Monday, February 20, 2017

Growing Readers

So, this happened:

and I posted the above on Facebook.

My kids both read "below grade level."  Considering that they started learning English at ages 6 & 8 and that I'm pretty sure their family of origin didn't do any pre-literacy activities such as reading aloud to them and surrounding them with print, I'm not concerned about it.  But neither am I giving up.

Most of us enthusiastic readers plan to raise children who love to read.  And often we do, since we naturally do all the things that help children get a good start in literacy.  Some kids don't take to it as easily or enthusiastically, but we persist, because we want this joy for our kids.

This is what it's looked like for us.

1.  Reading aloud
My kids came to us around the time other families might be ending the nightly read aloud, or switching to chapter books.  We read picture books to them all the time.  The first one is a baby's book, Goodnight, I Love You.  The pictures illustrate the bedtime process, so we pointed at the pictures, mimed the actions, and ended the book with the title phrase and hugs and kisses.  Other books I read to them that first summer were badly translated on the fly, using my limited knowledge of their first language, their growing knowledge of English, and pictures.  They'd been here about six weeks when my son quoted a book, saying, "Kuplink, kuplank, kaplonk," just like Sal as he dropped pebbles onto the porch.

As their English improved, each night I'd declare the number of books we could read, based on how close to bedtime we got organized, and they'd each get to choose half of that number.  Next came intense negotiation about the order of the books, then they'd settle in on either side of me and we'd read.  Occasionally I'd introduce a chapter book, but it took a LONG time before they were ready for that, and even know, at 10 and 12, they will sit and let me read picture books to them.

I've gotten lazy about this as they've gotten older, but we are enjoying the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets together right now.

2.  The Library
I have always, always been a library girl.  But now that I have kids, we go there all the time.  Like, weekly.  The first time we went and I told them they could each pick out ten books, they were stunned.  Once they'd gotten the hang of it, I lifted the limit.  There were times we had up to 100 items out between the three of us.  Sure, we sometimes get fines, but there is no fine that's going to make it cheaper to buy books at that rate.  We've grown from the picture book area to exploring the larger children's section--series, graphic novels, early readers, and chapter books.  I wander casually down the nonfiction aisles, and when they come to get me, they notice books about polar bears, about arts and crafts, about Star Wars, and I agree to let them check those out as well.  So accommodating of me.

I also let them check out DVDs and board games.  We attend movie showings and craft classes.  Sometimes I even cave and buy them donut holes.  We take walks in the park by our main library, or play at the playground next to one of the other branches.  I let them get onto the library computers while I am doing my own book searches.  I am conditioning them to feel happy whenever they enter a library.

3.  Creating conditions for reading
Let's face it; it's easier to get online and lose several hours than to pick up a book and get into it, especially if you're not a very good reader.  Which is one reason why we don't allow screens on weekdays.  It keeps reading as an attractive option.  We also use the school's expectation of a certain number of minutes of reading per night.  Part of me hates this, as it makes reading sound like a chore, but I do see how it creates the discipline to just pick up a book.  When my daughter read so much the other night, it started with her "reading time" and continued when she turned off the timer after thirty minutes and just kept going.

When they doing most of their reading aloud, I used to get extra reading time from them by considering "reading aloud to Mom" one way they could help with the dishes.  Whoever's night it was for dish duty almost always chose to read rather than dry.

It takes very little persuading for me to buy them book, whether through school book orders or when we're in a bookstore.  I don't fuss about their reading choices (although I did refuse to read Disney movie books to them for my own sanity) and am happy to encourage graphic novels, series, celebrity bios, etc.  I am pretty direct about the fact that it's okay if you read "easy books," and it's also okay if you read books your teacher says are "above your level."  It's the reader's right to choose what to read.

They get books as gifts.  They listen to audiobooks.  They are surrounded by books.

There's more I could be doing (namely restricting screens more on weekends and reading aloud with better consistency), but I do think that our approach is paying off.  There's a balance required between encouraging reading and making it feel like a test they're constantly failing, and I think we've done pretty well at that.  It's definitely a situation that requires trusting the process and not worrying about outcomes.

Are there any struggling readers in your life?  Or were you a reluctant reader in your youth?  What tips would you add?  


  1. That’s awesome that she read for 3 hours! If I ever have kids, I hope they’re readers. I think the biggest thing that helped me become a reader was discovering Stephen King. I was a reluctant reader who read below my grade level, but once I found books I liked, I was more motivated to read.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Which is why I argue for uncensored, non-judgmental access to books for all kids!

  2. This had me smiling: "I wander casually down the nonfiction aisles, and when they come to get me, they notice books about polar bears, about arts and crafts, about Star Wars, and I agree to let them check those out as well." So sneaky of you! ;)

    1. I'm all KINDS of sneaky when it comes to parenting! Whatever it takes!

  3. Oh I feel your joy!! Snoopy food dance joy! My kids were adopted at 7 and 8 and learned English very quickly. I did everything "right" on reading. at 21 and 22 neither reads. Drives me bats, but they do have fond memories of our read-alouds and say the do want me to read aloud with their kids. I cheer whenever a literary references is understood or used by either, lol.

    1. Yeah, I'm trying to not get too attached to the outcomes. My husband isn't a fiction reader at all, and he's still both literate and a good guy.

  4. I love your idea of reading during dishes - what a great way for kids to choose to read! I'm going to suggest this to some of the families I work with! Love this post!

  5. My kids are readers, but I definitely feel like screens are overwhelming our lives lately. My son doesn't want to do anything but play video games, and if we limit it he just does nothing. It's very frustrating to me, and I'm not sure how to overcome the problem, except that I just need to be more stringent with hard limits. Sigh.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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