Raising Readers

Raising Readers

DEPT_REVIEWBOOKS-ICON_FinalTalking about books with Brain, Child Book Review Editor, Hilary Levey Friedman.

I’m a professional reader. Long before I earned a living by reading and writing about books, I read like it was my job. I loved reading so much that when I turned 16 the main reason I wanted to get my license was so I could drive myself to the library.

So it’s no surprise that one of the things I most looked forward to about motherhood was reading to my children. But as my eldest son, Carston, hit toddlerhood I realized that while I like reading to my sons, what I really want to do is read with them. A persistent daydream I have is sitting next to one another on the couch, cuddled up in front of a fire, each of us reading our respective books.

I suspect this is the case for many Brain, Child readers. As parents who love to read and think, modeling our love for the written word is likely second nature. We’re doing something right, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recently decreed that reading early and often to children is so important it is basically prescribed.

After reading “alphabet” books to Carston (from Boynton to Seuss) what seemed like hundreds of times, he seemed to magically pick up his letters and start spelling everything he saw from street signs to labels on food. “Well,” I thought smugly to myself, “soon we shall be sitting by the fire reading together.”

One of my closest friends, a speech language-pathologist, gently disabused me of this notion by suggesting I pick up a copy of I’m Ready! How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success by Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman. I’m Ready is less than 70 pages, but it is chock-full of useful advice including suggestions, exercises, and a list of suggested children’s books to develop preliteracy skills. Published by The Hanen Centre, a Canadian non-profit focused on helping children communicate in all forms, I have started recommending this book to all parents I know with preschoolers and pre-kindergartners.

Sometimes as a parent, and even as a reader, I focus on the nuts and bolts of things, like how many pages there are in a book or how long it takes me to read (Or, in all honesty, how many pages I can squeeze in before dinner or after the kids’ bedtime!). When I read for myself I often do so with too much of a laser focus, thinking in terms of summaries and take-aways. But reading I’m Ready! reminded me that there are many components to literacy: conversation, vocabulary, story comprehension, print knowledge, and sound awareness. These are the building blocks, skills kids to learn before they can learn to read or write. Like so many things in life, as much as we would like them to, these skills don’t develop sequentially or on a time table but often in a haphazard way and then all at once.

After reading I’m Ready! and implementing some of Greenberg and Weitzman’s suggestions with Carston each time we read—like asking open-ended questions about the story and not those that produce one-word answers—I began to notice the ways in which my own reading has changed. I’ve started thinking more about characters and what problems they have to overcome. I have begun to once again notice and think about marks of punctuation, which I had been taking for granted.

I’m Ready! doesn’t teach you how to teach your child to read, it teaches you how to teach your child to be a reader. As the authors write, “The important task right now is to get your child into the habit of always looking for meaning every time you open a book together.”

As Brain, Child’s new Book Review Editor that is what I hope we can do together as well—to look for meaning as readers and as parents. To think about the characters, the settings, and the questions and exclamation points in our lives. I know I’m ready to, “Show that the words being read match the words on the page, with spaces in between.”

I hope you say, “I’m Ready!”, curl up by that metaphorical fire, and open up a few books with me as we identify and explore the spaces in between our words.