Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Love of Reading

As a writer, it warms my heart to see anyone reading. It doesn't matter which author is doing well--I applauded J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series because it encouraged kids to start reading again--the fact that storytellers or instructors are doing well warms this writer's heart. Whether the story or non-fiction is in paperback, hard cover, or electronic format, Reading, well, is Fundamental.

The UN, however, says that the United States is only tied for 10th when it comes to adult literacy... and that high rank is only "assumed" because of the country's high development and high income level (source). And according to reading.org, only 3% of 8th graders read above their grade level, and only 1 in 3 of the nation's 8th graders rank as "proficient" or greater in reading tests (and that includes the above-mentioned 3%). Lest you think that it is just our middle school students that are dropping the ball, the same study showed that 2 in 5 high school students lack the basic literary skills employers are looking for.

Our world is moving more toward written communication. More and more information is being found online and less and less in books. Most children know how to navigate the computer, smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices long before they even start school. Kids figure out how to play simple video games long before their parents did. Most of those games, websites, and the like require some kind of reading. So why are literacy rates among our kids so horrible?

While the problem is--like most other problems plaguing our children today--of course, multifaceted, combining issues such as parents with multiple jobs, preschools that are nothing more than daycare, overtaxed classrooms, parents who are poor readers themselves, and other issues, reading is entirely fundamental in every aspect of life in our Western world and there is no reason for only 40% of our high school seniors to be ready for a college-level writing course. Being able to read, and read quickly and well, will be nothing but beneficial to anyone, no matter what the age.

But any kid or adult can learn to read, or read better than they can now. So what should other parents do when their children are struggling with reading? There are programs that help children (even as young as six months or younger) learn to read, but those can be expensive. Libraries, though, are wonderful resources. Find a subject that interests your child (for mine, it was dinosaurs and now Mars) and encourage them to check out books at their reading level (which may or may not be at their grade level). Just like most everything else, practice makes perfect. Most schools make (or at least encourage) students to read for a certain amount of time each day as part of their homework.

Also, let them see you reading. Kids, of course, imitate the actions of the adults around them. If your child has to read for half an hour a day, turn off the TV and computer and read on the couch next to them. If you are a poor reader, this will also help you. Read more than just "fluffy" fiction. Let your kids see you learning something new. Learning doesn't end when you stop going to school. Many children do not like school because it's, well, school, but because reading is difficult. But whether it's for a college class, a job, or a hobby, everyone will have to continue learning after high school, and that will always require at least some degree of reading. Henry Ford said:
"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young."
My husband and I have been reading "bedtime books" to our son since he was born. Choosing, usually, chapter books (wanting to see pictures would keep him awake), he was exposed to a greater vocabulary than other kids his age. But he showed no interest in learning the alphabet or learning what those funny symbols meant.

When our son was three, he loved video games that were less voice-acted and more text-based. We easily tired of reading the screen--or half the screen before he advanced past a rather important part--so we told him that he could no longer play those video games until he learned how to read, thinking we would get more time to play our games or get other things done for a few years. By the age of four, he had taught himself how to read and was playing his favorite games again. Having some great incentive was just the encouragement he needed to make reading beneficial for him.

Today, he brought home his first Scholastic Book order, which included four Nick Bruel's "Bad Kitty" series, One, Two, Tie Your Shoe, and some science-based space books (he wants to go to Mars when he's a grown up). The first thing he did when we unwrapped the books was open up Bad Kitty Gets a Bath and read the first two chapters.

He will start kindergarten in September.