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Have you ever had to read a book on a topic that you didn’t care about? We all have. (Think back to those dry history books filled with a series of dates, or overly technical science tomes.) And sometimes that is part of life – at times we have to read, even if we aren’t inspired by the topic. But boring books don’t inspire our children to read. A case in point: I was talking with the principal of a local school recently. She lamented that the children just didn’t like to read. Many of the kids grumbled when it came time for the required “sustained quiet reading” period each day. I offered to observe and when I did, I saw the children wandering the room, looking at the spines of the books, whispering to friends, sitting on the cushions on the floor in the reading corner. The teacher was grading papers and handing out bathroom passes. There wasn’t a lot of silent reading going on. I could diagnose part of the problem-the students were bored! And to be honest, the problem wasn’t dry reading material. In fact, they were literally surrounded by interesting books. They just needed to be introduced to books in a positive way. I found a large nature section in the class library. It gave me an idea. I offered to take over one class session. The principal assigned me the second grade class, which I took on a short walk to a nearby restored prairie. At one point, I had the kids gather ’round as I showed them a gall on a goldenrod plant. I picked a stem and passed it around, and had the kids guess what made that round ball. Answers ranged from: “It’s going to be a flower!” “It has seeds inside!” But they were fascinated to learn that a little goldenrod fly laid its eggs on the plant, the larva emerged and started nibbling on the stem, and the plant formed a gall around the larva, which becomes its protective home for the winter. In the spring, the larva turns into a fly, and emerges through a small hole! And then I let the students know that I found out all of this information in a library book, and I *love* learning new things like this in books. On the way back to the building, the children were finding more galls and looking closely at other interesting weeds. Now they had questions that they wanted answered! “Where do you think the ant was bringing that piece of food?” “Have you ever seen a spider spin a web before?” “Do you know how to make a cast of an animal track?” “What kind of tree did this leaf come from?” Back in the classroom, I pulled out an armful of nature books. The kids gathered round. I invited them to each select a book that looked interesting to them. The excitement! Now these books, the same ones that looked so boring a bit ago, held the answers to their questions! Here are
FIVE fresh ideas for encouraging reading:
1. Nature sketchbooks. Ahh freshly sharpened colored pencils and an excursion into the out-of-doors. I recommend the book “Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals” by Karen Skidmore Radcliffe for inspiration. She has a good chapter on language arts and nature journals. Explore the out of doors, and then come back inside and read up on what you saw.
2. Model the enjoyment of reading. Show kids that there is a wealth of knowledge to be found in books. When you read something interesting, share it with them. As the parent or teacher, demonstrate a love for reading. Let the kids see *you* reading.
3. Read out aloud to your kids, and choose books that are above their reading level (but within their comprehension level). Let them feel the thrill of learning something new.
4. Encourage your child to start a collection of some sort. Some suggestions: a joke collection (read joke books for some great jokes to tell friends), a recipe collection (read the recipe and make a snack or a meal), a marble collection (read up on all the various types of collectible marbles). Who can you share this collection with? Friends, pen pals, and grandma will all appreciate the thought and effort put into a favorite collection.
5. Start a monthly family newsletter or classroom letter. Each person writes an article. Articles could be on topics like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, what we saw on our trip to the mountains, how to” articles, like choosing a new kitten, how to transplant strawberry plants, how to make a habitat for a praying mantis, etc. A trip to the library for a book on the chosen topic helps fill in facts and details.
Finding a topic your student cares about can make reading a natural extension. I hope that with these five ideas you will inspire your student to read. It’s worth developing your child’s interest in reading, because it will provide a benefit to your student in every area of his or her life.