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Is Reading Dying Out? Time to Plant Some New Seeds

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Last week I posted about growing up in a small town in the middle of the twentieth century and how my surroundings contributed to my development as a reader. Of course, we are living in different times, but there is value in examining “seeds to reading” and how we might plant them today. I will suggest a few activities and hope that you will add your own.

Seed #1 — Our Choices Reflect Our Values

As Mary Engelbreit would say, “No matter where you go, there you are.” We are no longer in the 20th century and the definition of “middle class” seems to be in flux. We have the freedom to define our values for our children, and that’s a good thing.

  • Talk to your child about what it was like when you were growing up. Tell them about your favorite books and why you enjoyed them.  Invite them to think about what kinds of books they (would) enjoy reading and why.  Talk about how the world has changed, how it is the same, and how that affects the choices parents (and children) have.

Seed #2 — Reading Parents

  • Let your child see you reading books, magazines and newspapers in traditional formats. You may also read on your devices, but your child knows (or will know) that you do other things on your devices as well. Point out interesting stories and information and relate it to your child’s world.
  • Make reading a part of your daily routine and a part of special occasions, such as family vacations and travel. Let your child see your pleasure in a new book or new magazine at home or on the road.

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Seed #3 — Ready to Read

  • Start with story. Tell your young child stories – simple ones that you make up or remember. They might not understand the story at first, but they will see your pleasure in sharing it. You’ll find that they’ll ask you again and again to hear more about the characters and what they do. Then encourage them to make up their own stories. (Eventually, you’ll probably hear them entertain themselves or others with the adventures of their story friends.)
  • Give your child a head start on reading and loving books by purchasing or borrowing them from the library. Board books are perfect for small hands, and you needn’t worry about chew marks! Picture books are for you to share with your child, to help him or her connect books to story.  Use the words in the book (if there are any) or invite the child to help you make the story up.
  • Buy a set of alphabet blocks and introduce your child to the sounds of letters and building words. Point out the corresponding letters/words in the books you share.

Seed #4 — Beyond Reading Skill to Reading Pleasure

  • As you continue sharing stories with your child, talk about the kinds of stories he/she enjoys most. Make a trip to the library or bookstore and ask for assistance in finding more books containing similar stories.
  • Introduce your child to the other subject areas of the library or bookstore and explain the differences between fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and other reading categories. Check out or buy from a new category.

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Seed #5 — Reading Materials at Home

  • Our homes speak of what is important to us. Make it a practice to have reading materials available in most rooms, in a place that the child can have easy access to them. It’s never too early to start a child’s personal library!
  • Celebrate if books are left on the sofa or a magazine is left open on the dining room table. This means that reading (or a close approximation) is going on.
  • Use holidays, birthdays, and vacations as an opportunity to add to a personal or family collection of books. Buy books for gifts and/or double the pleasure by involving the recipient in the purchase by visiting a bookstore or website for selection.
  • Don’t forget magazines! There are excellent choices for all ages. They are a gift that repeats itself throughout the year if you purchase a subscription and you can choose between mail delivery and electronic format.

Seed #6 — Library: Favorite Destination

  • We have already mentioned visiting the library to choose books. Expand your knowledge of what your library offers your family by paying a visit to explore services. Ask for brochures or fliers and to be put on the mailing list for programs or events, especially those for children.
  • Most libraries have a website with electronic resources, so be certain to include this in your exploration. You may find print and audiobooks for children and adults that can be downloaded to your reader.  Some libraries also offer electronic versions of magazines for a variety of subject interests and for all ages.
  • Make your library’s summer reading program a tradition. School-age children lose some of their reading progress made during the school year if they don’t practice during the summer months. Special events planned by the staff help to offset or eliminate this loss by encouraging children to check out and read books when they attend library programs.
  • Don’t forget events at the library for the younger children. Story times are usually scheduled throughout the year, even “lap-sit” sessions for babies!

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Seed #7 — A Joiner and a “Dabbler”

  • Introduce your child to and support his or her participation in activities that include reading. Scouting, Campfire Boys and Girls, faith-based and special interest organizations often include supplemental activities such as exploration by reading in their planning and programming.
  • Use your home as a studio to explore arts and crafts, purchasing inexpensive materials to create and buying or checking out books to explore technique and history of different media.

Seed #8 — Plenty of Free Time and Minimal “Screen Time”

  • Avoid over-scheduling after school, on weekends, or during summer vacation. We all need “down-time” to relax, dream, play (and read)! Even the most gifted among us deserve a break from lessons and practice – often the time when real creativity is manifested!
  • Set the boundaries for TV-watching, while allowing the child to participate in choosing which programs to watch. Try not to use the television as a baby-sitter! Explore books that have tie-ins with children’s programs or movies and discuss how they are presented and which format is preferred.
  • Technology is an important part of our lives in the 21st century – one that we can’t avoid. Boundaries give us the power and freedom to take advantage of the best that technology has to offer, while leaving plenty of room for the enjoyment of traditional reading formats. Limit the time for playing games that aren’t building skills or contributing to your child’s development and concentrate on those experiences that enhance reading. Be judicious about allowing children to have their own devices and consider those designed for children.

We all need “down-time” to relax, dream, play (and read)! Even the most gifted among us deserve a break from lessons and practice – often the time when real creativity is manifested!

Seed #9 — A Community of Readers

  • Become a supporter, volunteer, and/or enthusiast for organizations that focus on reading, literacy, and a love of books. Join the friends of your library and donate your time and/or money to their activities. Volunteer to tutor a student in reading or other subjects at your local school. Build and supply a “little free library” for your neighborhood. Donate books to the friends’ book sale, to local jails and prisons, or to the hospital. Take literacy training and volunteer to teach an adult to read.
  • Promote your local creative community by supporting local authors, poets, and artists and their work. Purchase their books at local book stores or library events, book signings, and book fairs or festivals.
  • Become a voice for the importance of reading through your local city government, state government and (especially during these times) the federal government. Let your representatives know support of  libraries and museums is part of responsible government and that you expect them to make sure that funding is adequate. Volunteer your help (and donate your money) to local campaigns for library services and/or facilities.

Questions for You: What ideas or practices would you add to help grow more readers in your family? Your community? What are your greatest challenges in promoting reading?

A Special Request: Every blogger appreciates “likes” and “shares” of their content. I am especially asking you to share this post because I need your influence to help make the point about how important reading is to all of us.  In other words, I’m already “preaching to the choir” when I speak of reading to book-lovers, librarians, poets and authors, publishers, and educators. Please share this post with your friends and family who are not part of this group and help us scatter those reading seeds!