Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kick-Off in Celebration of the Joys of Reading!

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.

Happy reading!


Sharon Sullivan-Craver said...

I loved this blog and no truer words spoke. I have two girls and a boy , all grown now, and my two girls would sit and let me read to them and then later we would read together. Dr Suess was also a part of our lives. My son on the other hand had a mind of his own from the get go. I would read to him and it would only last until he spied something else that peaked his interest more.
He would watch his shows, ninja Turtles, Adam Ant, etc and I ,too, would try to incorporate learning into it.
When he hit his pre-teen he became fascinated with hunting ,fishing and the likes. I had a light bulb turn on in my head. I bought him some Field and Stream magazines. Sure enough ,he started to read them and has ever since. Why?? Because they held his interest. He can read the magazine from front cover to back and know all of the content inside.
I feel like i have done a major accomplishment in getting him to read even if it is a magazine on hunting and fishing. At least he reads.

gail roughton branan said...

Sharon, thank you so much for stopping by! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Roseanne Dowell said...

Great blog, Gail and truer words were never spoken. In fact my second youngest son hated reading. In school, he had to go to remedial reading. The teacher was at wits end as to how to interest him in something. She tried everything, short of standing on her head. Tim was a hands on learner. Show him how to do something and with a snap of the finger he got it. Give him a book with directions. Nope. One teacher even suggested he do his homework on tape instead of writing it. He still had to read the lesson, so that didn't work. We discovered he was dyslexic - which was a big part of the problem. One day the remedial reading came to me and said she discovered the answer. Car magazines. Tim loved cars, everything from racing to fixing. Today, he reads hunting magazines, fishing magazines and car magazines. His father wouldn't read either. We were married over twenty-five years before he ever picked up a book, other than a magazine. One day, I suggested a mystery novel to him. I think he read it out of boredom. Now I can't get his face out of a book. So, I still have hopes that someday Tim will pick up a novel. My other 5 kids all love to read.

Cheryl said...

Excellent post, Gail. Everything you said is so true. I have a son (now an adult) who thought books were good for nothing more than standing on to reach things on a high shelf, and two school-age girls--one who devours books and the other that avoids them like the plague. Finding tie-ins or allowing them to read only material that was a interest to them, made a difference in the amount of time my reluctant readers spent with books.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great post! I just wanted to add that my son hated to be read to when he was young. He's ten now and, as it turns out, is the one who always has his nose in a book! So to all the parents who have children that hate books or being read to, don't despair. Sometimes things come later...when the time is right. I think it also helped that as my son got older he was able to decide which genres he was and wasn't interested in. At age five I read him chapter books like "the Littles"...he wanted to read books like "the snakes of east Texas" big difference!!

Twitter: Michelle_kp

gail roughton branan said...

LOL! All of y'all's comments are great, and I'm glad to learn after all these years I truly was not alone on the planet! It's astounding how different children are, isn't it? Yes, big difference in Winnin-the-Pooh and the Snakes of East Texas, for sure!!

Anonymous said...

Gail - great post - WOW! My family grew up with books and my grandchildren have libraries of their own because we are a book family (LOL).

BUT, now, there's kindle, nook, sony...Ipod's, there's even more ways to make it easy for a kid to get his hand on a book.

I love this ground-breaking event - kids with kindles (smile).

Thanks for sharing so many ideas and suggestions, Gail.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Great post and it sounds just like you. Gail, speaking as a teacher, I can appreciate your problem with your boys. How creative to get them involved using the mythology of a TV show. In school I used to use anything possible to get a child interested in reading. What I used to do with older kids who were by the time I got them so disgusted with the whole process of reading they hated it! That's what they said when we discussed how they felt. I used to have a session at the end of the summer school class where I sat everyone down and read to them from a very colorful and unusual picture book. Fifth graders would sit there listening to the words and looking at the pictures. Then at the end of the session I would offer the book to someone. Usually in the beginning it was the girls who wanted to read it. But as the time went on more and more boys wanted to know the ending. I left off the ending so it would entice them to finish it. After the reading we had a silent reading session when they had to read something. I didn't care what they read including announcements if that is what they wanted to read. We had a small sharing time afterward to discuss what we had all read. I found this to be very effective, because I left off the ending and it was impossible once the boys were into the story to not want to know what happened.:)

Tanja said...
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Tanja said...

ange the names of the children, and of course their genders, and you have my own kids. In fact, probably most people will think I cribbed off you when they read my post. What you said is so true, gail. It's a pity that some educators expect all our children to fit into the same mould. What makes it worse is that some of them do not know enough not to say "Oh but your brother / sister was not like that!"
Wonderful post, thank you.

Pat McDermott said...

So glad you persevered, Gail. Expecting kids to like all the same books doesn't work anymore than expecting adults to like the same genres. When my son was three, I had to scrape dozens of library books off his bed every night so he could sleep. He devoured them. Not so his younger sister, though she found her way later. Both are avid adult readers now with very different tastes in books. Very enjoyable post, Gail!

gail roughton branan said...

Thanks to all who stopped by today! Hope to see everybody all month long enjoying the rest of the month's postings. Or in other words, even though I told myself to behave and act educated on a community blog, but I just can't seem to stop myself so...y'all come back now, hear?

Rosalie Skinner said...

Great post Gail. Seems as though our children will find their own way. Giving them a good start and instilling a love of books can't hurt.
Even if the books are on Kindles or Nooks...

Lin said...

Oh Gail, I am awed by the post you gave us. I am one of those "used-to-be-a-teacher" persons at Muse, but because I have been so busy everywhere, chose to wait and participate in the October Blog Fest here at Muse...however, I remember the challenges getting my two...only two children to read.

My daughter, and fellow author Kat Holmes...was a sponge when it came to reading. If you ask her where her love of reading came from, she'll tell you it started with me, not just reading books to her and her brother, but I got wild, and acted them out. (They both loved Mom's crazy antics while reading The Berenstain Bears SPOOKY OLD TREE.)

They'd follow the words and learned them based, in the beginning, on how Mom acted that word out. If I tried "skipping" they'd both call me on it instantly.

By the time Kat started school, she was reading middle school level books, and when she was in highschool, she took a speed reading course elective, and carried three paperbacks in her purse in case she finished the one she was reading before the school day ended.

My son? Once he discovered karate, everything he did centered on or around the ancient arts.

The library and bookstores fascinated Kat and me. We'd make it a weekly event to go to the library and the mall bookstore. (The librarians got to know us because we never took out less than our maximum each week...35 books.)

My son would go to the library with us, but headed to the Japanese marital arts section. Chris was lousy learning the English syntax and grammer, but the little bugger got Japanese language books, taught himself how to read and write the point he was able to communicate with the Japanese when his discipline of Martial Arts required for him to go to Japan for any belt level increases after his second degree black belt. (He's now a ninth degree black belt, and loves Japan.)

When I began teaching...I have a Masters Degree in Special Education with an expertise in working with children born with Down Syndrome...I found by duplicating what I did with my children, acting out the stories, I was not only able to hold onto their attention span, I was able to get them to recognize words and act them out with me.

Reading in my class became not just reading, but show-and-tell, show your reconition of the words and let your bodies tell us how well. Moving into the reading circle became their favorite part of the day...mine too.

So, thank you, Gail for reminding me of a time when my children and I touched the stars and sailed on all through the magic of reading. There is nothing more wondrous than opening the inner view screen, no matter the method used to accomplish that and finding unlimited worlds to explore.

Lisa Forget said...

Gail, what a wonderful offering and sharing of your experiences! this house they are loved, cherished, shared with friends in hopes to ignite a passion for reading, and most of all they are enjoyed!

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Hi Gail! Great blog post. When my son was little, he enjoyed being read to. He enjoyed books like THE GIVING TREE, THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, and any of the Dr. Seuss books.