April 2006, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA
Promoting the Love of Reading
School was always easy for Austin. He understands his homework, completes it smoothly, and then hangs out with his friends. His brother, Pete, is envious. He struggles through his homework, so that it takes him twice as long as his brother to complete it, year after year. Both know that intelligence isn’t the issue. Pete’s verbal and analytical abilities are superb. There is a very simple reason for schoolwork being easier for Austin. He is an avid reader. He reads for pleasure every day – novels, magazines, newspapers, and biographies. Since reading is so second-nature to him, he can easily read and understand everything that comes his way. Because schoolwork is all about reading, he is at home doing it. Pete is very good at basketball. He shoots baskets in his driveway every day and plays with neighborhood friends several times a week. He outperforms his brother, who rarely plays. But Pete does not read for pleasure. He only reads what is required for school. Like basketball, to be a good reader requires practice. The most significant predictor of success in school is the habit of reading for pleasure.
Benefits in a Nutshell
1. Reading is relaxing and fun.
2. Readers effortlessly improve their vocabulary and comprehension.
3. Reading stimulates imagination.
4. Reading expands the mind by teaching about different cultures, different walks of life, different personality types, and useful information.
5. Reading for pleasure consistently improves test scores.
6. Reading on a regular basis improves writing and spelling.
7. Practice is the only way to become an excellent reader.
The benefits of reading for pleasure are extensive.
Dr. Ellen M. Ashburn, a recently retired director of Language Arts, says in her article The Importance of Reading for Pleasure, “Reading just for the fun of it was making me a more fluent reader. It was increasing my vocabulary, exposing me to a wealth of experiences outside of my own little world, and stimulating my imagination. It was stretching my attention span, allowing me to empathize with others, and often changing my negative opinions to positive ones. Reading was also introducing me to language that I would not have heard in everyday conversation or on television sitcoms.” Mary Leonhardt, a veteran English teacher, wrote several books on how to get children to love reading. She emphasized helping them find books they love based on their interests. She pointed out the importance of reading series books and finding books by the same author. According to Ms. Leonhardt, “The top readers are avid readers, the students who are always reading books of their own choice, above and beyond the requirements of any high school course. It doesn’t seem to matter very much what they read, although over their years of reading they tend to gravitate to more complex authors and books.” Ms. Leonhardt’s book lists are pre-Harry Potter, but Harry Potter books have been unprecedented in getting kids to read. The ongoing saga of Harry and his friends and enemies is so compelling that children in 3rd grade are reading 700+ page books well above their grade level. So how do we get our children to enjoy reading enough to voluntarily use their leisure time to read?
Do not force your children to learn to read before they are ready.
If you do, reading will be something they hate. Studies have shown that most children begin to read between the ages 4 and 7, whatever is developmentally appropriate for them. Over time, early readers do not necessarily do any better than late readers. If you are trying to teach your young child to read, and she is just not catching on, stop and try again later. Go backwards and just work on rhymes. Make reading positive. And always continue to read aloud and discuss the books.
Reading has to be a priority in your family.
From the time your children are toddlers, reading must be presented as a positive thing. Read books every day and also allow your pre-readers to peruse books on their own. Continue to read to your children even after they can read independently. Talk about the books. Laugh about the books. Read the characters in funny voices. Relate the stories to your children’s lives. Limit TV watching, even educational TV. The problem with TV is that it does not allow the use of imaginations as reading does. It also uses up valuable time that could be used for reading. To set an example, everyone in your family should read.
To be a good reader, practice is important – what you read is not.
It is fine to read comics, magazines, newspapers, and series books – especially series books. If you can get your child hooked on a series, such as Junie B. Jones, Mary Kate and Ashley, or Harry Potter, he will always look forward to the next one. He will read by choice, and not necessarily only during family reading time. Do not try to get him to read better quality or more challenging books.
Reading for pleasure is supposed to be easy and fun. When I was a child, I always had a book going. I brought my book to school and read it just before the teacher started talking. Sometimes I read it in the bus. I read it when I got home. Even now, with much more limited time to read, I take the metro rather than drive so I can read. Most of our local schools have silent reading every day in class. Encourage your child to keep a book going by reading it at home and taking it to school for continuity.
If your child doesn’t like to read, here are some possible reasons:
1. He doesn’t have time. He is too busy hanging with friends, doing homework, watching TV and playing video games. Remember, it is your family’s job to make reading a priority.
2. Reading is too difficult. Maybe he needs remediation in phonics. He needs to be able to read fluently to enjoy it. To read for pleasure, he may need an easier book. It doesn’t matter if it is below grade level. The more he practices, the more his reading ability will improve.
3. He hasn’t found what interests him. This may take some research and lots of trial and error, but everyone can find something interesting to read, even if it’s a magazine, comic book, or the sports pages.
4. He needs someone to take an interest. Find what interests your child, read it alongside him, and talk about it.
5. He needs it to be relevant. This could be directions for a model airplane or information on a football star.
You will never regret your efforts to help your children find a love for reading. In addition to finding a lovely way to relax, they will benefit by effortlessly improving their vocabulary and reading comprehension. In addition, they will enhance their higher level reading skills by having enough reading experience to detect the nuances in each author’s writing. So don’t just make reading a priority. For the best results, make reading by choice a priority. Your children will thank you later.
Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman is the director of Tutoring For Success, a local tutoring company that provides home-based tutoring for all ages and subjects. www.tutoringforsuccess.com
Suggested Page-Turners – series and popular authors
(For more books lists, see your local librarian for lists by grade.)
The Magic School Bus
Junie B. Jones
The Magic Treehouse
Beverly Cleary books
Cam Jansen books
American Girl series
Judy Blume books
Shel Silverstein books
Roald Dahl books
Matt Christopher books (sports novels)
Judy Blume books
Hinton – The Outsiders
Cynthia Voight books
C. S. Lewis books
Harry Potter books
John Grisham books
Stephen King Books
Danielle Steel books
Terry McMillan books
Tom Clancy books
Harry Potter books