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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
- someone always dictated to you what you could and could not read,
- someone always “quizzed” you on it, either formally or informally, and
- 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,
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:
- struggles, and
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!
After our opening song, I read The Three Bears. I prefer the Barton version. It’s simply told and the pictures are clear and colorful. The Three Bears is a magical story. I’ve never had a group of kids (from toddlers up through age eight) that weren’t just enthralled with it.
I then tell them we are all going to tell the story again, a different way! That’s when we do the fingerplay, The Three Bears (click here). Because The Three Bears relies so much on sequence, it’s a great story for reinforcing narrative skills. So the second time through the fingerplay, I reinforce it even more by letting the kids “remember” what comes next (bowls, chairs, beds, and bears).
Next book up–Bear Wants More by Wilson followed by more food: Ten Fat Sausages (click here). Bear Wants More is in rhyme so it builds phonological awareness as does Sausages with its rhythm and alliteration. I do it as a chant with the kids clapping on the beat. I hold up my handy-dandy flannel board stand-in (a whiteboard with pieces stuck on with double-sided tape) during the chant.
On it is a frying pan, complements of free clip art, and ten sausages, also from clip art. I print the pictures off, trim them to shape, and add the tape to their backs. The sausages won’t all actually fit in the pan so I fan them across the space above the pan in two groups of five.
We clap, we chant, and on POP, I remove one sausage and on BAM, I remove another. Then I pause and count the sausages and we start again till we get to zero sausages. I always do it a second time (sometimes a third, the kids love it) and when I place the sausages back on the board, I also count aloud.
Finally, I tell the kids I’ve got one more puzzle for them (because the sausages have been a puzzle; you can just see their little wheels a-turnin’ during it). Then we read Are You A Horse by Rash. I try to get straight through this one the first time without too many questions so they can get as much of the flow as possible. And I always quietly hold the last page up for many, many seconds until someone finally gets it and the giggles begin.
It’s not your traditional springtime storytime (except for Bear Wants More) but the kids enjoy it sooooo much.
Hope you do too!
The parents in this video have done a stupendously good thing. They have given their child a book for a Christmas present. Books being part of every gift giving occasion is a great way to build a love for books and encourage literacy. The positive experience and emotions get paired with the books, thereby “teaching” that books are good and fun and enjoyable.
But what happens when the best laid plan goes awry? When the giftee hasn’t quite made the connection yet? What then?
First, you keep a straight face and you are quiet. The more you react, especially in a positive manner such as laughing and making a fuss about “how cute,” the more you reinforce the behavior you don’t want!
Second, this principle applies to most behaviors. If you want the behavior repeated, pay attention to it. If you don’t want it repeated, ignore it. It’s a simple rule of human learning that works throughout our lives.
Finally, maybe that particular Christmas morning wasn’t the time for whatever reasons, but at some point, a child needs to hear that “it” is a gift, gifts are given because someone thought you would like it, and even if you don’t like it, you smile and say thank you.
Remember, though, stifle the giggles when a kiddo does something you don’t want to see repeated, no matter how funny or cute it is. You’re doing you both a favor–and you can always laugh about it later, out of sight and hearing!
Hope your holidays were blessed,
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!
I know they most likely knew what they were doing; people who are great at what they do make it look so simple and easy.
Yet I am still blown away by the book Maggie’s Ball by Lindsay Barrett George for the seamless way it puts together a good story with several early literacy skills.
Maggie is a dog with a yellow ball who is looking for someone to play with. The ball gets away from her, though, and rolls into town. Here’s where the fun begins.
The double page spread of the town has four shops around a circle. Lots of people are in town, doing and carrying a variety of “things”–hoops, scooters, dumbbells, wheelchairs. There are poodles, balloons, drums, easels, lollipops, monkeys. These illustrations provide lots and lots of “things” to talk about, encouraging conversation and building vocabulary.
What makes the picture different, though, is that virtually every image involves circles.
What’s special about circles? A circle is a shape and letters are made of shapes. As a child plays with, talks about, and recognizes shapes, he or she lays the foundation for recognizing letters years down the road.
Maggie goes to town to look for her ball and visits each shop. At each one there are many more circular “things” to talk about and name. There’s cakes, cookies, clocks, pizzas, pets, balloons. There’s also practice with discrimination skills. Is the lemon her ball? It’s yellow, and it’s mostly round. How do we know a lemon is not a ball?
Print on these pages is very succinct and very clear, building print awareness on each page, until finally a girl finds the ball and asks Maggie to play.
Remember how I mentioned that shapes build the skill of letter knowledge? Here it’s masterful: The girl has the round yellow ball in her hand. She says “Go fetch” across four pages. The “O’s” in “Go” are stretched out though, each letter “O” set clearly and distinctly across the four pages, even bouncing like a ball until the last “O” turns into Maggie’s “O” shaped, yellow ball.
The girl and dog play ball, become friends, and end the story by sitting together reading a book, an ending tying it all up with a dash of print motivation. I mean, if I could play and read with a dog as darling and expressive as Maggie (pages where where she is sad about losing her ball and then the ones where she is happy finding her ball just tug at you), I’d certainly want to read!
So there you have it: five of the six early literacy skills effortlessly wrapped up in one fun book. (Recap of the skills included: print motivation, vocabulary, print awareness, narrative skills, and letter knowledge).
Maggie’s Ball works on so many levels. I hope you’re kids will enjoy too!
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!
- Most of the rhymes are “new” ones that you probably don’t know.
- Each double page spread includes the words and directions for bouncing and playing with baby during the rhyme.
- There’s a CD included so no worries about the ones you don’t know.
- Each rhyme builds phonological awareness and fun times shared with this book will build print motivation as well.
- Babies and parents are multicultural–AND there’s a daddy included!
- The last two pages give a developmental guide to playing, dancing, and moving with baby.
This will check out well in any children’s collection, but it would also be a marvelous book to give to new parents and to parents who are not quite sure what to do with baby and how to play with them.
This cartoon says it all. Click here. 🙂
And I am not saying this just because I’m a librarian. Research into early literacy supports this point.
So for part of the day, put them away.
The American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library website has taken all the work and worry out of the process for you!
Research based tips with scripts have been written for all six early literacy skill areas. They are available on the website free for your use. Stories, rhymes, and songs are suggested and tips are organized by age groups as well (babies to 2 year olds, two’s and three’s, four’s and five’s).
As with all teaching helps, you do not have to feel locked in by the script. Try it in your own words. Adapt it to your audience. And keep your eyes open for when “teachable TIP moments” happen–and point them out! They are some of the most exciting (oh, this stuff really happens! it really works!).
Now the bad news. I find them incredibly difficult to find on the website. So here are the links to take you there. 🙂
What can I say? tips (all ages)
Early Talkers tips (birth to 2)
Talkers tips (2 to 3)
Pre-readers tips (4 to 5)
All info and articles about Storybox will located here for your convenience. 🙂
The best part (I hope) is that I have posted the book lists for each box. They aren’t fancy looking, but each book is categorized by the early literacy skill that it encourages. There are also books to help children with development growth points (like potty training, new sibling) as well as bilingual books, seasonal books, and books to support the child care providers.
There are eight boxes now with more on the way so check back over the months for new ones (or subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed or email notification at the top of the page).
And as always, if you’d like more info on Storybox Special, feel free to contact me.