Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's Alive: Making Your Little Reader Come To Life

I hear from so many fretful parents who want their young elementary school kids to be readers, but they can't seem to get their little creatures to read. "It's like getting him to eat broccoli," one mom told me. "I can't force feed him books."

So I thought I'd throw out five simple tips that just might help get your carpet monkey started on a lifetime journey in books.

1. Think selection. Kids are picky. Do not limit the pool of potential books in your child's room to just five that you think are examples of fine children's literature. Think of it as setting up a buffet. When you go to a wedding and walk alongside the buffet table, do you skip the beets? I do. They're gross. But maybe beets make other people swoon with delight. (Yipes!) It's the same deal with books; bring your child to the library and check out 20 or 30 books of all kinds: mysteries, adventures, histories, how to, comic books, humor, books about pirates or snakes or knock-knock jokes. At this point, it's all about reading, not what they're reading. So cast a wide net and you'll catch something that floats their boat.

2. Read to them. Just because your child can finally read for themselves doesn't mean you should stop reading to them. And don't just squeeze in 7.5 minutes of speed reading right before the lights go off at night. A couple of nights a week, get ready for bed and hour early and read aloud for 45 minutes. They'll beg for more. If you want your child to be a successful member of his or her baseball team, you need to play catch once in a while. Same deal.

3. Hang out in bookstores. We take our kids to the bookstore all the time. The library works too, but you need variety. And a bookstore has all the latest stuff. Let them walk around, sit on the floor, play with the toys. They often stumble across things they find interesting. Who knows, it might be a book about kitchen table science experiments! But if you don't go, you don't know.

4. Turn off the bloody TV. Moms and dads have got to suck it up and turn off the freakin' TV once in a while. I've stated before that TV is the anti-book. It still is. Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and Survivor are like junk food—fun while you eat them, but in the end just empty calories. Unplug that brain-draining cyclops for a week, or a weekend, or even a day. Hide the wires if you have to. Reading will not happen at your house if SpongeBob is on. Period.

5. Be flexible. All kids are different. Some like chicken. For others, just the sight of a Colonel Sanders' joint will send them into a spittle-producing crying jag. Don't try to make your second child be like your first. Don't attempt to mold your little Johnny or Janey into what you were like as a reader at their age. You don't fit into the pants your friends wear (which could be a good thing, or a bad thing!), so don't try to do the same with your kid's reading material. Just get them in the habit of reading now and they will evolve as readers, just as people evolve as musicians, golfers, painters and athletes. The key in the early stages is making reading fun and enjoyable.

That's my two cents for today...but wait, there's more...

While flipping through an old Horn Book Magazine, I ran across this article by Robin Smith, a second grade teacher. It's one of the best, most concise, most common sense-filled articles on this subject I have ever seen. Check it out and good luck!

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