Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How to make our children enjoy reading?

Judging from the look on my 10 and 11 year old children’s faces, I would have guessed it was Christmas.  To the contrary, their delight was the result of a long overdue trip to our local public library.  I had procrastinated and postponed for quite some time due to the anticipated resentment it would induce, but seized an opportune moment to create a few hours of quality time between grandparents, children and I before the former boarded a plane to return home after a wonderful two week visit.   As I registered for our library cards, the kids could scarcely contain their excitement.  And as soon as they put their John Hancock’s on the contract, they ran full speed towards the children’s section.  Evidently, I’ll need to revisit the finer points of library etiquette before our next visit.  

We all proceeded to get lost among the book cases, each pursuing our own interests, later reuniting in a central seating area to read for a few hours.  In an enlightened moment, I realized that we, as parents, cannot forget to promote the simple pleasures of reading.  With high tech electronics a constant and formidable distraction, rigorous discipline is necessary to redirect our children to this worthy cause.  It is arguably the most important part of their education, and an extra hour a day can add up to 45 days of additional learning (measured in 24 hour periods) over the course of 12 years.  The research is clear that children who read more achieve more. 

When I study our self-educated founding fathers, and read the poetry of Robert Frost or Emily Dickenson, and the essays of Emerson with my children, I realize that the authors were much more literate than we are today.  I believe the difference lies in the reading.  A typical education consisted primarily of the three infamous “R’s”.  I am NOT convinced our modern educational system, with computer filled classrooms and glossy text books are delivering the intended results.  The school teachers I have spoken with shared that they are overwhelmed by large class sizes, discipline problems, too much administrative work and teaching to state mandated “standards”.  They believe that our current education system is ‘dumbing’ our children down and stifling the love of learning. 

I realize that public education is a vital to the fabric of our nation and economy.  I am not proposing or suggesting that we all begin homeschooling, but my eyes have been opened to a potential root cause of modern educational decline during my discussions with teachers and at a recent educational conference I attended for home schooling parents.  The theme of the conference centered on reading. I believe every parent can benefit from the message.  The advice was simple.  Children need to read a minimum of three to four hours a day in five different ways:

1.      Read their lessons. (1-2 hours from all subject areas)
2.      Read independently from something at their Lexile level that is age appropriate and interesting for 1 hour or more (
3.      Memorize passages from poetry, prayers, famous speeches, or literature (15-30 minutes).
4.      Read aloud to someone (15 – 30 minutes)
5.      Have someone read to them from material that is significantly above their reading level so that they learn new vocabulary, hear the rhythms and phrasing of our language, and practice deducing the meaning of new words through the context of the literature (15-30 minutes).

For me, this conjured up Rockwellian images of families gathered fireside engaged in quality conversation and bonding time.   I might be pushing it, but the point is that it’s okay to read to your kids, even when they seem to be too old.

I transitioned from this beau colic scene to a brief state of panic.  I knew that when my children were in private school, they were reading only slightly over an hour on average.  And I was paying the big bucks!  If your children are currently in public or private school, this is a really interesting exercise.  Ask them to explain their daily schedule in detail.  Take note of the actual time spent in reading of any kind and total it up.  Next, talk to them about what they are reading.  Get your hands on the materials if you can.  One might be surprised that the total reading time and quality of materials are disturbingly low. 

Part of my decision to home school was to remedy this very situation.  However, after listening to the speaker, I realized we were still falling short.  I rearranged our day to incorporate more reading time, better quality materials, and the variety she suggested.  It takes discipline and commitment to instill new habits. I have fallen short and my children have resisted often and loudly.  This time, I have persisted and in the last few weeks have noticed a dramatic shift in behavior. They frequently exceed their required 60 minutes of free reading time per day and their reaction in the library gave me hope that we are becoming a reading family. This is one government entitlement that I will be certain to embrace liberally and literally as part of our home school routine.

Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer

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