As a creative writing major forced to take multiple literature classes, I have spent the past year trying to pinpoint the exact time and place that I started to read. Growing up, my parents would read the occasional bedtime story or sing a nursery rhyme to help me sleep. Other than that, before I started going to school, I don’t remember reading.
Many schools try and start kids early when it comes to reading. I have heard of preschoolers learning more than the standard ABC’s and advancing to Dr. Seuss books. I do, however, remember briefly looking at children’s books for the pictures and trying to put the words together. This was preschool and kindergarten for me, but I don’t remember being able to look at a word and fully formulate what it said until first grade. Maybe I started late compared to others, but it’s important for kids to have a good foundation in reading.
This does not mean that they need to absolutely love reading, but they need to have an interest and have the comprehension skills to read by themselves. I’ve mentioned before that when I was growing up I hated reading. It was a struggle for my parents to get my brother and I to read, but I eventually got there.
I know that my parents tried everything to get me to read, but with technology advancing and new strategies to get kids reading, this generation of children is at an advantage. Even though I personally prefer reading from an actual book, kids might prefer reading a story on a tablet. It’s portable, doesn’t take up too much space, and they don’t have to worry about the accidental paper cut. Why would a kid pick up a book and potentially get cut when they could pick up the remote instead?
Daniel Willingham, author of Raising Kids Who Read, suggests that putting books in places where kids can easily get bored give them the opportunity to choose the book over something. He mentions that his wife started putting children’s magazines in the bathroom, and soon enough, their six and three-year-old started examining the pages. They might not have been looking at the pages for the words, but the point is that it puts the idea in their head.
I remember going to the dentist growing up, and in a futile attempt to buy me some time before getting poked I would read the magazines. Sometimes I actually read the articles, other times I wanted to look at the pictures. This goes along with Willingham’s idea of putting books or magazines in places that kids will get bored the most. However, with the raise in technology, this negatively affects the idea. If a kid gets bored, then they’re more likely to ask for a cell phone to play on rather than picking up a magazine.
So if the first idea doesn’t work, you need to have kids witness adults or those they most admire reading. If a child sees mom or dad reading a book then they might want to read too. Kids are very impressionable, and it’s important for parents to be the model for their kids.
Every month I saw my mom reading a new book for her book club, and I was always interested in the book. Even though most of the time I did not actually read it, I was still interested in the concept and wanted to do the same thing. Instead of reading myself, my mom would sometimes read aloud to me.
Since there were such strict reading rules for my elementary and middle school, and so little books that were actually interesting on the list, this is why I hated reading. Later in school, even though the reading was still mandatory, the books were more interesting. Reading is presented as a grueling task for many because the school systems enforce it so heavily. I completely understand where they are coming from and the need for having guidelines for reading books, but they can easily turn kids and teens off from reading.
The goal is to start as young as possible. Give children an opportunity to pick up a book for themselves, or constantly have one present for them. Parents should encourage their children to read or read bedtime stories until they can read for themselves. It encourages a love for reading and gives children the chance to find series they enjoy. To counter technology and playing games, parents should have a few children’s books accessible on their phones as a quick go-to if a child is bored. It is keeping the idea present and alive that reading is fun. Technology is not ruining reading or keeping kids from literature, it’s providing them with something more enjoyable.
Reading should not be a task; it should be pleasurable and fun. This is an opportunity for children to enter another world and let their imaginations soar. If a parent approaches reading the same way videogames entice users, schools and parents will see more children thoroughly enjoying reading. It has to be a constant presence, and by helping a child understand the words or the story will make them want to read more.
It’s okay if a kid isn’t a good reader. I had to work at reading, and it’s now my major. Be a good role model for your kids and don’t approach reading like homework. Approach it like a game and make it as enjoyable as possible.
-Guest post by Ashley Guarino, student at Washington State University