When kids who are comfortable with reading go to the library, they know what they like and want. They eagerly select personally promising books. Learning to make good, self-validating choices of books is critical if children are to grow up as lifelong learners. Sadly, nurturing this critical foundation of intellectual independence often gets omitted by otherwise well-meaning parents and teachers.
We want to expand our children’s understanding of the world, to get them to encounter books that we loved at their age, and to take on challenges, even those that our children may find initially intimidating. One of our key challenges is to get kids to try new things, growing to appreciate all kinds of books for developing their own talents and interests. Getting kids fully into and then beyond their favorite books or authors can be a tough job.
Kids, on the other hand, just want to have fun. They want to laugh, and to discover and share fascinating things. So how do we get children to taste new flavors of writing and book content?
Certainly we can recommend our favorite books, though of course we mustn’t insist that children enjoy particular books or authors. For the sake of developing kids’ independence, we primarily want them to discover their books and their reading.
There are the two lessons that establish lifelong learning as readers grow to adulthood:
1. Each of us must at some point discover for ourselves the books that “fit” with our lives and personal histories. From those books, we grow to effortlessly use print and illustrations to understand both our established and our unfolding worlds. When we find ourselves holding such eye opening books, the print itself fades and the reading experience becomes a steady flow of rich language that expands our existing ideas and creates new ones, displaying captivating vistas of a world connected to, but as yet beyond our daily lives. Those books can supercharge our personal senses of what was, and will be possible in our worlds, shaping and validating our unique feelings and interests.
2. Certainly there are book recommendations and reading experiences that educators, relatives and friends must share. Recommending those excellent books demonstrates that they are important to us, and might be for the children. On the other hand we must set them free to find the books that will become the personal treasures of these youthful explorers, of personal trails and imagined vistas that will endure to daily strengthen them throughout their learning lives.
Our jobs as teachers and loving family are to create a strong and safe place for that freedom to blossom. It’s about creating fertile spaces for each little person to expand and grow in ways that will be the absolute best … for them.