Planet Word, a new national museum focused upon literacy is scheduled to open in late May 2020. On its website, Ralph R. Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, is quoted with what to me is an astounding statement that begins with an undeniable truth: “Literacy is the essential gateway to early school success, high school graduation, participation in the global economy and citizenship.” Fabulous! I take issue with the next assertion in his quote, however: “…what is magical about reading is how we move from learning to read, to reading to learn, and then loving to read.”
What? No we don’t. At least not most of us who grew up to be avid readers. I contend that learning comes most easily to those who are eager to be able to do something they already love and envision for themselves.
At Unite for Literacy our goal is to support young families to teach their children to love books and reading before they enter formal schooling and engage in formal learning. The emotional connection to reading’s personal WHY is then in position to carry children through any of the broad range of programs and services designed to teach them HOW to read.
What we absolutely know for sure is that when given the choice, children will engage in what they find interesting, novel or fun. The corollary to that is when NOT given a choice, children will cleverly and energetically try to avoid doing what they wouldn’t have chosen on their own.
When many children are initially taught reading in a formal setting, they are taught reading skills whether they want to learn to read or not. This is often the first skirmish in dragging children through lessons in which they have no interest. Talented teachers, who choose or are forced by school policy to teach children what their kids aren’t yet interested in, can initially lure children into participation and even cooperation. However, if the payoff from the students’ points of view is just attending to what to them may be inexplicable not-fun activities, their interest and investment will quickly and strenuously wane.
Now back to Smith’s assertion: if loving to read and reading to learn come long after learning to read, then why would children willfully engage in learning to read at all?
If we don’t lead children immediately to discover that inspiring learning about the world and delightful, relatable stories can be theirs from enjoyable reading—if we don’t make reading a lovable, fun activity—then it’s quite plausible that they will mentally and physically drift away from choosing to read on their own.
Instead of making children wait for months and even years to get to the entire reason for reading in the first place, why wouldn’t teaching the power and delight of reading be the entré, the stable basis, to all literacy learning?