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How to Help Your Children Become Avid Readers
(NewsUSA) – Most parents understand the value of sharing reading experiences with their child. However, not all realize that the way they read to their little one, and even how they interact with their child during playtime, can impact learning. Parents can help grow literacy skills while teaching their child to draw, play catch or count numbers. What’s most important is making these experiences fun, engaging and memorable.
“The more children interact with reading material, the more active and confident readers they become,” says Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, literacy learning designer at LeapFrog, a developer of innovative, technology-based educational products. “Read with your child at an early age, and build fun daily routines that incorporate reading.”
Dr. Jaynes offers the following tips for parents who want to help their children become active, avid readers:
* Read often. Practice pays off. The more kids read, the more they grow skills. A nightly bedtime story is a good place to start.
* Make reading fun. The more engaging the reading experience, the more it benefits the child. Make story books come to life by giving characters different voices and adding drama to the narration; when a character acts surprised or sad, change your tone to express the emotion. You want your children to realize that, beneath the surface of the text, there is a great story filled with imagination.
* Help kids interact with the reading material. Asking questions will help your child remember the story. Talk with them about the narrative, and ask what they think of a character’s decision. What would they do differently? What do they think will happen next? Encourage them to interrupt you if they don’t understand a word.
* Point out the illustrations. Have your child demonstrate their comprehension of the narrative by pointing to story elements in the illustration. For example, ask questions like “Can you point to the bear that looks worried?” or “Where was the wolf hiding before he crossed the road?”
The Ant and the Grasshopper
In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest. “Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.” “Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present.”
But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
Developing children's interest in reading books
Any exploration into issues of libraries and children must begin by defining what is meant by "child." The term has had different meanings during different periods, and is almost never defined in contemporary writings. The primary focus of this paper are "older children," from nine to fourteen years, because research has demonstrated that the gender-based differences in reading do not appear until about nine years old and fourteen is the generally agreed age at which "children" become "young adults." Another difficulty in doing research in this area is the paucity of published data on the methods used to promote reading, the characteristics of the children reached, the number and type of books read, and the effect on reading ability and habits. Most published information on reading promotion is vague and general. Programs are merely reported as "a success," "a lot" of children participate, and they read "many" books, with no definition of those terms. Even when numbers of children are given, they are not expressed in terms of gender or other characteristics.
THE 1990s: CHILDREN'S MOTIVATION AND INTERESTS
Articles in the professional literature on children and reading in the public library remained sparse during the first half of the last decade of the twentieth century, as the focus turned toward the school library/media center and its role in teaching and promoting reading. Public libraries continued to use summer reading programs as their primary method of promoting reading and added "family reading programs" sponsored by the American Library Association and McDonald's to promote both adult and child literacy ("ALA/McDonald's Team Up," 1993; "Children's Bookbag," 1999; "For Third Year," 1995; "Riding the Reading Express," 1996). Societal attention on education in general and literacy in particular encouraged further research into causal factors affecting reading motivation and interests, a topic that continues to be explored and debated ten years later.
Early research established that the most effective and efficient method for learning to read was "free voluntary reading," that is, the individualized or self-selected reading that librarians had promoted for decades, and that the act of reading developed cognitive skills, comprehension, writing skills, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar (as reported in Krashen, 2004, pp. 1-55, 81-84). Other research pertinent to public libraries found that children's attitudes toward reading became more negative with age, although this may be more a reaction to teaching methods that restrict choice than to reading itself (as reported in Ross, McKechnie, & Rothbauer, 2006, pp. 65-67). Further research demonstrated that the best method for promoting reading was to provide access to books that children wanted to read, whether at home, at school, or in the public library, with school and public libraries "crucially important" (as reported in Krashen, 2004, pp. 67-77; Wilson, Anderson, & Fielding, 1986). An additional critical factor was being read to, another practice that public librarians had established a century earlier. Other factors included adult models of reading, time for sustained silent reading, direct encouragement, discussion groups, peer influence, book displays, paperback editions, book talks, and author visits. Comic book and teen romance readers were found to spend more time reading, to read more books, and to have more positive attitudes toward reading. Research into the efficacy of incentives or rewards for reading strongly suggested that such rewards do no good and are probably harmful. Children who are rewarded for reading not only do not come to appreciate the intrinsic value of reading, but they view reading as simply the means to the end of winning the prize (Krashen, 2004, pp. 77-119).
Despite the direct application of such research to public library efforts to promote reading to children, very little of it was reported in the professional literature, and librarians' efforts to promote reading to children resembled those that had been instituted nearly one hundred years earlier. Although as a result of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the feminist movement begun in the 1970s, the "children" who were the focus of those efforts were no longer predominantly white males, librarians continued to promote reading using competitive rather than cooperative methods, offering rewards and prizes as "incentives," and utilizing themes and materials that appealed primarily to boys (Cook, 2000; Minkel, 2000, 2003; Roberts, 2005; Totten, 2000).
As the decade and century drew to a close, the issue of boys and reading, particularly the psychological effect of what they chose to read, once again became one of broad social interest as a result of several violent incidents perpetrated by young men, the most notorious of which was the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Societal fear of the unsocialized male intensified as it had in the past (Cillessen, 2002; Garbarino, 1999; Lord, 1999; Newkirk, 2002, p. xvii) and was again reflected in the library literature (Dahlhauser, 2003; Ross, McKechnie, & Rothbauer, 2006, p. 2-4; Thompson, 2004) as violent movies, television, computer games, comic books, and graphic novels were blamed for the behavior.
These fears were exacerbated by media reports of National Center for Education Statistics National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) surveys and other studies in the first years of the twenty-first century which showed that girls read better than boys and that girls were closing the long-standing gap in math and science (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004, 2005; Pottorff, Phelps-Zientarski, & Skovera, 1996). Despite the fact that reading scores for both boys and girls had increased consistently from 1992 to 2003, as had the percentage of male students reading at or above the basic level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005, pp. 10-11) and that girls continued to score lower on the AP English exam (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004, p. 62), the media declared a crisis in male literacy, seeing in girls' gains a threat to male dominance rather than an approach to gender equity in society. Explanations for girls' superiority included biological differences, maturation and developmental differences, feminization of education, content of reading material, and sociocultural factors (Pottorff et al., 1996; Ross, McKechnie, & Rothbauer, 2006, pp. 90-92). Other reports highlighted the greater number of boys in special education and their higher incidence of school failure as evidence of a "boy problem" (Ross, McKechnie, & Rothbauer, 2006, pp. 88-89).
In response to the characterization of the nonreading young male as a danger to society, many public children's and school librarians rushed to promote reading to boys, as they had in earlier eras when "sensational fiction" and comic books, rather than video games and television, were blamed for antisocial behavior. The reversal of the traditional gender hierarchy, with girls ranking higher than boys, and its threat to the established social order also appeared to motivate many of the efforts to encourage boys to read, efforts which were often detrimental to girls (Brooks, 2000; Nilsen, 2001; Parsons, 2004).
Professional journals featured articles that advised librarians to institute boys-only reading clubs led by adult males, to "make reading more boy friendly" (Jones, 2005, p. 37), to become "overtly and blatantly sexist" (Haupt, 2003, p. 19) by collecting books with male protagonists, improving access to comic books, magazines, nonfiction, and other materials that boys prefer, creating gender specific book displays, and structuring discussion groups to support boys' needs (Asselin, 2003; Chance, 2003; Cox, 2003; Knowles & Smith, 2005, pp. xvii-xxi; Martin, 2003; Sullivan, 2004; Welldon, 2005; Woodson, 2004). Author Jon Scieszka, with Penguin Putnam Publishers and the Association of Booksellers to Children, instituted a "Guys Read" campaign to encourage boys to read, while a planned equivalent effort for girls, "Hey Girls" was apparently never realized (Maughan, 2001; Scieszka, 2003). The ALA Celebrity READ posters by 2006 featured males two and a half times as often as females, and offered boys a wider range of role models than girls. Although the majority of all celebrities were either entertainers or athletes, none of the fourteen females represented any other achievement, while males included a firefighter, a conservationist, a chef, a physicist, and multi-billionaire Bill Gates.
With a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of the articles on this topic that were published in professional journals referred primarily to popular and secondary literature (particularly Gurian (2002), Newkirk (2002), and Smith & Wilhelm (2002)) rather than the NAEP data itself, and few cited any researchers, such as Krashen (2004), who contradicted that literature or offered alternative interpretations of the data. Those few exceptions (Doiron, 2003; Hartlage-Striby, 2001; Horton, 2005) warned of the dangers of stereotyping either books or children and of allowing adult bias and expectations to influence children's reading choice, and advocated promoting nonfiction books to girls while encouraging boys to read more fiction.
Although none of the authors explicitly characterized boys as potential juvenile delinquents or referred to the moral and aesthetic value of "good books," none provided any rationale for the value of reading or for encouraging boys in particular to read, suggesting that they assumed that all recognized the social and personal value of such a skill. It is not unreasonable to assume that they would agree with Ross, McKechnie, & Rothbauer, (2006) that "to lack literacy skills means being shut out of jobs and opportunities" (p. 3), implying that boys who do not read will grow up to be at best unskilled laborers, living lives of quiet desperation, or at worst homeless or criminals.
A closer look at the actual data reveals that "the percentage of 5- to 12-year-old males who had repeated at least one grade declined between 1996 and 1999" (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004, p. 40) and that while girls were less likely than boys to repeat a grade in 1999, only 8 percent of boys repeated a grade compared with 5 percent of girls. Although fewer girls (9 percent) than boys (12 percent) dropped out of high school in 2001, this number decreased for both between 1972 and 2001 for all ethnicities except Hispanic males. While elementary school boys were almost twice as likely to be identified as having a disability (21 percent vs. 14 percent), specifically a learning disability, an emotional disturbance, or a speech impediment, none of these disabilities was restricted exclusively to males, and the data simply reports rates of identification (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004), which may be influenced by any number of factors, including teacher and parent expectations and bias, not incidence in the population.
The fact that the majority of boys read better now than they did a decade ago and that cross-cultural and international studies demonstrate that in some cultures boys outperform girls in reading, while in other cultures literacy is restricted to males, refute biological and maturational factors as the sole or primary cause of those differences that exist. The primacy of such factors is also refuted by the historical preponderance of male writers from Chaucer to Stephen King, the dominance of every area of our literate society by males, and the prevalence of males in the university professorate. Generations of boys have grown into successful males under the tutelage of female teachers and librarians, and men continue to dominate the administrative ranks of both of those "feminized" professions. Recent evidence suggests that "children are strongly influenced by sociocultural expectations [including teacher and parent expectations], and that reading and writing tasks were predominantly viewed as female activities" (Pottorff, Phelps-Zientarski, & Skovera, 1996, p. 209). Suggestions for changing this perception are for fathers and other significant male role models to set an example by reading themselves and for all adults to "promote reading as a desirable activity for boys" as well as girls (p. 209).
While the current advice in professional library literature to provide greater access to a wide range of materials and role models of men as readers are in accord with the evidence, the majority of the literature simplifies the issue by promoting a dichotomous view of reading, one that positions boys and girls in diametric opposition and highlights the differences in their reading interests while ignoring the many similarities. The segregationist and exclusionary nature of much of the advice strongly implies that meeting the needs of one gender means subordinating or disregarding the needs of the other. Complex causal factors are reduced to simple biology and the effects of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and teaching methods, in particular standardized reading lists and tests, are discounted as boys and girls are stereotyped as "non-readers" and "readers." In addition, research has yet to reveal why some boys read and read well and why some girls do not. What effect will focusing on the needs of "non-reading" boys have on the reading boys as well as on girls who do and do not read?
History demonstrates that responding to societal fears of the unsocialized male through such actions as labeling books as gender appropriate and promoting reading as a means of controlling the potentially dangerous boy will reinforce stereotypical gender roles, strengthen a social gender hierarchy, and stigmatize boys who read "girl" books as "sissies." What the research suggests is that the best method for encouraging all children to read is to provide access to a large number and wide range of materials, to allow children free choice in their reading, and to provide an ethnically, sexually, and socially diverse group of adult role models who read.