Monday, November 26, 2007

Learning to Read and Learning to Love It

As the host of the upcoming Carnival of Children's Literature, MotherReader has asked for tips. She writes, "I want a tip as a reader, writer, illustrator, reviewer, publisher, or editor of children’s literature. I want a lesson learned from a teacher, librarian, author, or parent with regards to kids’ lit." I've been trying to figure out what to write about for a while now, but after receiving this e-mail, I knew what my topic would be. Here is an excerpt.
I have a 4 year old daughter who loves learning and has tested very well. She enjoys learning, so we started her in Kumon last year. Usually they discourage kids under 4, however the director was impressed with her ability to focus. We moved preschools and changed Kumon locations. Since then, she has made little progress in math. My daughter knows her letters and their sounds and can even sound out words. She can't recognize numbers over 5 consistently. In her kindergarten admission test she said the thing she likes least is Kumon.

I am looking for someone to tutor her in math and reading. She needs a fresh, fun approach to math and someone to challenge her to maximize her potential in reading.

Wow. I haven't responded to the request yet, as I want to make sure I respond appropriately and without any hint of vitriol for this fast-track approach to educating a child. I shouldn't be surprised that so many parents are pushing their kids to read sooner than ever these days, especially with commercials like these clogging the airwaves.

I want kids to learn to read just as much as the next person, but not when it comes at the expense of the love of reading. When reading becomes a chore, kids will not turn to books. I have to wonder if all the emphasis on testing reading and making AYP will have an impact on the way reading is viewed by children in the years to come.

All these thoughts bouncing around in my head have me thinking about how you get kids to love reading while they're learning to read, with the emphasis on enjoyment, not how fast, how accomplished or how soon it happens. Helping your child learn to read shouldn't be about bragging rights (MY child read Harry Potter at age 7), it should be about modeling and encouraging a healthy love for a skill that will last a lifetime. Jen Robinson has already suggested some great ideas in her post entitled Ten Tips for Growing Bookworms. I'd like to piggyback on her work and offer some additional thoughts of my own.
  • Read to your child every day. Make time to do it and make it routine. While William and I frequently read throughout the day, the one time we do not miss is reading at bedtime. We curl up together under the covers, read the books he selects, talk about them, and then talk about the day that is ending and our plans for the next one.
  • Even though it's sometimes hard, do read the same books again and again if that's what your child requests. For months we read Freight Train by Donald Crews over, and over and over. After a while, I didn't need to look at the pages to read the words, and neither did William. This was the book that allowed him to begin to recognize words. He'd heard the story so many times that he was able to make the connection between what he was hearing and what he was seeing in the text. Rereading favorites allows kids to begin to recognize words by sight.
  • Make mistakes while reading familiar texts. I can hear you now saying, "What? Is she kidding?" No, I'm not. Even now when we read I will purposely read words incorrectly or in some silly manner to be sure William is paying attention and following along. Last night I read, "One day in May, Mudge and Mudge's big dog, Henry, were playing basketball with some friends." The immediate response was, "Mom, NO! It's Henry and Henry's big dog, Mudge, were playing KICKBALL. Look at the words. See the picture?" This is exactly what you want to hear. We play this game so often that sometimes William asks me to "read it wrong" so that he can correct me.
  • Explore genres beyond fiction. William and I play what I call the Dewey Decimal game. I ask him to pick a number between 100 and 999. Once he picks a number, we find that section in the stacks and pull books that look interesting. Then we read them, right there on the floor. When we first began going into the stacks, I stuck to the 811s (poetry), 550s (earth science) and 590s (animals), but now we have fun exploring whatever number William picks.
  • Get your child a library card. When William turned five I promised him he could have his very own library card. On his birthday we went to the public library, filled out the paperwork, and he signed his name. This is a big responsibility and one that he takes very seriously. He has his own book bag for transporting books to and from the library. He loves to check books in and out at the library and keeps good track of them while at home. We can go online to look at the book's he's read and even get neat little printouts of the books each week.
  • Travel with a book in hand. We never leave the house without a bag that holds plain paper, crayons or colored pencils, and a few books. There always seems to be time to read in the car, the doctor's office, the restaurant, you name it. Develop this habit now and it will last a lifetime. William packs books in his backpack every morning so he has something to read while waiting for the afternoon bus.
I'm sure there are lots of other great ideas out there for helping develop kids who love to read. If you have any other suggestions, please share them. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. These are some great tips, Tricia. Thanks for sharing them!

  2. I love these tips. I remember my parents reading to us every night and they didn't stop at picture books. We read Treasure Island and The Wind in the Willows - even if we didn't understand every word we got an introduction to style. And not one of the 6 of us leaves the house without a book

  3. Great tips.
    And thanks for noting that pushing kids to read before they are ready can be detrimental. As a kid I hated reading because I was SO slow. Everyone around me seemed to get it and I didn't. Obviously I learned to read but it was an agonizing process and for a long time I refused to read.
    I think its important for parents to take time, and be patient. Learning to read, to love to read, is an important process. Cultivate with care.

  4. About the email -- Yikes! Good luck answering that one!

    About your tips -- spot-on! Another "making mistakes" kind of tip is to share your thinking out loud when you fix an unintentional mistake. That way your listener(s) get a chance to hear how an experienced reader makes their reading make sense.

  5. Great tips! And you brought back such a nice memory for me. My kids loved Curious George and there were certain lines they would chime in on (I would say "George was..." and they would yell "curious!!") But they loved best when I would make mistakes they could correct: "NO mom--the hat was YELLOW not red!!" In fact just now I repeated these lines to my 14 year old and he still yelled the correct responses : ) Reading is about relationships, shared jokes, a common story. That is why I feel sad for the "email mom" but even sadder for her child : (

  6. Great tips! I take my kids to the library at least two times a week, simply because I love the library. But now, my children are the ones who beg to go to the library. They get to choose their books. Then we hang out and read together.

    I like reading out loud in different voices for each children are entertained and they love to listen.

  7. Thanks for sharing these tips. In the Waldorf school curriculum, children learn their letters in first grade and actively learn to read in second and third grade. It's not that clear-cut, of course, but what I appreciate about the system is that they learn all sorts of stories about the different letters so that there's some context for putting the letters together into words. One example that comes to mind is that of the noisy N-- whenever the Knight comes to visit, the N shouts so loudly no one can hear the K.

    P.S. That was my deleted comment--I signed in with the wrong persona.;)