Instilling a love for reading is a responsibility of both parents and teachers, and the earlier some strategies can begin, the better. This is not to say, however, that older children/students cannot also develop a love for reading. They absolutely can. In fact, even adults, who have not been readers during their younger years, will become avid readers, with the right types of material and tools.
Reading for Young Children
Of course, every parent knows that there are certain reading strategies that should be used at home from infancy. The earlier the exposure, the better.
- Picture books to increase verbal vocabulary should be used as soon as an infant begins to talk. Sitting with a child and looking at pictures while repeating the names of objects does more than just develop vocabulary. The child begins to associate books with enjoyable and quality mom/dad time, and this is an important psychological association for later.
- Parents sometimes under-estimate the importance of talking to infants in normal adult vocabulary. One father used to walk his infant son around the neighborhood and comment on all of the things that they were seeing. When he was up in the middle of the night with that infant, he would recite Walt Whitman or Shakespeare as he paced. Hearing lots of words very early is an important precursor to reading.
- Reading simple books several times a day is important as children reach their toddler years. If both parents work, then they to be certain that daycare providers, whether in home or at centers, are reading to these children often, and that books are easily available for these children to handle and look through. Children need to begin to know that they can look through books all on their own without adult assistance.
School Age Children
Aye, here is the rub. Teachers must continue the efforts (or non-efforts) of parents to ignite a fire for reading in their students. While technology has given teachers amazing tools, including wonderfully engaging online resources, using them wisely is pretty critical, as well as is the need to use and see that children put real books into their hands.
- Displaying a book on a large screen is a wonderful innovation, because all children will be able to see as they are read to or as they read in unison.
- Books should be used as start-points for talking about life lessons and values, so that children can be exposed to a “wider” world beyond the classroom – the world that they will one day enter as adults. This is also how children begin to pick up important thinking skills such as sequencing and cause/effect.
- Quiet reading time must be built into every school day. For children who have special needs, audio books with headphones – what a wonderful tool to open up the world of books to these kids. Even if they are not reading the words, they are learning, and the vocabulary development continues.
- Teachers need to talk with their children about what they are reading outside of school. Bringing in adult books, showing them to the kids and talking about the contents cements the idea that everyone reads at all times, not just in a school setting.
- Audio books should count as reading. Although kids are not developing fluency or decoding skills, they are, nevertheless, enjoying a story, gathering information, and increasing their vocabularies. These, too, can be the start points for good discussions. Audio books, without visuals, also allow children to use their imaginations to visualize.
- Take field trips to the local library rather than only use the school library. It is important for children to see a large library that they can access during non-school hours. Here, they can take books off of the shelves, scan them, and choose books to sit down and read that satisfy their individual interests.
- Sending books home is still an important part of encouraging reading as a family matter. Especially in areas of poverty, where books are probably the last items to be considered as a household purchase, filling that household with books should be a goal of every school district. Of course, books will be lost. This should not be a deterrent, and every school should make accommodations within their budgets for this.
- Make reading a social event in the classroom. Students who share common interests should be grouped accordingly. They can each read books in that interest area and then provide oral reports to other members of their groups. Adults join book clubs and/or spend a lot of time on Goodreads. Children should have the same opportunities to share.
- Use technology for students to create their own books. School age kids love to create comic book characters and to devise intricate plots for them. This can be done in a small group setting which further enhances the social aspect of reading, and the high interest level will result in great products of which children will be quite proud.
Encouraging Parental Involvement
Demographics of student populations play a huge role in reading skill development of kids. In middle class and above households, parents tend to understand the importance of reading and will usually follow suggestions and reading initiatives that are set up by the school. Among poor demographics, however, this is often not the case. When parents are working minimum-wage jobs and struggling just to put food on the table, there is no money and very little time for reading endeavors. Educators must be aware of this and develop programs to counter the low priorities placed upon reading is poverty households. Here are some innovative strategies that some schools and districts are using.
- Hold book drives that will promote the donation of used books. These drives can reap an amazing number of books that can be distributed to poor households with children from toddler age forward. Early childhood educators, especially, should be involved in such activities, in order to get books into the hands of parents of these preschoolers.
- Sending books home on a regular basis has already been discussed. Many of these books can come from book donation drives.
- Some schools and districts that have a major commitment to reading will establish a budget for allowing the purchase of books on the part of families who live in poverty. They actually provide gift cards on a regular basis for parents to purchase books from a local bookstore. The child thus gets a brand new book to treasure – sometimes a first in his/her life. In some district, children are taken to the bookstore where they can purchase their books.
Turning Readers into Writers
It has long been known that students who read widely and often have larger vocabularies and write far better than those who do not. These two advantages – vocabulary and writing skills mean that students are better prepared for the rigors of college, starting with that first admissions essay. Given the amount of research and writing involved in college coursework, we cannot let up on our commitment to instilling an excitement and love for reading.
Whether reading occurs online or with physical materials in hand, those individuals who have reading and critical thinking skills will “rule” a future that is rapidly changing. As much a technology supports and will continue to support information delivery, reading, vocabulary, and the critical thinking skills reading fosters will never be totally replaced by technology. Instilling a love of reading as early as possible will promote the lifelong learners that our kids will have to be.