After work, you dash by the daycare or after school, pick up the kids, hurry home, throw together something resembling a meal, make sure the homework's started, get baths and tuck your children into bed for a good night's sleep. Twice a week you squeeze soccer and ballet into the mix - sound familiar? With 53% of families having two working parents, this is the norm for many. Families with a stay at home parent (a worker for sure) are in the same whirlwind. It can be more overwhelming if you're the only parent in the home.
No wonder family reading is taking a back seat. Surely our kids get the best in phonics instruction and introduction to classic literature in our schools, right? The National Assessment of Educational Progress tells us that, nationwide, 45% of children cannot read at a level proficient for their age group. If this trend continues, our society will miss out on the potential of thousands of students who struggle because they cannot comprehend the atmosphere of information surrounding them: from the application for a new job to the arithmetic our children bring from school, from the bus schedule to the boss's latest directive, from the cereal box to filing tax returns. We will produce fewer doctors, lawyers, philosophers and writers. We will find more lethargic, "imaginationless", people content to let the world fly by and make their decisions for them. What can WE do?
THE HEART OF THE MATTER:
Betty Carter, a professor at the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, says at least part of the problem is that children are not learning the "behavior of reading" - that is, they are not practicing the skills they are forced to use at school and see no purpose for their lives, no connection between a successful life and reading. Here's the key: part of our parental responsibility is to prepare our children for life; we as parents need to find ways to relate reading to our children's experiences and to our own. And we need to make a conscious decision to make time for reading.
Try these tips:
- Be an example. If they don't see reading as a helpful, necessary part of your life, why should they do it? Captain Kangaroo says that "the only way to really get kids interested in reading is to show how interesting it is and how much fun it is. If you read, you child will follow your ex ample, as the night follows the day."
- Take the time to ask some tough questions: Why doesn't this child like to read? What are they interested in? Am I willing to take the lead in changing some of our family habits to make time for reading? How can I turn them around? Find all available resources - teachers, parents, librarians, educators, bookstores, magazines, your child - and ask, ask, ask.
- Educate yourself on why it's important to read. Convince yourself first. Talk with your child's school librarian, teachers and public library children's director or the parent of a good reader in your child's class. They can give you many reasons why reading is essential. I like to think of literacy as a door which opens new possibilities. Without it, you stay in the same small, limited space. With it, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.
- Make it fun. There is a place for worksheets and basal readers (the old "Dick and Jane" style) and instructional text but you must balance that with pleasure. For older children, pleasure can mean anything that relates to their newest passion (collecting state quarters, riding their scooter, airplanes or funky fingernails or checking out their favorite Internet web site). Let them read outside your box.
- Be sure reading materials your children will be interested in are readily available throughout the home or school. Don't limit them to books; try magazines, brochures, newspaper articles, pen pal letters, even the Internet. Set the mute button and turn on the closed caption for one of their TV shows.
- Find out what's hot among their peers - Harry Potter? Junie B. Jones? Stephen King? John Ritter? Arthur or D.W?
- Don't be concerned if their choice is comics instead of classics. Choice is the key. And just because they choose comics now doesn't mean they are destined to limit themselves to that type of reading forever. Trust your children enough to know that they'll outgrow those limits given the right environment.
- Be interested but don't press. Reading is a chosen habit and it takes at least 15 days for a new activity to become habit. Even after the initial introduction of these new activities, you may meet some resistance. Keep your goal in mind; why you are doing this. Sometimes we are so intent on getting a child to read better that we take the forceful approach "You are going to sit there and read for a half hour, regardless." Is that any way to encourage a positive experience with books? A more natural, conversational approach works best.
- Plan time for trips to the library. Making reading activities a priority is a conscious choice, one you plan into your schedule and choose instead of other activities.
- Be patient and keep looking. It's not that they don't like to read; they haven't found the book to turn them on. Find that book!
Both education and parenting experts tell us that even 15-20 minutes a day reading with your child can significantly improve their reading skills. And the closeness a book generates between parents and their toddler or their teenager is one of life's treasurers. Cut out this article, make a plan including changes that work for your family and start opening that door today!