One of the best resources we have in La Crosse, in fact in the whole country, in big cities and small towns, is the public library. When parents share their concern with me that their children are not interested in reading, I ask them how often they go to the library.
Making frequent family visits to the library as part of a regular routine is a significant statement to our children that reading and books are a valued and shared part of our family life. For kids to choose to read, to regard books as special treasures, they need to feel surrounded by them – by the printed word – both fiction and non-fiction.
When I volunteered at an elementary school library, I was surprised to learn that the first graders were only allowed to check out books from the easy-reader-section. I observed many of the children, boys in particular, craning their necks and trying to escape to the non-fiction aisles where dinosaurs, space ships, snakes and rocks held their secrets. True, these eager youngsters probably can’t read every word in these non-fiction books. They might even need an adult to share this information with them. But with their curiosity peaked and knowledge budding, this could very well be the catalyst that propels them forward to becoming intellectually curious and life-long reading enthusiasts.
Think of the process of learning to read as an ice berg. As important as reading skills such as letter recognition, sight words and phonics are, experts still consider these skills to be at the very tip of this reading ice berg. To become an independent reader with excellent comprehension, interest and recall, the rest of this reading ice berg is comprised of a child’s disposition toward reading. Do they love books, stories, information? Do they enthusiastically associate reading with positive experiences, make connections to their life and view books as a choice both for personal enjoyment and information?
I talked with a parent at the beginning of the summer who was concerned that her first grader lagged behind some of his classmates in his reading skills. She was having a very difficult time getting him to read aloud to her and working, as well, in some phonics workbooks she had purchased. It was turning into a challenging battle each day. I suggested that she begin reading aloud to him from beginning chapter books – just for fun, no pressure. Let him hear the rhythm of more complex words, sentences and content than the material he could master on his own. Share with him the suspense of a Box Car Children book or the fun and imagination of My Father’s Dragon or a Roald Dahl book. Fill him with the love of stories, characters, information, intrigue, humor that you both can share. Surround him with non-fiction books of his own interest – with no requirements made – just left there for him to discover and explore.
And then watch what happens in the fall!
Giving the love of books and reading to a child is a true gift. It will fill their days (no one who loves to read is ever bored) and their minds with adventures, ideas and understanding of themselves and other people and places around the world. Priceless!