WHY do we read? This is an important question because the answers that we offer will determine how we support children’s growth as readers.
Children must perceive reading as understanding what others have communicated in writing. Written messages need to have personal meaning for them or they will pay little to no attention to the message. They’re kids, and curiously explore what they find intriguing and relevant to their lives.
Typically, small children don’t know what reading is until someone reads a fun picture book or something else that the child finds engaging. Children probably begin to “get” what reading when parents or older siblings read something enjoyable or important for themselves and laughingly share it aloud with the family. Those events are reinforced by the times when older family members involve the youngster in writing a message for someone, like writing a on a card to give grandma on her birthday.
Those kinds of events start the writing and reading ball rolling mentally and emotionally for a child. Many children will then begin experimenting with writing and reading on their own. For example, it is not uncommon for a 3 year old to make some marks on a piece of paper (or a table or maybe the wall) and then ask, smilingly, “What did I write?” That darling event is a terrific start, however, it indicates that a child has actually not yet figured out that writing is doing something to help another person to understand something that the writer already knows.
Having begun to understand WHY we write, children will begin attending to the roles that literacy can play in their lives.
The writing and reading that you and I do every day without thinking are rather complex interactions that connect writers and readers. One person gets to share something in print; another gets a chance to read that print and appreciate its meaning.
The key here is that children will start on the road to enjoyable writing and begin daily self-selected book reading only when THEY HAVE DECIDED TO LEARN TO READ. If they never become fascinated by the powers of writing and reading, they may still eventually be taught to write and read correctly but sadly never grow to become lifelong readers. Their personal joy and the ever-growing learning and loving that comes from the world of great books will be forever limited for them.