At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.
There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.
These are the hills,
these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.
I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.
So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books
– Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the book Treasure Island for his stepson, fully understanding how important and exciting reading can be for young children. The poem above discusses the adventures that reading takes children on – through the woods, with lions, over the sea, around a campfire. Books can be a very important part of a child’s life, helping him or her grow, learn, and explore. But, the more we hear about children’s literacy, the less likely it seems that our children will read anything other than what is assigned in school. How do we get our children to grow into lifelong readers?
In her new book, Raising Passionate Readers: Five Easy Steps to Success in School and Life, Nancy Newman outlines her plan to help children learn to love reading. Surprisingly, her plan doesn’t start with the ABCs in kindergarten, but much earlier. Actually it begins right at birth:
- Talk, talk, talk to your infant, toddler or school-age child. Newman encourages you to use words all the time with your child, even if he can’t speak himself. Encourage questions, give detailed answers, tell him about what you are doing and why you are doing it (“I’m buying four apples because later we are going to make apple pie. One, two, three, four. Did you know that not a lot of words rhyme with apple, but that nothing rhymes with orange? Can you think of anything that rhymes with apple? How about Snapple or grapple?”). Giving your child a rich vocabulary, from birth, is essential for later reading experiences.
- Encourage free play and fiercely protect free time. Children use their brain the most when they are engaged in free play. Try not to overschedule your kids – leave a few afternoons a week empty so that your child can play at home. When he gets into the groove of creating his own fun on his own time, his imagination will soar. And, with that imagination, comes problem-solving skills and gumption. As much as weather permits, you should also encourage outdoor play and physical hobbies. These activities strengthen body and mind.
- Read to your child and expand how, when and what you read aloud. Allow reading to be something enjoyable and fun. Read to your child and let him see you reading. Create opportunities for cuddle time and discussion around the book. When your child gains pleasure from reading, he will be more likely to associate reading with enjoyment in the future.
- Support and motivate your new reader and give extra support to your struggling reader. It’s a great idea to set aside a space in your home that is a “reading nest” – a cozy chair or couch that is a quiet space for reading and discussion. Even when your child successfully reads on his own, continue reading to him and have him read aloud to you so that you can give feedback.
- Use – don’t abuse – technology and balance your child’s diet of fun. Don’t let technology take over your house; keep it out of your child’s bedroom. Make sure that your child has time to rest and dream – this is essential for reading growth. Think about your own use of technology and be a role model who reads for pleasure.