Many parents and teachers promote the importance of reading solely because knowing how to read is a necessity. Children need to be able to read street signs, written instructions, and applications in order to adequately survive in this world. Public officials and school administrators want children to be able to read at or above grade level in order to pass standardized tests.
And when kids don’t want to read, they are badgered into thinking that learning to read is something they have to do”like getting a chicken pox vaccination. Although all the above is rightly warranted (some more than others) what’s even more important is promoting the sheer love of reading.
Of all the pleasurable moments of my childhood, I will never forget the afternoon my mother read the African fable “Talk, Talk” with her arms wrapped around the shoulders of my sister and me. The book’s pages were glossy and new, and the light from the setting sun, shining through our window, made them warm”warmth that I can still feel each time I pick up a good book.
As a public school teacher, I sometimes wonder if my students feel the warmth from the quiet pleasure of reading. Am I giving that pleasure to them in my classroom, and are their parents giving them that gift at home?
When we consistently seek pleasure in activities besides reading (going to the movies, partying at a club, etc.), we teach our kids that reading is not enjoyable. Remember, reading is not just fundamental, it’s also fun, and this needs to be emphasized more at home and at school. Don’t forget that we read not only because it is a necessity, but also because it is one of the most pleasing ways to be enlightened.
I’ve met a strong, handsome man who has materialized from the dead just to bring joy and promise to a deserving woman’s life by reading Ansa’s The Hand I Fan With. I’ve walked through Chicago packinghouses in the early 1900s and smelled the rancid meat as immigrant workers became sick with dysentery through Sinclair’s The Jungle.
The people I’ve met and places I’ve gone in books are imprinted on my soul, more so than any movie I’ve experienced in a breezy theater or any person I’ve encountered shaking my groove thang to a Lil’ John track in a place where my coat has to pay to hang.
There is sheer joy in reading that many of our loved ones do not experience because that pleasure has not been stressed enough”at home, in our schools, and in our community. So how do we provoke this passion? How do we become excited about reading and, even better, get our kids excited about reading, too?
• Get Caught Reading ” Children will understand that reading should be an important part of their life once they realize it is an important part of yours. So instead of watching TV or listening to the radio, have your child catch you reading the newspaper or a magazine one Saturday morning.
• Read to Your Child with Expression and Passion ” It is key to give children rich and meaningful literacy experiences, especially when they’re young. These experiences stay with them as they grow and give them the motivation to seek these experiences on their own.
• Establish a Reading Regimen ” The National Center for Family Literacy encourages parents to establish a daily reading routine. For example, at 7 p.m. every day, turn off all televisions, ringers, and stereos and read. Following this daily rule not only asserts that reading is important; it also establishes good reading habits.
• Get to Know a Public Library ” Get your child a library card and have them check out (and return) books from the library often. This will make them more responsible and give them more opportunities to read.
• Create a Family Book Club ” Get multiple copies of the same book so you and your family can read and discuss it. Many books already come with book discussion questions, but if not, look to the Internet for questions related to comprehension, analysis, and evaluation.
• Leave Books in Conspicuous Places ” Your DVD collection should not outnumber your collection of reading material. When others walk into your home, let them know that books are an important part of your family’s life. Leave journals and magazines on the coffee table, septic tank, and in the laundry room. Create a mini-library in your children’s room using used books from thrift stores and Goodwill. Believe in the credo that if literature is there, people will read.
By celebrating reading, by truly honoring it and enjoying it, we show children its importance, and their ability to be good at it will come naturally.