Reading improves our lives. It helps us overcome confusion: Figuring out a feature on your cellphone or flat screen can all be cleared up after reading a user’s manual. It also helps us overcome difficult situations: Stress, a broken heart, and sudden tragedy can be better handled by either losing yourself in a good read or reading about others who have dealt with those problems before. Yet there are some who hate reading, which usually stems from their childhood experiences with literature. “I hated school,” they might say, or “My mother used to make me read before I went outside, like a punishment.”
Instill in your child a love of reading with a purposeful and strategic plan that needs to happen early and often. There are many things you can do to make your child as passionate about reading as they are about playing video games or watching TV.
Some books just beg to be read aloud. Stories written in song, where the words and phrases repeat in a particular rhythm, are fun books to read aloud to your child. From the popular There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback to the holiday book Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino, stories told through song are a great way to captivate the interest of your little ones and make them better readers. Other great read-alouds include picture books with phrase consistency like Maybe a Bear Ate It by Robie H. Harris, which includes one child character with a vivid imagination concerned about the whereabouts of his favorite book.
Take on the voice of the evil witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Imitate a mean wolf while reading The Three Little Pigs. Make your voice soft and peaceful like Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. Read stories with lots of dialogue and voice the characters of the story. Vary the pitch and pace of your voice while reading so your children feel like they are right next to the characters. Make the words come alive so your child can understand that punctuation marks and adverbs matter. When your children see you having fun with the story, they will begin to think reading is fun, too.
Participate in readers theater
Readers theater is a tool teachers use to get students to read with expression. You can download and print readers theater scripts from Internet sites like Teaching Heart at www.teachingheart.net/readerstheater.htm. Once downloaded, make enough copies for each member of your family, assign each member a different part, and then read the script like a play. Make sure your child understands the words in the script, but remember to have fun. The point is not to memorize lines but to read the lines clearly and with expression.
Each time you introduce a new book to your child, make a big show of it. Take it out of the bag like a prized possession. Make your eyes big, smile wide, and tell your child you have a special treat for her. Show your child the book, and tell her why you bought it: It has amazing illustrations, it was one of your favorite books as a child, and the story is hilarious. Talk it up as you would a new Tyler Perry flick. Make a special date for you and your child to read it together or give it to your child and tell her you can’t wait for her to tell you how she enjoyed it. When your child has finished, encourage her to loan it to relatives or friends, so they can enjoy the wonderful experience of reading with someone else. Make it a habit to value books just as you do the latest video games and CDs. Then let your child make the connection that reading can be a favorite pastime, too.
China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.