Staff Writer Lynn Galloway is a student at Metropolitan State University. Watch for Lynn’s fiction and young reader titles soon.
In the explosion of video games, computers, cell phones, social media, and iPads, children are glued to technology now more than ever before. Eyes locked to electronic screens displaying vivid color and rapid movement, blinking fewer times than normal, these children are lost in their own world, a world created through their imagination that carries them through their day. Of all the ways for children to “get lost”, reading is the most valuable form of imagination, yet it is more often than not lost to children and adults alike.
There are various reasons why children who can read choose not to. Lack of time, the perception that reading is too hard, too boring, or not important, or simply that it is just not fun. Combating these issues is not an easy task, but not impossible. To understand the issues we face with our own kids and their reading abilities, we must start from the beginning and travel through the formative years.
The warm August sun hits the brick wall of Coal Creek Elementary where excited kids and slightly nervous parents mill around; every one of these students come with different levels of knowledge and prior learning experiences.
Adam Rongey is a Kindergarten teacher at Coal Creek and has been teaching for nine years. His expertise includes all levels of elementary school which will help him prepare his Kindergarteners to move on not just to first grade, but beyond. Reading and phonics is a large component to the curriculum in his classroom. They have reading groups, writing centers, word work, and a focus on phonological awareness. “Phonics is the beginning of reading,” says Rongey. “All kids need to have phonological awareness and an understanding of letter sounds, forming letters, decoding and blending. These are the roots of being a successful reader.”
As the Kindergarten year progresses, students are beginning to stand out as individuals from that first day. They are all at different points academically and the reading component shows there will not be much positive growth with the responsibility lying solely on Rongey. “Parent involvement is huge at this age and, without their help, our job [as teachers] is much more intensive,” says Rongey. “I do agree that parents are the main leaders in helping their students learn to read.”
As parents of children beginning to read, what can be done to help them along? Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) lists twenty different ways in which a parent can help and encourage their children to read. Some of these ways include taking the time to look for something that would interest your child, leaving various reading materials around the house, take them to the library, play games that are related to reading, and have them read anything they see while running errands or out to dinner. The biggest help you can be to your child is to set aside a consistent time for reading together. “A parent who does not read with their child, interact with them, or have them listen to reading on a regular basis, is not doing their due diligence as a parent,” says Rongey.
Reading at the beginning is hard work, but it does not have to seem that way. Rongey says, “From the beginning, kids should be taught that reading is an amazing way to make your own adventures in your mind.”
Fast forward from the stages of Kindergarten into the middle school years when children are now becoming pre-teens, they have grasped onto letters, phonetics, words, and can devour a book if they’d like. However, reading has fallen off their radar. What do we do now as parents?
Bestselling author, James Patterson, has a few words to say about kids and reading.
In Patterson’s article “How to Get Your Kid to be a Fanatic Reader”, he discusses the importance of parents, their role in encouraging kids to read and their role in helping to find books their kids will like to read. “Kids say the No. 1 reason they don’t read more is that they can’t find books they like. Freedom of choice is a key to getting them motivated and excited,” says Patterson. This is the age in which children venture away from what their parents pick out for them and seek out topics that relate to them better if they seek out anything at all. Patterson’s writing and published books have primarily focused on adult genres. In the last several years he has turned to writing young adult novels in order to give kids more choices and something interesting for them to read.
“Teens wanted things that were real, that they connected with. It doesn’t have to reflect reality directly,” says David Levithan in the article “A Brief History of Young Adult Literature”. Levithan helped develop Scholastic’s teen imprint, PUSH.
The genre of young adult is controversial in some communities because of the hard topics that are discussed within its covers. This is where parents come in. Parents need to be open to giving their children the freedom of choice to read anything from informational books on building things to high school drama to supernatural and paranormal to sports magazines to zombies and vampires to the Guinness Book of World Records to books that cover heavy topics such as sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol use, identity crisis, suicide, GLBT, etc.
Parents do not have to let their kids read every single one of these topics. Parents should have a say in what their child is reading, however, parents need to stay informed about what the topics in these books are actually talking about. Just because the topic is involving drugs does not mean it is telling children to do drugs. More often than not, these books are giving pre-teens and teenagers a place to explore these topics without first-hand knowledge and can potentially give kids and parents a gateway into discussing these topics.
The bottom line is the freedom of choice for your children in reading books that interest them. They will not continue reading if they are not excited about reading. “The more kids read, the better readers they become. The best way to get kids reading more is to give them books that they’ll gobble up,” says Patterson.
Once again, parents are the most important aspect to a child and their reading experience, but what if you, as a parent, seemed to have become background noise to your teenager’s life in reading? Or you struggle with getting your child to read? Other parents can be a tremendous help and guide in figuring out these choppy waters of continuing the reading trend in your house.
Melissa Hostler, step-mom to three boys, has agreed to be a jumping off point for us by allowing us to delve into her personal experiences with her three boys, their lives, their reading habits, and what her and her husband do in order to encourage them to read.
While sitting around a fresh pizza, hot out of the oven, Melissa has a one-on-one discussion with me about her life.
Tell us a little bit about your boys.
Our oldest one is William, he will be 14 in May. He is our slightly rebellious teenage kid who is just now becoming comfortable with himself. He’s made lots friends this year and he’s doing the teenage thing of hanging out with his friends and viewing it as being more important than hanging out with the family.
Our next boy, his name is Benjamin. He is 12 and he is super active in lacrosse. In fact, that is his entire world, frankly. He is a mediocre student, but has a heart of gold.
Samuel is our youngest, he just turned 11 yesterday. He is a great student, if he applies himself and actually tries. Things come to him naturally, but he doesn’t always use it. He is quite creative. He is our resident comedian in the house. Always keeping us entertained. He is also slightly into lacrosse, but would rather be playing video games most days.
Now, does William play any sports?
William plays lacrosse, I think mostly because my husband, Ben, wants him to play a sport. If it were up to him, I don’t think he would play a sport.
Since your boys are extremely active, what is their outlook on reading?
Both Sam and William enjoy reading for themselves. Sam is into graphic novels. He likes the cartoon drawings with the reading. William is really into everything popular. Young adult. Hunger Games. He did Harry Potter for a while, but he is a little too old for that.
Ben isn’t a very good reader, so I think that adds to his non-love affair for reading. He is a grade and a half behind where he should be. However, he is in 7th grade and he should really be in 6th. I think that has a little bit to do with it. He feels he is behind where his friends are even though they are a year older that he is.
We encourage them to read on their own, and when we notice they are not reading, or they are reading the same thing over and over and over again, we have to actually ask them if they are bored with reading, if we have to go to the bookstore, or do we have to order something from Amazon. But it takes us to encourage them and I wish they would come to us and be like, “Hey, there is new great book that I want to read” and I would be like, “Great, here you go, let’s go buy it right now.” But they don’t really do that.
How do you combat William’s reading when it gets in the way of his other responsibilities and sometimes higher priorities like homework, chores, sleep, etc.?
He’s been known, especially after a new book comes out, to stay up all night. He’s like me, I get it. He will stay up all night and read it because it’s interesting. I totally understand, but it’s not responsible as a kid because he has school the next day. We have been known to walk in his room and turn off the light so that way, he can’t read anymore. And if he turns the light back on, my husband will walk back in and take out the light bulb. And that solves that. It’s hard to punish somebody for staying up all night reading a book. You want to because it’s irresponsible, they’ve stayed up all night and now they have to get up and go to school, but on the same token, they’re doing something productive and not getting into trouble.
Since your viewpoint on reading is not a punishment or reward, do you think it should be available like, say food on the table?
Absolutely! I think reading encourages their imagination which is important as kids to explore their brain. I think reading is a good stress reliever. That’s what I use it for and it’s honestly a way for me to escape my daily life sometimes. To live vicariously through somebody in a story to me is just like the ultimate in relaxation. And I hope they’d be able to find the same thing. To be Harry Potter in Harry Potter’s world or whoever the person may be.
One of the biggest issues in why Young Adult is the most contraband genre of reading is parents don’t like the subject matter of a lot of these books. Books with suicide, rape, sexual harassment, bullying, etc. are talking about these hard issues and it has become a huge controversy, but do you think those things are important for kids/teenagers to understand?
Yes, absolutely. And I would question those parents if they allow their kids to be on the internet or texting their friends, what are they [kids] talking about? What are they looking at? What does their browser history contain? Because they’ve probably already seen it before it came out in a book or before they read it in a book. I would hope that if they find it in a book and they question it or have concerns or comments that they would come to us and talk to us about it. I would hope that they would see that as an opportunity to be like, “I don’t understand this” or “why did this person do this?” or if it gets into graphic sexual stuff it can open a conversation that is important to have with teenagers that may not have happened otherwise.
Social media has made kids grow up faster than as I, in my generation, think these kids should be growing up in. It’s scary. I learn things from my kids sometimes about that kind of stuff; about drugs or sex or something going on at school because of social media.
Some parents are not taking an active role in helping their kids to understand these things because they don’t realize they are growing up faster than they should be. They’re not taking this responsibility in teaching them these things or they just don’t want to talk about it. Do you think that parents should, if they realize their kids need to talk about it and maybe they don’t want to talk about it, let them read books that would help in that way?
Yes, it would help break the ice or help them to understand a topic that they are uncomfortable talking about with their parents. We try to talk about it as a family. I feel like with all five of us, it is less uncomfortable than if we were to talk to them one-on-one.
As a parent of three boys: One who reads like crazy and still a rebellious teenager, one who is a good kid in school, funny and likes to read, and one who is physically active, but doesn’t tend to read, what would you say to parents to help their kids read?
I would definitely say more choice. Give them more choice. Pay attention to what they’re reading. Encourage going to the library, going to a used book store. Something you can do with your kid as an activity. You’re going to learn about your kid, you’re going to show interest in what they’re interested in. And they’ll get a choice of new books. Make it a weekly affair. You won’t regret it.
Now we have arrived back to our current time of being parents, grandparents, guardians, some form of a role model in the lives of an important child. We are the beginning, the middle, and the continuum of teaching kids to read, getting them interested in reading, and keeping them reading.