By Fiona Ingram
Any child can be introduced to reading and can learn to love books!
I became a children’s author only a few years ago, after an inspiring trip to Egypt with my mom and my two nephews. Around that time, I fostered an African child from a disadvantaged background. She came to me at age eleven, practically illiterate. Teaching her to read was an amazing journey and taught me so much about kids and the love of books. My experiences with teaching Mabel to read also fuelled my interest in child literacy, and of course, what makes children want to read; and how to encourage them to read, especially in a world where there is a dizzying array of technological devices to draw them away from the printed word. How can one make reading fun in a media driven world where social media and technology have such an impact on the simple act of reading?
LITERACY IN A TECHNOLOGICAL WORLD
Prior to the 21st century, literate defined a person’s ability to read and write, separating the educated from the uneducated. In our 21st century society—accelerated, media-saturated, and automated—a new literacy is required, one more broadly defined than the ability to read and write. Digital and visual literacies are the next wave of communication specialization. Children learn these skills as part of their lives, like language, which they learn without realizing they are learning it. These days, traditional chalkboards and overheads with pens do not occupy the same realm as current capabilities. The greatest challenge is moving beyond the glitz and pizzazz of the flashy technology to teach true literacy in this new milieu, without losing hold of the basic building blocks of reading the old-fashioned way.
For many children, the pop-up books, cloth books, and tactile aspects of early readers (where kids can pull out parts of the pages or put figures into pockets) are important and will remain so. Sadly, for many parents television, video games and other devices have become the electronic babysitter. Some parents are lazy, some not interested, but many and possibly the large majority just do not have the physical time in a world where financial constraints mean that usually both parents work. In many countries, a book is a luxury. One can eat a loaf of bread; not a book. An electronic e-reader or tablet is out of reach. The disparity between haves and have-nots is also huge, and for many children in underfunded schools, learning via the tablet and other electronic devices will not happen for a long time. They must still read the old-fashioned way.
WHY READING WITH YOUR KIDS IS SO IMPORTANT
Jen Robinson is a blogger who is passionate about reading to kids of all ages, and creating more awareness of literacy problems says: “Among the many reasons to read aloud to kids, one of the most important is that it helps them to associate reading with pleasure. Human beings are by nature pleasure-centered—we will voluntarily do things repeatedly if we get pleasure from them. And because reading is an accrued skill, spending repeated time reading is what enables us to get better at it.”
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST SINGLE FACTOR IN GETTING KIDS TO ENJOY READING? TIME!
Alas, time is what parents often lack. Books should be in every household, and reading an entrenched part of family life. Just twenty books in a house dramatically increases a child’s chance of studying further after completing school. Parents can get their kids started while young, showing them just how much fun books can be, and just how much fantastic information is contained in books. But even more importantly, reading with your child will have the most beneficial emotional effects. Parents can assess their child’s emotional, mental, and spiritual development, and help them learn about life, (and sometimes death), decisions, and choices that will determine who they are in life and build their future.
Kids spend more time out of school (7800 hours per year) than in school (900 hours per year) so it’s illogical to place the burden of creating a love of reading in kids on the teachers’ shoulders. That role should begin with the parents. Any child can be taught to enjoy reading. If parents, teachers and librarians join forces, so much more can be achieved.
It can be disappointing when a child expresses absolutely no interest in reading. However, you can change that by coming up with new and interesting ways to ‘package’ the art of reading. Reading is a skill, just like any other skill. It has to be introduced, nurtured, and developed. Children don’t enjoy what they can’t do. And when reading is difficult, they shy away from even coming near a book. Turning a non-reader into a reader will require your participation and encouragement every step of the way.
- A good way to begin is to actually assess the child’s reading level. If it’s below par, then that’s one reason why he or she isn’t keen on books—books are the enemy, boring, a problem. Have the child read a page or two from a variety of books. Make a list of the words they find easy/hard/not understood. Once you have an idea of their level, based on vocabulary skills, then you can move forward. In fact, to build a child’s confidence, perhaps begin with a book for a younger age. The child will skim through it, feeling proud at having finished and understood it, and you can offer praise by saying, “Look how easily you managed that! Shall we try something else?”
- A book can appear quite a formidable object to a non-reader. Begin small. Start with a thinner book, not some great tome, and say, “I bet we’ll finish this quickly.” Then let the child read the book in bite-sized pieces. Don’t try for ten pages—read only four or five pages. The child will feel this is not a huge task after all.
- Reading aloud is something that all parents and teachers should do, regardless of children’s age. You can make this session into something really memorable by acting the parts and using your Repertoire of Funny Voices, but more importantly, stop at a really exciting point, just when the hero is about to be plunged into mortal danger. Close the book and say, “Gosh! I hope he survives. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.”
- Create reading groups in class and set chapters of an exciting book for them to rehearse and either read aloud or act out to the class. Draw inspiration from historical figures or heroes, and even suggest kids bring items of clothing for costumes or things they can use to create the characters.
- Praise and admiration boost a child’s confidence. Teachers and librarians can work together, using the time together to understand the child’s thought processes, and structure the book choices around what really sparks their interest.
- Suggest that each child at your school get their own library card and encourage them to begin choosing their own material.
WHAT ABOUT TECHNOLOGY?
Getting kids enthusiastic about reading may seem like a monumental task when you see all the techno-competition around—video games, movies, computer games etc. Actually, one can use all sort of elements to get kids as enthusiastic about books as they are about all their other gadgets. Many schools have computers, and access to DVD or video machines and a television. You don’t need sophisticated technology to enhance books.
- Most of the time, children are either bored or switched off by the reading choices at school. Kids are riveted by what interests them, so find out what captures the child’s imagination, and direct their attention toward the books on that subject/s. Teachers can set individual projects for children based on what they like doing best. A great excuse to let them loose in the library.
- Kids love computers so turn the idea of reading around—let them create their own story, become an author. What could be more empowering! This will allow them ‘ownership’ of the story, and that’s an irresistible challenge for any child. The subject can be about them, an incident, or a fictitious character. They’ll not just create it but illustrate it (either their own drawings or using images available from the Internet), design it and print it out. You’ll be amazed at what happens once the child takes charge of their own project. Teachers can help the child develop the story, getting them to write it out first by hand, and then going through it several times. They can then create the project on the computer. When it’s finished, suggest the child hand it in to their grade teacher for inclusion in the school magazine or newspaper.
- A great class project is creating a newspaper or magazine, using newspapers/material they bring from home, or go online using the school computers. They can cut out columns from different sections to make their own unique newspaper. Call up your local newspaper or publishing house and ask if they’ll host a Q&A session.
- Movies are a fabulous tool for getting kids interested in a book. Many books are now movies, and easy to rent. The initial visual stimulus will certainly be enough to get any child wanting to read up on the characters and action. Or go from movies to related books e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean can lead to Treasure Island.
- A book series is a wonderful way to capture a child’s imagination. If they ‘bond’ with a character such as a young hero/ine, they’ll be eager to continue reading the series as each new book comes out. Two of the most popular that spring to mind immediately (apart from my own Chronicles of the Stone!) are Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. If there’s a movie, even better.
- Most successful books have websites with interesting aspects to explore. Is the series set in a real or fantasy place? Do the characters have important choices to make? Don’t be afraid to let kids get onto the computer and read all about the series, the author, the movie, the actors, the settings, and the characters. Ask them questions about what they have learned and praise their research.
- Audio books are a wonderful way of helping a child concentrate and develop listening skills. After a few minutes, stop the tape and ask the class questions about what they just heard. Make it interesting by asking what they think will happen next, or what they would do in a certain situation. This will help kids engage in the literary process in a fun way.
It’s not the daily amount of time that is so important; it’s the quality of word time together that counts. Don’t forget to have fun because that’s what it’s all about! It doesn’t matter how a child comes to enjoy the written word, but that he or she does. Some imaginative ways of ‘packaging’ the reading process will reap wonderful results.
Fiona Ingram is a South African born children’s author. Her interest in ancient history, mystery, and legends, and her enjoyment of travel resulted in the multi award winning The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, the first in her exciting children’s adventure series—Chronicles of the Stone. Fiona has recently completed the second book entitled The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, a treat for young King Arthur fans. She is busy with Book 3 entitled The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. Visit www.chroniclesofthestone.com for more on Fiona and her books.
Copyright @ Fiona Ingram: www.FionaIngram.com