Reading should be fun. At its best, reading is a little like riding a bicycle. It is freedom to escape and, within limits, choose your destination. At its worst, reading is all work, confusion, boredom, and frustration. The most important message in this book is the importance of keeping the fun in reading. The second most important message is that it is easier to make reading fun from the beginning than it is to try to make it fun when someone has been struggling. This is long, so if it isn’t fun, I hope that it to be helpful….
We all know that children who don’t learn to read well will have their occupational opportunities and horizons limited but that is not the only reason to become a life-long reader and it is a hard sell to a five-year-old. Learning to read and reading for information and interpretation have been pushed down to lower grade levels in an effort to improve reading scores. More instructional time is being devoted to reading and writing. While many children are doing well, we don’t know that this will make reading more fun or if these students will read more as they get older. The average time spent reading decreases starting around fourth grade and is known as the fourth grade dropout.
Accelerating reading instruction also means that more children will fall behind because they are not ready. It is a challenge to make reading fun for these children. Many of these children would have done well if they had been given more time. Italian and Finnish are the languages which are phonetically most consistent (orthographically transparent) and they wait longer to start formal instruction in reading. Dyslexia is essentially unknown in Italy and Finland. English is among the least consistent due to how our language developed. Therefore it takes more practice and more time to learn to read English.
Better readers tend to read faster and have better comprehension, but the importance of the reader’s knowledge base tends to be overlooked. Research clearly shows that knowledge base is as important to comprehend what you are reading as is reading ability. Authors cannot include every piece of information without becoming boring and lengthy. The reader uses their knowledge base to fill in the gaps. School provides less of this base when they are spending more time teaching reading. Doing more of one thing necessitates that you do less of something else. With all of the pressures on students, teachers, and parents, it is difficult to maintain a long-range perspective. Consider the following:
- It takes a lot of work over an extended period of time to learn to read. It takes fewer hours of practice to learn to ride a bike, learn to drive a car, or to get a pilot’s license.
- When something is difficult, motivation is very important. Positive motivation is more effective than negative motivation. I hate to hear, “We make her read for 20 minutes each night.” It is essential to model reading as fun and interesting. Parents naturally share what they have read and children observe this. Reading to children is crucial. Good children’s books are exciting; they stimulate visualization and participation; they stimulate discussion. If we ham it up, reading in voices and exaggerated prosody, it can be even more fun for everyone. It should be a shared pleasure to look forward to, not something we have to do. Children should not be made to follow along if they don’t want to.
- Most children love to tell stories. Many children would rather makes stories out of pictures or try to write stories than read. Early reading material is boring, like the simple music that you can play when you are learning to play an instrument. Some children are not satisfied by the accomplishment. A child’s story (keep it short, at first) can be typed with large font on a page with lots of empty space so it does not challenge their visual skills. They can usually “read” it because it is their story. They will tend to learn the words because they are engaged and engagement is the key to learning. With additional stories, they can make their own reading book.
- Learning to decode is difficult but is a critical part of learning to read. Because we don’t have to decode as adults, we don’t tend to notice the inconsistencies which children have to master. I prefer to have decoding done on an easel or whiteboard so it is large and less crowded. Also, staring at near while studying a word is much more likely to cause eyestrain and visual aberrations than working at a distance. It is easy to forget that young readers have very close reading distances and tend to get even closer when they are concentrating and struggling. For the same reason it would be best if early readers did not have to decode while reading and could practice the eye movements which help them to become fluent readers. Try to keep practicing reading and practicing decoding separate.
- Children can easily become overwhelmed when pages appear crowded to them due to the size of the print, length of the lines, spacing between lines, the number of lines on a page, and the difficulty of the material. If a child is losing their place or needs to use a marker, it is better to make the page less crowded than to have them use their finger or a marker. It may also be a sign of a visual problem. We want children to engage with the content of what they are reading and make the process of reading as invisible as possible.
- Don’t stop reading to your children because they are having difficulty reading and you want them to spend more time practicing reading. When you do that, reading is all work and no fun.
- Enjoying reading and understanding what you read, requires imagination (visualization). This includes reading non-fiction especially as you are reading about a place you have not been to or something you have not done.
- Reading comprehension relates to fluency – reading automatically. Fluency is assessed for oral reading. It is important to remember that oral reading and silent reading are different. To read orally and not sound like a robot, your eyes have to be a few words ahead of your mouth. This is an additional load on working memory. Children who are having problems reading are usually asked to read orally more than other children so we can hear how they are reading, but this runs the risk of having them think that successful reading is reading words when it is much more than that; just like music is much more than playing notes. We start to play music when we play the notes automatically and we start to become effective readers when we no longer say all of the words to ourselves as we are reading. Brain scans demonstrate this and how this enables the brain to be more efficient.
- Children need to understand that we read for different purposes. We read directions, recipes, and road signs. If all that they read is textbooks, reading is heavy on content and not fun. Helping them to have a mix of reading experiences is important.