.

Here’s one that’s easy to overlook though. 🙂

After storytime, mom’s checking out. She asks me, “Can you recommend any good books?”

I paused. “For you or for the kids?” I asked.

“For me. I just started reading recently and I’m still figuring out what to read.”

Oh my! It was all I could do not to race around and give her a gignormous hug!

She didn’t tell me that all she’d seen and heard and done in storytimes (she has two kids and so has been coming for years) encouraged her to take up reading. But I truly believe it played a part.

And the best part? Her children will grow up to be readers now!

So on the days you’re feeling like you’re just filling twenty minutes up with silly, inconsequential nonsense, remember her. You both deserve one of those hugs!

Babette

Yes, of course.  End of blog post. How about a nice cup of tea now?

Guess that won’t do, now will it? 😉

Questions from non-librarian folks do me good. They bring me back to the real world and out of my tunnel vision land of assumptions.

She was ordering books online as gifts for two children. One of the books was listed as a board book. “What is a board book?” she asked.

Gooood question! 🙂

Here’s the nutshell on board books:

  • They are primarily for children ages birth through 3-ish.
  • They are small (usually), the better for little hands to handle them.
  • They are made of heavy, thick materials so that they can endure the hazards that happen at these earliest ages when one is learning about books. These include mouthing, early attempts at page turning, and juice cup spills among others.
  • They usually have a few clear pictures or drawings and few words.
  • Many have no actual story. Why? Because children ages babies to 3-ish aren’t really ready for stories yet. Their eyes are still learning to focus and they are still learning to recognize the “things” of their world. They love and prefer pictures of babies and activities of their daily life (eating, taking a walk, playing with blocks, seeing a puppy, hearing a fire engine, etc.). Of course, as they get closer to age 3, shorter stories become interesting as well.
  • They are also ideal as special books that begged to be played with–for instance, books with cutaways and holes for peeking through or poking into.

Board books give young children the best chances for success as they begin learning about books. Asking children to do something they are not yet ready to do (like keeping things out of their mouths or turning pages gently) sets them up for frustration–and can lead adults to fussing at them. Negative experiences and emotions get associated with the book and the reading, leading to a decrease in interest in books and reading years later.

Finally, learning takes time and lots and lots of repetition. Playing with, exploring (poking, prodding, chewing, dropping etc.), pretending to read, and yes, even being read to can happen over and over and over again with board books for many years.

Board books are real books. They are real books for real kids of a certain age with certain needs and certain interests. Simply because they are age appropriate doesn’t make them less a book. You would never give a one year old a Neil Gaiman novel to read nor What is on My Head? to a sixty-five year old, yet both are equally a “real” book.

So feel confident this holiday season as you shop for babies through three year olds, that board books are a great choice for them!

Happy Holidays,

Babette

I am often frustrated when I talk with adults about how important talking conversationally with children is (giving directions or commands and saying “no” do not count).

Children between 18 months and 3 years learn a new word (that’s vocabulary, folks) every two hours that they are awake.

By age 3 they have deduced most grammar rules for their native language.

They have done ALL this by simply listening. But that listening and learning only happen if there is a live human being to listen to–and interact with.

Hearing language from a computer or TV is not interactive. A machine cannot replace a live human that responds to what each individual child does, when he or she does it. This is why research shows that screens do not increase language development. They are not even neutral. Screens  slow language development.

Watch this brief video clip to get an excellent feel for what the child and his or her brain needs in these years when such tremendous language development is taking place. The brain is so hardwired to learn language that it will actively protest when it is not able to participate in the activities that enable it (if lack of response continues, however, humans learn to quit trying).

Talking works. It’s simple. It’s essential. Talking leads to language development and language development before age five leads to learning to read after age 5.

Here’s to the power of conversation!

Babette

Now that all the hoopla has died down–and since you asked–here’s my take on the supposed demise of the children’s picture book (read the NYT article that started it all here).

My take? It’s much ado over nothing (except on two points). Here’s why:

  • The article’s point is a business point. Sales have dropped. The most obvious reason should be the economy. Did anyone check the sales on other goods purchased with disposable income? Are the figures on picture book sales really that much different from those of skateboards or barbies?
  • Second, why does it sound like  consumers are such dumb sheep that they will only buy what is on display right under their noses? If you want to buy a picture book, shop for a picture book, no matter what marketing ploys the seller is utilizing.
  • Third, if we buy them, publishers will print them. If we don’t, they won’t.

So why should adults purchase (or check out of their friendly neighborhood library ;-)) picture books for kids?

The two most important reasons are:

First, for most of the time, for most kids ages birth through six-ish to seven-ish, picture books are developmentally the most appropriate reading format.

What does that mean? It means the child will enjoy the reading experience more. They will not feel pushed, rushed, or bored as they will with a chapter book or beginning reader. (When’s the last time you read one? They are good for practicing reading. They are not highly motivating.) Children who enjoy reading read more.

The second reason involves choice. Children who are allowed to choose their own books read more. Choice means they can choose anything, even if a grown-up deems it “too easy.” Reading increases reading. The type of reading “matter” is not what increases reading. The quantity of reading is what increases reading (as long as it is enjoyable). So if your child enjoyed hearing the phone book read aloud, that would make him or her a better reader!

Whoever you want to point the finger at for “pushing” kids into beginning readers and chapter books, the deciding factor is you, the parent. You hold the wallet–not the publishers, book sellers, school district, or teacher. Listen to and watch your kid. What is he or she truly turned on to in books? What does he or she choose? Buy it, check it out of the library, get more of it until he or she is ready to move onto something else. Read aloud even after he or she has learned to read. Make reading enjoyable. For most young children, that enjoyment will be through picture books.

Off my soapbox now,

Babette

I’m generally not too much into lists of this sort. After a while, they all seem to say the same thing–again.

But this list for making reading fun is worth perusing.

I especially like the first one. Why? Because it works! It’s so simple–but it still works! It’s so enjoyable for everyone–and it still works. Trust in the power of reading aloud (and for more motivation check out Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook). It still works!

I do wish the list makers had clarified in the read aloud tip that reading aloud needs to continue even after a child learns to read.

Even once a child has “figured it out,” learning to read is hard work. It takes lots and lots of practice. And most of that hard work practice time is not much fun and not very motivating.

Reading aloud, on the other hand, is fun–because mom or dad or any fluently reading person can read anything! And that’s fun!

Hearing sentence structure and vocabulary that’s above a child’s current reading level also helps them later when they get to that reading level. It’s not foreign; they’ve heard it before. In fact oral vocabulary and comprehension is directly tied to reading comprehension.

So please, continue reading to your children! For how long, you ask? Well, there’s absolutely no reason to stop. 🙂 (Btw, I’m currently reading aloud Shelley’s Frankenstein to my 14 year old.)

Read on,

Babette

Here’s an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal on the gap between boys and girls in reading and what to do about it.

I, like Mr. Spence, am the parent of boys, both voracious readers at ages 14 and 21. They have always been readers. And my experience matches with the “science” he quotes. They both have grown up with strong limits on screen times, be that TV, video games, computer time, or handheld screen games.

Screens are very easy to turn to as a kid when you’re bored and don’t know what to do. Finding something to do takes some time rattling around. Eventually if the house is full of constructive “stuff” (blocks, pots and pans, legos, dress up clothes including swords and capes, books, etc.), they will find something to do. I found it takes about 20 minutes. 🙂

They will not choose these other things, though, if screens are always available first. Especially boys. (I believe there is something different about boys and their brains that makes screens especially attractive to them.)

Mr. Spence leaves out a few important points though.

First, reading at early ages must be enjoyable. That means not insisting (or even asking) that your boy hold still and be very quiet while you are reading together. Boys are wigglers and squirmers and little noise makers. They can still listen while doing all this. My youngest at age seven was still falling off the back of the sofa during our reading times. He also could tell me everything I had just read aloud to him.

When an experience is pleasant, enjoyable, or fun, we as humans want to do it more. When we fuss at boys while reading, they associate the fussing with the reading and who wants to be fussed at? So no more reading. When we ask boys to do something they physically are incapable of at that developmental point in time, we put them in an untenable position. Who wants to be in that place? So no more reading.

We set the stage for loving reading early, early on, well before a boy ever starts school just by those simple actions, words, and attitudes from the adults boys want so much to please.

Second, I’m with Mr. Spence on the mistaken reliance upon grossology. Yet without stooping to it, there are books that boys like better. Most girls will sit and listen or will read most anything they are handed. Most boys will not. At least not until they are hooked on reading.

Boys like action. They like “big things” whether those are trucks or explosions. They like voyages, adventures, struggles, quests, and good vs. evil. They like heroes, monsters, and legends. They like to know how things work. They like dinosaurs and guns; they make them feel powerful and boys must learn over time what power is about. They like stories that show boys learning to be their best and boys becoming men–as long as that is not the point of the story; the story must come first. They like stories about boys doing the things they would like to–climbing trees, building rafts, getting chased by bulls, and generally getting into innocent trouble.

Turn off the screens. Get good “boy” books in your house. Get your adult attitudes out of the way. And watch your boy grow into a reader.

Here’s to reading for all, including those marvelous boys!

Babette

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