Reading is akin to gathering our thoughts with the help of authors. Books and other forms of written communication can help us speak our minds as well as the minds of the people who authored them.
I recall my young children’s response to books that I brought them from a National Council of Teachers of English conference I attended years ago. I had the authors of the books autograph their respective works for each of my children. Without fail, my kids’ responses were uniform when I gifted them with the signed books: “You met this author? Really!?” It was like I had met real super heroes! (And perhaps I did.)
Everyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows that I want children to see themselves as able readers. Every bit as importantly, kids need to grow in expressing themselves in clear written language. If children have been read to from birth, author-awe is eventually replaced by reflection and wonder regarding whether they too might write a book that others would read and enjoy.
A sense of themselves as authors is more than just putting words on paper, however. It is ultimately believing that they can develop a unique perspective of the world, and that such an outlook is worth sharing in their own words and images. Early on, children are natural book consumers. Over time, they can learn to write anything they can say or form in their thoughts, using language and images that command attention of those they seek to reach. Becoming writers leads them toward becoming contributors.
It begins when parents, teachers and even older siblings show and tell for them as we assume the role of authors, inviting them to watch us as we write simple, but personally important things for beloved others, demonstrating for our wide-eyed young ones how they can do that, too. We must demonstrate fluent reading and fluent writing, and perhaps even artistry to illustrate our writing.
I recall my sons challenging me about how to write something they said, like (true story) “I want a pig sandwich!” Over time, I wrote them little silly or loving notes and placed the notes in their lunch boxes each day. Eventually, they scrawled notes back to me, using my responses to slowly, gently, guide improvement in their spelling and sentence structure. This fun back and forth of notes fueled their interest in writing to communicate. If children continue to read and write joyfully, they will keep doing it and research is clear that they will continue to get better.
Magic happens when youngsters realize that they can read and write on their own, and that just as they understand the books they read written by super-hero authors, their own audiences can understand them. Indeed, children with this realization are super-hero authors.