The other day I saw an article on the web, “Raise Lifelong Readers With These Handy Tips.” (http://blog.theliteracysite.com/raising-readers/?utm_source=social&utm_medium=trnfan&utm_campaign=raising-readers&utm_term=20150713)
It was a good article, and I had to admire the author’s pseudonym, Paige Turner. She (or he) said:
Booklovers are not born. An interest in reading and a delight for stories found within the pages of a book is something that has to be carefully fostered.
For kids who learn an early appreciation for reading, the benefits can be extraordinary … readers have a huge advantage from early on!
The advice in the article was all good: Read to your children, take them to libraries, be a role model, etc.
My mother didn’t know how to teach reading. But she read to me and my sister, as far as I can recall, every day, one on each side of her, nestled on the sofa. We went on frequent trips to the “bookmobile,” a library outreach trailer, and on special occasions to the library itself – even the big one downtown. This ample supply of reading material was supplemented with trips to a favorite used book store. We grew up surrounded by print.
Paige offered good advice, as far as it went, but it omitted one important point, in my opinion:
Love of reading starts before a child can read.
If you wait for your child to learn to read before you share reading experiences with him or her, it may be too late. It takes reading together to make a non-reading child into a reader.
I honestly can’t remember a time when I was a non-reader. Despite Paige Turner’s statement, I was very nearly a born booklover.
My mother didn’t follow all Paige’s good advice. I never remember either her or my father reading for pleasure. (My father did, much later, when he was ill with bone cancer and couldn’t get out of bed. Again the library outreach stepped in, and a dear friend who worked for them, brought him stacks of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.)
To me, print is important. Picture books are good, but I think one thing (among many) that my mother did right, was to expose us to print at an early age. Even though we couldn’t read the black marks on the white paper, she read them for us. One thing this promoted was consistency. The story was the same every time, and that lead to the idea that the little black letters had something to do with how the story went.
Without being told, we were learning what reading was, even if we weren’t yet being taught how to do it. The words stood for something – something familiar and delightful, a magic so enticing I couldn’t wait to learn how to create it myself. So I didn’t wait.
Many years later I worked in a bookstore. Often a parent would come in and ask, “How can I get my child to read?”
“How old is the child?” I would ask.
If the child was a teenager, I would offer some suggestions, but inwardly shake my head. For most of them, I knew, it was too late.
That’s one of the reasons I adore the Harry Potter books, flawed as they are – they made reading cool, provided an experience so enthralling that even non-readers, pre-teen, teen, or even adult, would make the effort for a chance to experience the wonder.
(It’s also why I’m glad that the movies didn’t come out until years after the books began their epic sweep.)
Alas, reading is growing more difficult for me. I’ve had eyeglasses since the age of three and my eyes are now on a definite downswing. All the books I collected when my vision was more reliable are becoming blurs to me now.
I certainly need new glasses, and as soon as I can afford them, I will get some. (That’s another thing my parents did right that Paige didn’t mention – regular vision checkups and new glasses as needed.) And I’m intensely grateful that e-readers let you change the type size all the way up to humongous.
But if I’m truly going to be a lifelong reader, I probably ought to start learning braille now.