Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Do You Get Kids to Read?

I work as a children's librarian.  I am a homeschool mom.  I happen to have lucked out and I have two kids that {suddenly} love to read.  I am asked almost daily how parents can get their kids to read.

I am certainly not an expert.

I can only tell you my experience.

A struggled to learn how to read.  She struggled so much, in fact, that her second grade teacher was very concerned and got me very concerned.  But, my brother and I both struggled to learn to read.  He is now a high school English teacher who reads Chaucer and Camus for fun.  I am a librarian who would rather read than do just about anything else.  I tried to tell A's teacher that A would learn to read and would, more than likely, love to read when she was ready.

It was a long, slow, uphill struggle.

Just like some kids walk at 8 months and others don't walk until 15 months...some kids are ready to read at 6 and others are not really ready until 8.

I think some kids are just more active and sitting down and focusing on a book is not easy for them to do.

Last year when A was in fourth grade, she started to enjoy reading.

I think that homeschooling which has allowed my girls more freedom to do things they love, has also helped them to feel that they have fulfilled their quota of fun and freedom each day so that each night they are ready to curl up and spend hours with a book.

But it was not until this year that A developed a passion for reading.

And by passion, I mean a book a day habit.

I think obviously her ability increased, but also she matured and the stories became more interesting.

I have always enjoyed reading more when I got to pick the books I read.  I didn't enjoy being assigned books in high school or college.  While I am glad that I can discuss The Great Gatsby and The Fountainhead, I would not say that either was an enjoyable read.  So it is my personal opinion that kids should be allowed to read what they are interested in, within reason, of course.  I won't allow my girls to read YA yet, for instance.  The other day when we were perusing Amazon for book ideas for A, we came across books about kids who were kidnapped, I nixed those as well.  She knows there are bad people out there, she is afraid of them, she doesn't need to "get into the head" of a kidnapped child in a book.

She is currently obsessed with Nancy Drew.  She reads a book a day.

What does Judy Blume have to do with anything?

I have no idea, but I have to say that when A discovered her books she started reading like wildfire.  Same thing recently happened with P.  When I posted something on facebook, many of my friends commented "She made me the reader I am today."  "She was the first author I truly loved."  "Her books are among my favorites."

I have to say, when I thought about it, yup, it may have been my fellow Jersey girl that set me on fire to read.  I always recall the only time I ever looked down and was astounded that I was on page 57, because I felt like I had just started was a Judy Blume novel.

I am sure not every kid is going to be set on fire to read by Judy Blume...but there have been books written about the sheer awesomeness of Judy Blume.

What about different genres?

Of course we all want our children to read and be exposed to different genres.  Personally, I thought we would do this with read-alouds, thus giving the girls the freedom to read whatever they wanted on their own time.  However, I have found that left to their own devices, my girls have read many genres since September.  We started a Biography read-aloud and the girls enjoyed the biographies so much that they wanted to read about Amelia Earhart in addition to their first choices (Clara Barton and Laura Ingalls Wilder)...reading about Amelia Earhart lead to reading about the Wright Brothers.  Completely on her own, A selected and read Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (Fantasy/sci fi).  Also on her own A read Shipwrecked by Gordon Korman, which is considered an Adventure book.  She has also initiated completing reading Little Women and been exposed to other Historical Fiction through The Mother Daughter Book Club Books.  And now, completely on her own, she found the Nancy Drew books and is hooked...a book a day habit!  A loves animals and subscribes to National Geographic Kids and Zoobooks, she has a vast collection of books about animals that she reads on her own.  As we learn about Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece or discuss cooking something or science experiments, both of my girls willing search the non-fiction shelves for books on that topic and eagerly pore through them.  That is 6 different genres right there.  Comedy?  Both of my girls have enjoyed BabyMouse and Junie B. Jones and, of course, the Fudge books by Judy Blume.

Many times, at work, a parent comes over and asks me for a book about baseball because their kid loves baseball.  We find some books on baseball and in talking to the kid, I find out that he really wants to read about rocks or he really wants a biography on a baseball player or he really wants something funny.  Left to their own devices, in my observation, a lot of kids will read across the spectrum.  They may find a series that they love and want to read all of the books in the series, but then move on to an entirely different genre.  

I had thought that I would allow them to read whatever they chose and then reserve the genres for our read-aloud, but instead I found that when they read a Mystery or a Fantasy novel, I would photocopy some pages from Drawn Into The Heart of Reading and have them fill the pages out.

We enjoy the read alouds.  Sometimes we do them first thing in the morning or just before bedtime, cuddled in my bed.  Other times the girls read in the kitchen while I prepare meals.  I have found, however, that the girls get swept up in the books, as was the case with The Lightning Thief and they asked to read more....just one more chapter, just one more...and finally, it was decided that they could read The Lightning Thief on their own in bed, because it was too good and too fast paced to wait until the next day when we could all read together again.  So, they read and we discuss.

My advice?  Take your kids to the library.  I hope you have a friendly children's librarian.  Let your kids look around.  Don't have someplace else you have to be.  Just let them peruse the shelves, let them ask questions.  Let them take out as many books as they want.  They may not like the first three books, but they are bound to find one that holds their interest.

OR, get on Amazon with your kid and start typing in baseball or dinosaurs or pimple juice and just see where it takes you.  

OR Google.  I google books all the time.  Type in "books about...." or, if your kid loved a certain book, type in "People who liked ~title of beloved book ~ also like..."  OR look at Amazon for what other people who loved that book also read.