Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipe for Raising Readers

I have often wondered where the love of reading comes from. Is there a recipe for raising good readers? Does it get handed down from parents to children? Is it merely a matter of parents reading to infants and toddlers like parenting books tell us? Or is it mainly the job of schools  and educators to foster a love for books in children?

I suppose in my case the love for reading did not come through my parents. They were not great readers themselves. I never saw my parents read books. My dad only read the paper. My parents never took us to a library to check out books nor did they read books to us, except for the standard Grimm fairy tale edition, owned by every German household. I figure my mom, who had not much schooling, did the best she could by reading fairy tales to us.

There were certainly lots of books around our house when I was growing up. My mom had aquired an eclectic selection of novels via membership of a mail order book club in her pre-married life. My dad's books were mostly antique tomes about religion and history, some with fancy covers that would make you want to leaf through and admire the beautiful pictures. Dad's books were mostly printed in old German type and not accessible to a young child. I also distinctly remember a book with pictures from WWI and WWII. I am not sure why this horrible book sat  around on one of the lower shelves. It certainly made an impression on me as a young child...

So maybe osmosis - being surrounded by a number of books - was a factor, since there wasn't much encouragement to read on my parents part. I recall my love for reading started in first grade. It was then, I bought my first book with my own money. I had saved up my allowance to purchase a book of fairy tales printed in cursive. In those days German kids were taught to read and write in cursive. We were never allowed to print letters. I'm not sure if they still teach kids that way in Germany. I surely loved learning to make those curly letters, lessons in Schoenschreiben (transl. writing prettily), and my first book that I could read by myself.

Maybe books were my way to escape the reality of a not so happy childhood. The Catholic girls' school I attended from 5th through 13th grade had a fairly small library with juvenile fiction tucked away under a stairwell somewhere. Only the older kids could use the "real" library while the younger students were limited to the "stairwell library" run by the nuns. It was the strangest little library you can imagine, but I read every book in it. I cannot recall ever being bored in my childhood. How could you be bored when there were so many great books to read?

It's harder these days to find the time for reading. After a long day of doing chores around the house, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids, crafting, and working on the computer one gets too tired at night to read. Is that how my parents felt? Usually I fall asleep after a few pages.

But we try to set a good example for our kids. We make regular trips to the library and have done so since they were infants and old enough to attend story time events.  Yet I find it terribly hard to compete with the thrills of electronic devices around these days. There was no Nintendo to tempt me, no computer screen calling to play evermore addictive games, no XBox or Wii.  In a way it was much easier for a child in the 1970s to become a reader...
Maybe it would be easiest to ban all those things from one's house completely. But how can I, when the children see me sit and work at my computer every day?  So I see my role as parent mainly as a guide and role model. I try to set a good example by limiting my own computer time. I try to steer them away from screen time as much as possible - less than 1 hour per day. Have you tried to do a family reading night? I know after a busy day it's seems so much easier to pop in a movie. But really if you tried,  you might find that sitting together reading books a couple of nights a week may be just as relaxing...

What's the last book you have read? With or without children? For Christmas my son gave me the bestselling books (see picture)by Stieg Larson. I really got into them on one of our "family reading nights" and read them in less than a week's time. Looks like Ulla - the voracious childhood reader is back! Any book suggestions for me?


softearthart said...

My parents were good readers and every week we would go to the library and bring home assorted books, my Father would put history,the arts,sciences, etc on the coffee table,with 6 children in the family their was always a lot of books at different reading levels. We all loved books and reading,this was before TV,after we got TV we read less. With my own children we went to the library, and I continued to place an assortment of different books on my coffee table. I noticed some of my children were not interested in reading novels, but flicking through science,art stuff. This flicking still went into there brain and was how they learnt. I have always felt that a child is interested in different material,and to be aware of what that is, and have a few books about it. This simulates the love of then, Reading. Cheers Marie

germandolls said...

I think you are absolutely right, Marie! Just putting books out is a good thing. Even if my parents didn't read much. I loved browsing the books they owned and it sparked interest in reading. Just wish they had been better books. =)
Thanks for sharing your ideas here!

woolies said...

My love of books started really early, and it is my most missed thing in my currently too-hectic life. I just do not have the time. Except when I travel for business, I always read on the plane, and have been known to finish a book! Have you read any Jodi Picoult?
My kids were both wonderful readers. Not so much in their teenage years. :(