Friday, February 1, 2008

How to Raise a Reader

For me, reading is almost as essential as breathing. It hasn’t always been this way, when I was in kindergarten my dyslexia was diagnosed and I became extremely self-conscious when reading in front of my classmates. It wasn’t until 5th grade, when all of the tricks I’d learned from tutors seemed to click and reading became effortless for me. Since then, I’ve been a ferocious reader and books my constant companion.

As I headed into my teen years, I ripped through every Judy Blume I could put my hands on, from The Dog Ate My Homework, to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and Deenie and who could forget Forever? All the girls in my 7th grade class passed this book around with underlined passages detailing the PG-13 sex scenes.

I admire the way folks remember a specific song marking a personal milestone, like… “when I was a dating Mr. X in 1992, so and so was always playing on the radio,” but for me, I’ve marked milestones by what I was reading at the time. For instance, the first care package my mom sent in college included a paperback copy of The Color Purple and the cover was stained because the jar of peanut butter my mom included in the package cracked and leaked in transit. I had just finished reading Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaaatje, on May 22, 1998, the day I met Loverman. Days before I’d finished Chasin’ the Train by J.C. Thomas. Some people need a little cocktail to relax, but for me a stroll through Borders, usually puts my mind at ease.

So, if reading is fundamental to raising intelligent and insightful children, what steps can adults take to engage children in reading? Here are a few we use in our household and I welcome any additional suggestions:

1. Read to your children daily
2. Surround yourself with books
3. Let your children see you read, children mirror their parents behavior
4. Take your kids to the library and let them select age-appropriate books
5. Be flexible, encourage reading in any form, my son loves comic books
6. Talk to your kids about what they’re reading
7. Let your kids know how much you enjoy reading


Kay Wooten said...

Excellent post! Your recommendation #5 worked for me. My son is a comic book (especially Calvin and Hobbes) and magazine lover (National Geographic for Kids, Highlights, Ranger Rick, Nickelodeon, Lego, etc.). He will read those items until they literally fall apart.

Melissa said...

We are also bookeaters in this house, raising a new generation of bookeaters. We want the girls to see us reading any and everything - from novels to biographies to the daily newspaper to magazines. You can't raise a reader unless you are one yourself, right? And we end every night with books in bed - our oldest gets to pick 4 books that we will read her before she turns in. She's brought us some interesting choices, which ties in with your #5, but we go with it.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Mango Mama,

My mom was on the board of our local library when I was a kid. That meant that I was always there. When my mom had a meeting I would walk the stacks and sample passages from books.

To this day there is something comforting about the library and about books.

Mango Mama said...

Kay, I think my kids would enjoy National Geographic for Kids, too. It's good to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.

Melissa, Bookeaters... I love it. I/we are bookeaters.

MDC, Thanks for sharing such a visceral memory. I recently took my kids to the library I frequented as a child and I was struck by the familiarity of the smell. I was 11 years old all over again.

Nerd Girl said...

I've got to do better. I love to read, but I seem to have put it on the back burner as of late. And I do all of my reading when Lovegirl is sleep - either down for a nap, or in bed for the night. I do read to her before bed, but need to be more consistent with that as well. Thanks for the much-needed reminder!

jillybean said...

Mango Mama,

You are RIGHT ON! I have a master's degree in reading education and I couldn't have said it better myself. You don't have to teach your kids to read, but foster a love of literature and learning by reading to and with them. Show them that you enjoy reading...they mirror what we do. Let them know that reading is valued in your family and provide them access. Go to Barnes & Noble and Borders, visit the library regularly. Create a cozy space for them to read in their room or your house.

When friends and family have babies, give them a copy of "Read to your Bunny" by Rosemary Wells. It will be a treasured gift...