Monday, August 25, 2008

Children Who Love to Read Love to Learn

One of my good friends has raised four sons. The oldest has a Ph.D. in Math Education and was recently hired as a tenure-track professor at Louisiana State University. The second son is working on his M.D. at Ohio State University. The third is a Ph.D. student in computer science at Brigham Young University. The youngest is still an undergraduate and has a lot to live up to. The most amazing thing about this family is that although the father has a J.D. from San Diego State University, the mother of these four sons only attended one year of college and doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree. This valiant mother sacrificed her own education to put her husband through law school. She loves telling her children that over the years she has received a degree in living, which no one can dispute, least of all her academically achieving sons.

When asked if there is a secret to her family’s success, this mother replies affirmatively. She says that she read to her boys for an hour each day after school and checked over their homework every night. If their work was wrong, she had them re-do it. With this constant example of the importance of reading and an unfailing standard of academic excellence, this mother instilled in her sons a love of reading and a love of learning.

Our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, has counseled all of us to make our homes “Libraries of Learning,” just like this mother did. President Monson has also said that good books are an important part of a happy home: “Reading is one of the true pleasures of life. In our age of mass culture, when so much that we encounter is abridged, adapted, adulterated, shredded, and boiled down, it is mind-easing and mind-inspiring to sit down privately with a congenial book” (2008). President Monson has also quoted James A. Michener, who said, “A nation becomes what its young people read in their youth. Its ideals are fashioned then, its goals strongly determined” (Monson, 2004).

Recent child development research shows that reading shapes our homes and our nation because it shapes each individual child’s capacity to learn. Helping our children develop a love of reading might not always result in a family of doctors, but teaching children to love reading will help them develop a love for learning and put them on the road to accomplishment.

We all know that reading is a very important skill for children to master in order to be successful in all aspects of their education—both secular and spiritual. A 2004 University of Michigan study of children under age 13 linked significant time reading for pleasure with higher academic achievement (Hofferth & Sandberg). We all want smart kids, but most parents know that teaching children to love reading is often easier said than done. Just as reading habits among adults differ, so reading habits among children is often a result of personality differences. However, the culture of your home can make an important impact on your child’s literacy development. A study published in 2004 stated that a child’s early literacy development is significantly dependent on family context and characteristics (Kuo, Franke, Regalado, & Halfon). This study also found that the number of children’s books in the home was a predictor of how much familial context was improving a child’s literacy development while maternal full-time working status lowered the odds of the family giving the child sufficient literacy development.

There are many creative things parents can do to encourage their children, of all personality types, to read. Give the following six ideas a try. Strive to adapt reading activities to the needs and personality of your child. Be encouraging and patient and lead by example.

1. Assess the situation at the library.
A great way to decipher where your child is with reading skill is to take a trip to the local library. Tell the children to pick out some books on their own. Observe your children as they browse. See if what they choose on their own is appropriate for their reading level. If you’re unsure what type of books (board books, picture books, early reader, middle reader, or young adult) is appropriate for your child’s age level, consult with a librarian so you can get a good idea of where they should be. Be sure not to discourage your children, however. If your child still relies on pictures books when chapter books are more appropriate, allow them to stay where they are comfortable but pick an extra book to read together that may be a little more challenging than their initial comfort level.

2. Encourage your child’s strengths and interests.
Never say no to a good book. Allow your child to explore different interests, but if all they want are dinosaur books let them mostly read dinosaur books. Maybe on each trip to the library help them to pick at least one book on another subject, but don’t discourage the dinosaurs. Your goal for your child is a habit of enjoyable reading. If they only stick to one subject right now and still learn to love to read, then they will have the tools and ability to branch out on their own later on.

3. Shop for a great series.
If your child is one who won’t pick out anything from the library and really isn’t interested in reading, try looking for a good series. Children’s series are a great way to attract the attention of a less-inclined reader. Ask a librarian about what series are popular, or ask other mothers what their children are reading. One mother praises the Harry Potter series as a godsend. Just when her boys were starting to give up on reading, Harry Potter became popular and they couldn’t help but join in. Since then, those same boys have devoured the Redwall series and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even if jumping on a popular bandwagon is what gets your child to read, it’s still a success!

4. Schedule family reading time.
Try having reading time after school in your own family. Read books aloud that the whole family is interested in, or have independent reading time when each family member reads by themselves. Talk about the books together after you read. Talking about books helps children improve reading comprehension skills.

5. Organize book activities.
Have you ever made green eggs and ham? Or eaten a big plate of spaghetti after reading Strega Nona? Or gone on a teddy bear picnic? Be creative in planning activities for your children to go along with books they are reading. For older children, set a goal for them to read the original book before a movie adaptation comes out, or read the book together as an entire family and go to see the movie all together.

6. Teach children to love the scriptures by example.
Make family scripture study a priority. Try to spend some time reading scriptures with each child one-on-one as well, even if it’s just a few verses before bed. Encourage your children to explore the scriptures on their own, even at a young age. Help children understand Book of Mormon stories by acting them out as a Family Home Evening Activity. Give your children copies of the Book for Mormon to take to church as soon as they want their own scriptures, even if they aren’t good enough readers yet. Let them know that you encourage their love for the scriptures and that your own love for the scriptures is very important to you.

As a parent, you can contribute to your children’s success in reading and learning by encouraging and supporting educational activities at home. Even if it takes a little creativity and patience, encouraging your children to read will eventually teach them to love to learn and make your home a haven of happiness (see Monson, 2008).

- Hofferth, S. L. & Sandburg, J. F. (2004). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(2), 295-308.
- Kuo, A. A., Franke, T. M., Regalado, M., & Halfon, N. (2004). Parent report of reading to young children. Pediatrics, 113 (6), 1944-1951.
- Monson, T. S. (2008). A sanctuary from the world. Proceedings from Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Prosperity. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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