Open Your Books

By Diane Schlindwein

June 5, 2009 5 min read


Encourage reading to change lives for the better

Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

One of the best ways to assure that your child becomes a successful and happy student -- and eventually a well-adjusted adult -- is to make sure he or she is a good reader.

This journey begins the day a child is born and lasts throughout his or her lifetime, said Rebecca Chrystal Armstrong, director of literacy services for Reading is Fundamental, the nation's largest children's literacy organization. "Learning to read begins long before children enter formal schooling. It begins with learning the sounds of spoken language when they hear family members talking or singing and continues as children respond to the sounds that fill their environment.

"Children begin to understand written language when their caregivers read to them and when they see adults reading themselves. Reading is the gateway to learning, whether that learning takes place in school, at home or in any other environment," she added.

The start of a new school year is the perfect time to get your children into books. Families should incorporate time for it into their daily routines. Reading for fun before bedtime is good for students of all ages, as well as a great way to wind down for a restful night's sleep.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress found in a recent reading assessment of fourth-grade students that reading for fun had a positive relationship to performances on test scores. Eighty-seven percent of those students who reported reading for fun on their own time (even if only once or more a month) performed at a proficient level while students who never or hardly ever do so performed at a basic level. Students who reported reading for fun every day had the highest scores.

"While there is no mathematical formula for how many minutes a day a child should read, and a lot of sites say 20 minutes, the point to keep in mind is that if the child is not enjoying the experience, they will learn nothing from it and learn to dislike reading," Chrystal-Armstrong said.

"I worry that sometimes students are not given enough choices," said Travis Tschacher, a librarian at Memorial Middle School in Portland, Maine. "There are so many genres to choose from -- historical fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels, [which are] books that are sort of like what we used to call comic books.

"Having said that, I have to admit that a lot of kids just don't know what they like. That's why it is up to teachers, librarians and parents to expose them to different kinds of books," Tschacher said. "Research shows that if you allow children more choices, they will be motivated to read more."

There are lots of ways to get kids to turn the first page. "A lot of teachers like to entice readers with what we call 'book talks,'" he said. "That's when they read a section of a book that's exciting -- a part of the story that will 'hook' the child and get his or her attention. Then you tell them, 'If you want to find out what happens, you'll have to read the book.'"

Even in an age when video games occupy the free time of many youngsters, books can compete, Chrystal-Armstrong said. "Reading with your child should be a pleasurable activity when both the parent and child are having fun. It creates a close bond that video games can't compete with. We want children to associate reading with pleasure."

It can even change children's lives, Tschacher said. "We know that a lack of literacy is linked to academic failure, unemployment and delinquency. On the other hand, it is the vocabulary you develop from reading that works to your benefit and is directly linked to academic success, which means getting into a good college and eventually having a successful career. There is a direct correlation between reading and high achievement."

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