Getting children who can read, but don’t to become children who can read and do is challenging. It’s such a triumph when we realize that YES they CAN read! Woohoo! And then it’s such a bummer to find out some of those same children actually dislike reading. What’s up with that?! Reading is such a fun way to learn new things and imagine yourself in all sorts of adventures, it’s hard to understand kids or adults who don’t want to read.
Now, the single inarguable goal for educating our children is that when they exit formal schooling, they will be avid readers who continue to learn and grow well after schooling has ended for them. Sure, there are all kinds of other things they should learn during the academic years, however, avid readers are, by definition, lifelong learners. If children aren’t developing into delighted readers, then regardless of all the wonderful things they may learn from family or teachers, the absence of books throughout their lives will stunt their future intellectual and linguistic growth.
Sadly, once children learn to dislike something that really is wonderful (like reading…or asparagus) parents and teachers have a devil of a time turning them around. So what is it that holds kids back from becoming avid readers?
I think it’s a little four letter word—FEAR. Fear of the unknown, of the new. Fear of the independence that reading on their own brings. Fear they may not do it right without help.
Kids are conservative by nature. They don’t like change. So the shift from being offered daily support in learning via picture books (where they learn how books and print work) to graduating to chapter books with lots of words and few to no pictures may be scary to some children. They might feel they aren’t ready for books with many pages.
To help kids overcome their fears, we can lead them in taking small steps into the mysterious world of chapter books. If we get them hooked on books, then moving them forward through challenging standards and into wide reading is no longer a slog through deep mud. It’s an adventure for teachers and their students!
The School Library Journal offers some excellent recommendations for individual and series books for hesitant readers that meet the small-step need. These recommended books are still simple chapter books, but have many of same characteristics as picture books, such as short sentences, simple vocabulary, frequent if not constant pictures, rhyming and the like.
We adults do things because we need to or because we have to for our jobs or to help us make our lives work better. Children aren’t motivated by such rational pragmatism, so reading isn’t something that children, especially very young children, will do because they should. Children’s work is play. If reading is a fun part of their play lives and personally relevant, they’ll eagerly choose to do it. And children who are taught how to find books that spark their interests, and are encouraged and supported for their independence will eventually read longer, more complex books. With this kind of support, kids soon discover the wonderful opportunities and joyful experiences available to them through reading…and off they go!