Have you seen this?
I was in the library with the kids the other day, waiting for L. to secure all the books on the oil industry he could carry out of there, and I saw that someone had framed "Thirteen Ways to Raise a Nonreader" and set it out on one of the bookshelves. I had to look closely: how to raise a nonreader?
Coincidentally, last week I had the usual first-day-of-class discussion with my students on reading versus nonreading. I asked them:
"How many of you consider yourselves readers?"
Some hands shot up.
"How many of you remember being read to when you were younger?"
Fewer hands, but they are always the hands from the same group. I've done this every year for a decade at least. It's not surprising, of course, that the kids who think of themselves as readers, were read to as children.
"How many of you think you're NONreaders?" I asked.
Then, sadly, as happens every single year, almost all the hands go up. The students laugh, to find themselves in a large group like that. Their shoulders relax--they're not alone, even now that they're in college. But as we talk about reading it becomes so clear to me that the "nonreaders" in my group are not happy about this. They can all pinpoint why they don't consider themselves readers and most of the time it has to do with their lives at home, growing up in a large, economically-strapped household, where there was barely time and too often barely the money for a decent meal before bedtime.
This time of the year I always spend lots of time thinking about children and reading, and wishing I could swoop down, like some magical spirit, into the homes of all children everywhere. I'd bring armfuls of books and spend hours reading to them all.
Here are my Thirteen Ways to Raise a READER:
1. Read to your kids from the day you bring them home from the hospital.
2. Better yet, read to them before they are born.
3. Don't leave your good-natured baby strapped in a car seat or bouncy seat, staring at nothing. Hold them in your lap. Read to them. Carry them around in a sling while you do chores and talk to them constantly. If you're busy making dinner, put them on a blanket with a pile of board books.
4. Teach your babies to enjoy books--tactilely at first. Let them chew the books, drool on them, bash them against each other. Use them as ramps for their hotwheels cars.
5. Take your children to the library before they can even walk. Most libraries have easy-access bins for board books and early readers. Let your child pull the books out, examine the covers, feel the thrill of turning pages.
6. Allow your kids to experience boredom. Give them a book when they are doing that.
7. Fill your house with bins and baskets and shelves of books. We have baskets of books in every room--yes, even in the bathroom. I rotate the books out of the baskets when I can, and when I hear T. declare that she's bored, I give her the task of organizing a book basket. Before too long I catch her with a pile of books around her, lost in another world.
8. Eat dinner with your kids. Every night, if you can.
9. Tell your children stories at the dinner table. Children need to grow up learning how to listen to stories, and the first stories they might hear will be those ones you tell together.
10. Don't label your child a nonreader when you're the one who's enabling them to be that way. A mom of a rough and tumble boy once told me "oh, he's all boy. He hates to read, he just wants to run and play ball." When your child is doing something quietly in the kitchen--having a snack, or drawing, pop a book on CD into the stereo and watch as he becomes drawn into the story. If you tell him you're going to make him listen to a book on CD, of course he will run off.
11. Keep the televisions OUT of the bedrooms. Give them books, instead, or even piles of magazines.
12. Read in front of your kids. Tell them to wait for you to finish a chapter before you can play. Show them how amazing it is to be so lost in a book you can't put it down--even for a game.
13. Give them a flashlight, and show them how to read in bed.