Welcome to MuseItUp Publishing’s Month Long Blogfest - celebrating the joys of reading in conjunction with the start of the school year. Well, it’s near the start of the school year, anyway, which seems to be earlier and earlier each year. I don’t know about y’all, but I miss the regularity of ‘Labor Day means School Start, Memorial Day means School End’.
Lea Schizas, whose brain never stops working, not even when she sleeps, asked the Muse authors to post during this month, to share our love of the written word and along the way, maybe share tips and secrets we might have garnered, which would help captivate children with the magic of words. As a parent (admittedly not a professional educator – we’ve got some of those at Muse and they’ll blog later) I’d like to say there’s a magic formula that if followed, automatically insures that every child will be an avid, life-long reader. But there’s isn’t one. What works on one child might hold no interest for his sibling.
In this, I speak from experience. There are some basics, of course, that need to be addressed long before the age when formal education begins. Babies and small children can’t read. Therefore, you have to read to them. No problem, I thought. I’d been read to. I loved reading. I loved Mother Goose, Winnie-the-Pooh, the Brothers Grimm and The Little Train that Could. I adored the rhythm and flow of Dr. Seuss. What could be easier? With my daughter Rebecca, not much. From the beginning, she sat in my lap or lay beside me in the crook of my arm on the couch, and we read and read and read. Four or five books a night was normal; if I was on leave from work for the day, reading time increased. To this day when I hear someone chanting the alphabet, I automatically start reciting: “Big A, Little A, A!A!A! Aunt Annie’s alligator, A!A!A!” She’s 27 now, and whether or not it helped her any, I’m pretty sure that even if I develop Alzheimer’s, the alphabet as presented by Dr. Seuss will be one of the last things to leave me.
Patrick joined us when Rebecca was two and a quarter. Newborns stay where you put them. I snuggled the three of us in a little group and that worked just fine. I thought. Until he learned to crawl. And then walk. After that, he was gone. The wonderful flow and rhythm of the words held no fascination for him at all. Lee arrived when Patrick was 18 months old. Ah-ah! Another captive audience! Then he learned to crawl. And then walk. And off he went to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with his big brother while Rebecca and I sat and read.
As they got older, the library routine became a weekly outing. Summer Reading Club was a staple. I managed to get the boys to listen to the requisite number of books for the Certificate - but that was about it. Rebecca, by this time, was in school, reading on her own, and far exceeding the maximum number of reads required for the “highest” Certificate.
In a nutshell, some children are natural readers. And some are not. I discovered that incorporating the visual stories offered on television and movies worked a lot better with the boys than trying to just flat-out read to them. Later, in trying to get them to read, the actual books said television and movies were based on wrought wonders. At the time my boys were in grammar school, the television series of Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess hit the screen. They were fascinated. I taught them mythology by taking those shows and then casually mentioning that in fact, those were very old stories, and that while some of the things they saw on the shows were taken directly from those old stories – all the while holding Bullfinch’s Mythology in my hand, of course – some of them were changed a little, and didn’t they want to know the real story? Why, yes, they did.
“Can we see, Mama?”
“Well, of course you can. Ask me any words you can’t pronounce.”
I am nothing if not sneaky.
Being sneaky is easier now than it was then. I was in hopes that my grandson Austin would be a little snuggle-bunny captive audience like his mother was. Not. He was off in a dozen directions like his uncles were. Now, however, we have something we didn’t have when my boys were little. The computer. The computer has wonderful sites likes Disney and Thomas the Tank Engine and Spongebob Squarepants. If a little boy loves Thomas…watch the shows, buy the books, and play on the website. Ditto for any other character your child or grandchild loves. Those sites are wonderful. They’re full of colors and numbers and letters. Reading begins with letter and word recognition. Reading from a screen is still reading. After all, Muse is an E-publishing company, now isn’t it?
I discovered when Austin was no more than two that he was in fact, doing some amount of sight-reading, no matter how limited. I found him on the computer, watching Thomas. I assumed that someone had left the site up on the computer. Not. The child could find it from scratch. He found the E for Explorer, he ran up to the Favorites Button, he came down and clicked on Thomas. Or Spongebob. Or Cars. Or Toy Story. Okay, he’s got a good memory, right? Then we discovered he could do the same thing from any computer he happened to be on – his Uncle Patrick’s, his Uncle Lee’s, the kitchen laptop, his mother’s. Nobody had their Favorites in the same order. He recognized the words. They were an integral part of his everyday activity.
In short, don’t look for the formula that produces and nurtures a reader. Every child’s an individual. Find the interests of that child. Incorporate “words” into their everyday activities. If they want a particular television show, help them find it on the Guide. If they want a particular website, place it on the Favorites bar, show them where it is, and see if they can find it. You can even move its position around. If you are blessed with a child who loves to be read to, read your heart out. When they watch a movie that you know deviates from the book upon which it’s based, tell them about it, pull out the book, and show them where the differences are. Odds are they’ll read it to satisfy their curiosity. If in the end, you have produced a child who loves to read, let them read.
I leave you with this thought. If your child never sees you read, what makes you think he’s going to? There’s no guarantee that your child will read because you do (trust me, I know), but I do believe it makes for better odds.