Kids' library | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksAs the wee one is now at an age when she’s starting to read, I have been wondering how I can help her enjoy reading. Recently, I came across a two-part post by Jennie, a teacher of thirty years, titled Language, Literacy, and Storytelling. She shares there some remarkable statistics which gave me pause:

  • Every child wants to read when they begin school.  Enthusiasm is 100%.
  • By fourth grade, only 54% read something for pleasure every day.
  • By eighth grade, only 30% read for pleasure.
  • By twelfth grade, that number has dropped to 19%.

As Jennie points out, the key word here is pleasure. We drown our children with so much reading that they learn to associate it with drudgery. In their minds, reading becomes synonymous to homework. Is it any wonder they start avoiding as soon as they’re allowed to?

On that note, I remember reading how homework was introduced in the 50s and took off in 60s mainly because of the fact that Soviet Russia did it–and the West didn’t want to be left behind. This is despite a number of studies which show that less homework often brings better academic results than more.

So, given the lack of a concentrated effort to reduce homework for our children, what can we do to break the association between reading and homework misery?

This is where Jennie surprised me. Apparently, the U.S. Department of Education’s report in 1985 on Becoming a Nation of Readers stated:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

This shocked me because I had always thought that the practice of reading aloud to your children came to an inevitable end as soon as they started reading for themselves. So much for that myth.

Story Time

Jennie continues by sharing her own experience with a project she’s been trying out: writing picture stories with her students.

In late September, she asks each child what they like to do in school. This is not a casual question. Jennie explains that this is the first time their teacher has asked them, one-on-one. First, they have to think. With no other prompting or questions, she gets “the story”:

Each child watches as she writes their exact words. She not only puts their thought into a written image, she also validates that what they say is important.

Next, each child draws a picture of their story. Jennie mounts it along with their photo and hangs it in the hallway. Of course, they then have a field trip to the hallway to read aloud everyone’s picture story. It is a fun activity for children, because they want to tell you a story. Yet, children really have to think in order to do this. They must pull words from their heads to tell a story.

When we write stories, or picture stories, it gives children the opportunity to use all those wonderful words they have heard, over and over again, through picture books and chapter reading. Now, it is their turn. Instead of listening and learning, they are taking their own experiences, using what they have learned through reading, and making stories. That is why their stories are rich in vocabulary and text. Writing stories also increases social skills, language skills… and confidence.

Another trick for me to try out, then, in my continuous effort to make my little darling love books–and the written word!

Read the full post on Language, Literacy, and Storytelling.