For the Love of Literacy

For International Literacy Day which is today, Friday, September 8th, I have asked my very good friend and media specialist, Mrs. Sheri Schubbe, to share how we can influence our children and grandchildren to love reading. May Sheri’s ideas inspire you and the ones you care about to have a love of literacy…

As a school library media specialist and former junior high language arts teacher, I have spent my entire career encouraging students to develop excellent reading skills and appreciate the beauty and power of language. Recently, I was speaking with my curriculum director and he told me something that I’ve always known, but hearing it from him was impactful. He told me that he had attended a conference on the effectiveness of homework with different age groups of students. The presenter told the audience that for students in grades kindergarten through third, homework has few benefits to improving academic achievement. Instead, the most important factor is a child’s exposure to text. As a “professional reader” (as my students call me), of course, I believe that being a reader has benefits that reach far beyond the classroom and one’s school years. Indeed, reading is formative and can have life-changing impact. During school should not be the only time children are exposed to the importance of literacy and reading. Here are some ideas for families who are raising readers to “get the pages turning” at home.

For younger children:

● One of the first steps toward literacy is vocabulary and sequencing. You don’t even need books for this. Look at pictures with your child. If they are from a family gathering or a trip, tell the story of the event as you look at the pictures. Better yet, encourage your child to do it. Picture books are also valuable for this. I remember a weekend many years ago when I took care of my two young nephews. I took pictures of them with my own children throughout the weekend, printed them out, and put them in a little photo album for them to take home and tell the story of their weekend to their parents.

● Talk to your young children, even infants, in complete sentences, using descriptive vocabulary. Throughout the day, tell your children what you’re doing, even if it’s just washing dishes or folding laundry. This encourages language development.

● Have lots of books in your home, and have a specific place to store them. Choice is important. Young children can be taught to carefully handle books and treat them as special possessions. Books can be purchased inexpensively at garage sales, community book sales, or thrift stores. They are also perfect birthday and holiday gifts for children. Have some books in your car, too!

● Some families like to have a reading routine with their children. Reading at the same time of day together or in the same place, like a favorite chair, can be comforting and enjoyable.

● When reading to your child, pause and talk about the illustrations in the book. Ask your child to name different objects or describe how a character might be feeling based on the illustration. Also, read with appropriate expression and voice inflection.

● Encourage your toddler or preschool child to “read” to you. Choose a familiar book and have him/her tell you the story as he/she turns the pages.

● Model reading. No matter how old your child is, he/she learns to be a reader from watching a parent read!

● Visit the local library often. Once your child can read, allow him/her to have a library card. Public libraries offer a wide variety of free children’s programs that not only encourage literacy, but also social development. Also, have a library bag, and fill it with books that your child selects from the library. Check them out and return them regularly.

For older children:

● Talk about what you’re reading with your older children, and ask them about what they’re reading at school and at home. This is important no matter the age of your children. My children are young adults now, and we have great conversations about books they are reading in college and for pleasure. I love hearing their thoughts on various topics.

● Use an ipad for ebooks, animated books, or audiobooks. Of course, I’m a big fan of printed books for younger children, but electronic devices certainly have their place, and can be a fun and motivating reading alternative. Encourage teens to get ebook/audiobook apps on their phones so they can have reading options with them all the time. In my state, two popular apps that are available through many public libraries are Overdrive and Axis360. They are free and offer thousands of titles to check out with a public library card.

● Write notes to your children. Put notes in their rooms or in their lunches for them to read. This can be fun with children of all ages. For younger children, provide paper and writing utensils in a spot that is easily accessible.

● Play word games like Scrabble or Boggle with your children.

Children who grow up in homes that foster literacy tend to do better in school and become lifelong readers. Coupled with the benefits of helping children develop problem-solving skills and empathy for and acceptance of others, reading is essential in a child’s development. Good readers are usually good writers, critical thinkers, and inquisitive seekers of information. It all starts in the home. What amazing potential parents hold in their hands when they open a book and share a story with their child.

Sheri Schubbe
Library Media Specialist