You can do this! Just watch me!

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Children need encouragement to reach out to new experiences, like reading. They need to be exposed to how older children and adults read effortlessly and enjoyably. The magnet that draws kids into new possibilities is playful opportunities, not skill drills. What we can all best provide are gentle demonstrations of the joys in our own reading.

Today’s popular “science of reading” offers a logical and compelling path for educators ushering classes of children into engagements with books that were carefully chosen for them by adults. However, common practices designed for improving test scores don’t develop the kind of readership that improves children’s lives. Really, the only defensible goal of learning to read in school should be not to increase yearly test scores, but to help children become eager, daily readers of self-selected books. 

How else will they become educated lifelong learners, daily expanding their understandings of the world? Being marched through a prescribed sequence of small, incomprehensible steps in unison might actually divert the path to literacy for many children. It’s possible that kids actually don’t need all of those science-based reading lessons if they are exposed first to beloved others enthusiastically reading to and with them every day, to older kids choosing their own terrific books, and to accomplished readers’ fluent and expressive relating of the adventures and information they have gained from books.

The number of children that come to school already excitedly engaging with books is sadly low. However, simply watching effortless and engaged readers, every kid can begin to understand that books are brimming with magical potential and that each person’s choices of books to read are not about the books as much as they are about them, and their interests. 

Novice readers’ focus should not be on word accuracy, but on unlocking and embracing the information and surprising content that books present. They must be asking us things like:

  • “How does mom tell stories and share new ideas, by looking at those little marks on the page?”  
  • “How does dad know to say the same thing each time when he turns to that page in the book?”
  • “Can I do that?” 
  • “Can you show me how to do that?”

Breathing in the fresh air of new ideas, the perspectives of others, and the adventures of those interesting children in their books, are reasons enough to engage with learning how print works. Those invitations await our little ones, if they get the help they need to understand why and how books work.   

If adults make it clear by reading publicly, and by showing that books are not just bedtime activities, but personally delightful and fulfilling for us all… If we keep any brief little lessons about how print works focused on exactly what our little ones have already noticed and asked to learn about… then even very small children will quickly begin to “get” how book reading works.

THAT is the most promising initial path to children’s lifelong literacy. 

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2 Responses to “You can do this! Just watch me!”

  1. Cynde Route April 15, 2021 at 9:33 am #

    This is so true. When I began homeschooling my children, the oldest was in 4th grade. He struggled in reading and was put into a special class for it. I was baffled and disappointed by this, as I’d been reading to him daily since he was an infant, and he’d sit listening and choosing more books for hours. I began by choosing a book for him based on what various publications (pre-internet) deemed appropriate for 4th graders, and then assigning a list of questions after each chapter. After working on this for several days, my son told me the book was difficult for him to read, and the questions were ruining it for him. I decided to let him read whatever he wanted, as long as he read for 20 minutes each day. A neighbor gave us a series of adventure books her kids had enjoyed, and though they were below the expected reading level of a 4th grader, my son loved them. He was soon reading for 30 minutes at a time, and then 40 and up. His reading skills improved dramatically. He is 32 years old now, and despite having a demanding, reading-intensive career, reads for pleasure every day.

    • Mark Condon April 20, 2021 at 8:32 am #

      Wow! What a perfect story of how reading is its own reward and reading what they want and enjoy provides a natural path forward in literacy growth. Thanks for sharing, Cynde!