Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Ten ways to raise a reader

So with out further adue in true reductionist fashion I am reducing years of parenting and experiences into a neat and tidy top ten list on how to best raise an effective reader in my opinion:

1) All babies/children/adults in your household should have a library card (because we are none of us made of money and could never hope to buy all the books)
 2) Read to small babies. It really doesn't matter if they understand it or not they like to hear the sound of your voice and be near you.
3) One of the stages of learning to read is chewing on books, you should invest in some cloth or plastic books for your baby to chew on.
4) Actively teach respect for books, do not allow children to colour on pages of books or rip pages out. (of course it will happen, but you can decrease the occurrences by preventing access to crayons and books at the same time, and supervising access to paper books.) Repeat after me "Book are precious resources!"
5) Indulge their interest by seeking out books on topics they will find interesting. Unless it's inappropriate DO NOT try to regulate content, they will get enough of that at school. ( I really mean it. Let's say for example your darling daughter loves princesses, but you hate the "D" word and do not want to encourage her to buy into this particular culture, well too bad for you! You want her to read? Let her read what she likes. There is much and more counter culture available, from "The paper bag princess" by Robert Munsch to biographies of real life princess such as Dianna and Kate, you may read these along side the "classics" to give her a bit of balance.) They will want to read/ be read the same book over and over and over again. Indulge them, toddlers and small children learn through repetition.
6) Encourage emerging readers to read independently while continuing to read to them, one should not replace the other. (Just because they can read it does not mean they can understand it.) Don't make it a chore or obligation, read to them for as long as you can hold their interest, or until your voice gives out, but don't force them to sit still and listen if they are really not able to absorb a book at that moment, take a break and try again later.
7) Talk about content, authors and audiences. Ask "Why do you think "that character" did that? What do you think they were trying to achieve?"  Read "about the author" sections and talk about the author's research and authority (or lack there of) on the given subject. Ask "Who do you think the Author wrote this book for? How do you think this book would be different if if was written for ---------- ?"
8) Partner with you child's teachers and local libraries. Participate in as many FREE library programs as you can, and complete any and all reading homework assignments.
9) Do not force children to show off their reading skills to friends and relatives, encourage them if they want to show off, but do not force them. it's really, really embarrassing and could turn them off reading.
10) READ! READ! READ! and when you're done, READ some more! Read to them, read around them, and talk about how much you enjoy reading.

On raising a reader......
Now that's he's six and just completed grade one I am enjoying the fruits of my labour. We can no longer spell things to keep them secret and we have to watch over our shoulders while chatting on line to make sure there are no little readers behind us. We can easily occupy our son on long bus / train trips with books.  As he impressed people far and wide with his reading skills and comprehension I am frequently asked the question "How did you raise an avid reader?" So here goes nothing, All this is my own humble opinion and is based on personal experience......
I have been reading to my son since before he was born. The day I found out I was pregnant was the day I started reading out loud.  After he was born I continued reading to him whatever I happened to be reading while he was nursing. (A lactation consultant once advised me against reading Stephan King out loud while I was nursing, not because he could possible understand the content, but because babies are very sensitive to changes in the Mother's heart rate and if I got scared it could distress him)  Once he began focusing his eyes I began putting books in front of them. The very first was "I kissed the baby" by Mary Murphy. Once he started putting everything in his mouth (as all babies do) I gave him plastic "bath books" and cloth books  that could withstand the chewing and constant drool for him to "read" unsupervised and read him classic board books such as "ABC" by Dr. Seuse and  "Hippos go berserk" by Sandra Boyington. (Well they are classics to me)  He has always had a library card and the very first book he chose to take out of the library himself was "Big Wheels" by Anne Rockwell.  Both my Husband and myself are avid readers, as are our families. We were both raised in homes where books were constant companions. I have a cousin that gives out books at Halloween. ( Her house is always very popular!)   So when I say he has *always* been exposed to reading and books I do really mean his entire life thus far. I know that this is a huge factor in his love of reading and books, as is the fact that I encourage his interests by seeking out books on topics that he would find interesting (ie books about Star wars or Batman or whatever pop culture icon he is currently obsessed with). I think all parents would do well to expose as many books as possible to their children as young as possible. I highly recommend "Out came the sun- a day in nursery rhymes" illustrated by Heather Collins,  for any and all toddlers.
Aside from reading books out loud and encouraging independent "reading" I always talk about books. I happily summarize the books I am reading for pleasure (leaving out anything I deem inappropriate obviously) for him and tell him all about the settings and character arches. He is already looking forward to being old enough to read "A song of Ice and Fire" by George RR Martin (but not until he's at least 14  right? Um, maybe 18?) We always talk about the value of books. I say things like "Having the ability to read, and comprehend what you read well, gives you the ability to verify anything." and "If anyone ever tells you something and you're not sure if it's true, ask them about their sources, if they can't quote any don't believe them, if they quote a book/ article , read the it  and research the author before you decide it's value."  We talk a lot about bias and intended audiences. (If anyone out there is tempted to say "Oh come on he's only six!!" I'll just say this; he independently made an activity of comparing his Star Wars DK early readers  to his Star Wars Character anthology to find the  inconsistencies, eventually declaring the DK readers entertaining but inaccurate.) For me it wasn't enough to raise a reader, I wanted to raise a critical reader. One thing I have told him over and over again is that if he develops good reading skills and good comprehension skills no one will ever be able to keep him from learning anything.  (Somewhat implying that there will be cheats and liars in his life that will purposely attempt to deceive him for myriad reasons, especially in election years) Imagine how attractive that must sound to a child, imagine the sense of power, knowing that you will have the ability to educate yourself about anything you chose not matter what anyone else thinks you should / should not know. I am saddened to say that I know adults that do not read and comprehend as well as my six year old. (Now imagine the tragedy of all the illiterate adults in this country.) Knowledge truly is power and I wanted him to be able to access all that power......
I hope you find my experiences useful and that you are able to find something in here that is of value to you and your kids.........So now you tell me, what good books have you read lately?