Every parent I know has bright wishes for the future of their children. They want their kids to be leaders, scholars, heroes, and… happy. They are constantly asking themselves and each other how to achieve this.
I’m not a mom, but I was raised by a good one, so I took this ultimate question to her: “What can a parent do to help their child live a happy life? What can a parent do to help their child find the path of leadership, scholarship, or everyday heroism?”
I submit to the jury that my mom is an expert. She has a decent amount of street cred because she raised six kids, all of whom can truthfully call themselves “happy”. She also has a bevy of educational credentials in the form of multiple PhD’s– all related to Early Childhood Education, teaching, and neuroscience brain stuff. Her expert answer, though, was surprisingly simple.
Teach your child to be a reader. From there, they’ll make their own way towards success and happiness.
So that’s it then. Problem solved. Let’s raise readers.
Here’s some tips for adults on how to inspire a desire for reading in children.
Let’s read for fun!
“Reading” is a really flawed word. It’s one little word used to represent so many different things. Reading can be a hobby– a habit of picking up a book and reading on the sofa, or collecting a series of books by a specific author. Reading can be a tool — a system of gleaning the correct information from a resource, and learning how data is manipulated and extrapolated. Reading can be an art– the mastering of language and the development of voice.
They’re not the same thing.
When dealing with a young reader– first teach the hobby, then the tool, and finally the art. Once they develop a habit of reading for fun, they’ll be more confident. That confidence will give them the push they need to seek out writing that will answer their questions about life. Once reading has proven itself, the chances that they’ll seek out the written word for art’s sake is much more likely.
To make reading into a hobby:
- Make books available. My parents had us bring books everywhere. Right before leaving, we’d do the final check– “Shoes? Coats? Little sister? Books?”
- Give them ownership of their hobby. Let them choose some of the books they read, and let them own at least one. My books were prized possessions– something I chose and owned, surrounded by so many things belonging to others.
- Introduce them to the magic of libraries. Libraries are often the first time that a child is trusted with an account, a card, and a loan. Treat it like a big deal. It is one.
- Encourage reading in all forms– as long as they’re willingly reading, you should be supportive!
- Bribe them. A pizza party after they read 50 books. A penny for every book they read. Something. Anything. Kids love bribes.
Let’s expand the boundaries of our mind!
It’s great to introduce reality-based stories to your kids because the stories can be integrated into everyday life. Goodnight Moon and Love You Forever are personal favorites of mine, but let’s take advantage of the malleability of a young mind to introduce them to the wonders of imagination, as well. Don’t just stop at talking bears, or frogs who are friends with toads. No. Introduce them to dogs with alarm clocks in their sides. Let them open a cupboard that turns little plastic figures to life. Show them how to deal with dragons and how to iron a wrinkle in time. Let them imagine big.
There’s an argument in some parts of the world that some of these stories aren’t really appropriate for kids because a child’s mind may not understand their true meaning, and because the stories get a little dark.
Any good story gets a little dark. Even the Cat in the Hat is a basic ode to negligence and Stranger Danger. Kids have an amazingly protective and flexible mind. Let them stretch! Right now, they’re building a world of possibilities– a world that, like any world, has pockets of darkness and danger. Their minds, if exercised and fit, will protect them.
To help them imagine bigger:
- Occasionally introduce them to books just out of their reading level. Help them read these books.
- Don’t fear the adventures in books. If you are brave, your kids will be too.
- Share in their wonder! When they tell you they made friends with a little boy named Fudge who ate a turtle, be interested. When they tell you what happened to Veruca Salt, be utterly shocked. Sure, you’ve heard it before, but now you’re experiencing it with them. That’s different, right?
Let’s Be Advocates for Literacy.
I work with a lot of families– thousands a year. I hear a lot of “Reading is hard”, “That’s a lot to read”, “I have to read all of that?!”, “Reading is boring”, “I guess I’d have nothing to do but read”, and my least favorite — “I don’t have time to read all the stuff they read.” Yes, that’s right. All of those laments are said by parents.
I’m not saying you have to be a Public Service Announcement for reading, but at least don’t be the opposite. Those statements look down on reading and they turn the written word into something to be feared.
Literacy doesn’t need that sort of attack right now– it’s dwindling all on its own.
There’s a commercial for a tablet that features an adorable girl in a home-made astronaut costume running around her house. She asks her mom how far away the moon is and her mom directs her to the tablet. The girl repeats the question and the tablet answers. It’s a sweet moment, but let’s imagine it differently.
What if the question spurred a trip to the library? What if the mom pulled out a book, or a search engine, and showed her how to look it up? What if the mom pointed at a little shelf of children’s books including one about space, and they sat and read it all together? How much more would that little girl have learned? Instead of a number being recited at her, she’d find out how many footsteps it’d take to get to the moon, or how many tall giraffes*. She’d learn about moon myths, and stories, and hear about the real life heroes who have stood upon it. Just by looking at words, her world would have expanded and she’d be one step closer to the moon– one step closer to a real astronaut outfit.
Let’s raise a fearless future, one that stands on the moons of other planets and thinks, in that moment, about how much they must look like a very tiny prince. Let’s raise generations of children, who grow up to be adults, whose imaginations solve today’s problems and whose studies build the cities of tomorrow.
Let’s raise scholars, heroes, and leaders.
Let’s raise readers!
What is your favorite children’s story? How do you support or encourage literacy? Do you remember Reading Rainbow or those READ posters? What encourages you to read?
Stories referenced– sometimes obliquely, and in no particular order: The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss; Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel; The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster; Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne; A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl; Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume; Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede; The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks; Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown; The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein; Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch; The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
On another note, when I was writing this, I thought about how great it would be to have a blog set up for kids– where various bloggers could guest blog with stories or tales of real life. Stories appropriate for a certain age and reading level. Digital reading has taken over a lot of printed forms and blogging is something that kids probably see a lot of their parents do. It’d be neat for them to be able to check into the blog and see something new and random. If any parent bloggers want to manage a project like that, or already manages a project like that, I’d love to be involved. Let me know!
* I think it would take 63,057,742 very tall giraffes, laid out head to toe, to reach the moon from the Earth. But don’t take MY word for it.
Weekly Writing Challenge: Images vs Text: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/writing-challenge-image-vs-text/