Special Note: Debra Conley is a regular contributor to Aletheia as the creator of “The Little Corner” (Now called “From the Catbird Seat”). Mrs. Conley is a veteran English and Literature teacher in the Atlanta area. She has published several articles in magazines and journals and works as a proof-reader for text-book publishers. In addition, she happens to be the only daughter of the editor’s parents.
I have some helpful suggestions for developing readers of you and your children. Some of my ideas and philosophies are a result of raising my own children, both of whom are avid readers, and my twenty-five years of classroom experience. Some of my advice comes from a book I recommend to all new parents: Read To Me: Raising Kids Who Love To Read by Bernice E. Cullinan. This great little book is packed with sensible approaches and even includes reading lists selected for each age group. I readily ordered this scholastic publication from www.Amazon.com for only $4.99!
Much success in cultivating a reader starts with a daily pattern. Even before your child is old enough to learn to read, he should be read to. It was a habit for me (thanks to my parents!), so whatever I was reading, I just read it to them. I could make Michener sound as funny and interesting as Dr. Zeuss. The point is that daily reading must be as much of a habit as brushing your teeth. Of course, I agree with the experts that this time should be a relaxed atmosphere free of television or any interruptions. Whatever you make important, your children will likely see as worthwhile also.
Another factor to consider in developing young readers is the adult example. Do your children see you reading? The old adage “Monkey see, monkey do” is certainly true of children. Let them see that reading every day is an “adult thing.” They all try to be like adults! Ask yourself how much importance your home places on reading for everyone. Besides seeing each of you read every day, do they hear or participate in a discussion of what you are reading? Is it treated as an integral part of adult life, or just something for the little people?
Do you have a reader-friendly home? Look around your home. Is the majority of reading material an age 5 or younger level? What is the proportion of grown-up to children’s books? How about periodicals? Growing up in my home meant books and reading material in every room! Reading by the adults was never restricted to one area. Think about the possibility that you save your reading time for after the kids are in bed (for your own relaxation!) and therefore neglect to set the open example they need to see. You may need to adjust your schedule to include fifteen or more minutes of reading while they are up.
Reading can be fun in a way that helps a toddler develop other skills. Any teacher will tell you that reading is a direct link to skilled writing and vocabulary development. As you read, whether to yourself or with your child, do you take time to get a dictionary and look up words you do not know? Do you study the diagrams and maps, trying to explain them out loud? I made my children keep a written list of new words we looked up. This can introduce them to a link between reading and writing. As they mature and learn to write, they can put the new word in a sentence. Does your child know that information other than word definitions can be found in the dictionary? He can find what his name means, a list of units of measure (is he as tall as a yard yet?), foreign words and phrases, symbols for math and sciences, correct forms for writing letters, and of course, geographical places located and described. Keep your dictionary close to the reading area!
For clues as to when your child is ready for certain levels of reading, please check the book, Read To Me, referred to earlier. Also, consider other problems. The most common complaint from parents is that their child’s attention span will not allow for reading. Watch your child when something obviously captivates him. Clock how long he pays rapt attention to a certain toy, game, or activity. Then try to connect his reading material to the same object (trains) or activity (a circus show on TV). If he begins to say “car” every time he sees one, get him a book about cars.
Does he spend his concentration on items he take apart, assembles, toys that make noise or have bright colors? Does he like animals? There are so many books that imitate these sounds, colors, or movements. There are even books that have music tapes with them, flash cards (you can make your own) and every sort of pop-out or moving part.
An activity I used with my children was to make flash cards of their favorite words, or of their favorite animals and their sounds. Then I laminated the cards so that the child could handle them often. When we reached a certain level of skill, I made “books” from these cards, letting them help me put words and objects together to create a story. Matilda the Loose Meatball was the all-time favorite, and it was created entirely by us.
I also suggest making colorful, laminated flash cards of the basic reading sounds (most can be found in workbooks available at any store). Cut out the associated picture that comes with each sound, then tie them together with yarn or whatever. Let them be a part of your child’s toy box.
Remember that small elements of reading can become a part of every day. Your child can help you spot the caveats in the small fine print of grocery coupons and store item labels. He can help you read road signs and maps, then read a book about that very place. I will never forget the year my dad let me plan the family vacation. He gave me the basic destination and how many miles we could travel each day. The rest was up to me! I was twelve. I read for a month! I poured over campground books, maps, travel brochures, even the AAA bathroom lists! We got there (Yellowstone and the Tetons) and back using almost every part of my project! The only part he scrapped was my plan to leave my little brother Joe with the Indians.
Keep a Rand McNally or similar travel book in your car. Most of the new ones have special information about cities, national parks, historical sights, even diagrams of airports. Does your child even know what a map legend is?
Remember. Setting the example is the most important part. Let your child see that reading is an “adult thing.” Imitation is not just the most sincere form of flattery, it is the most common method of learning in the early years. Let your monkey see what you want your monkey to do!
Morals and Values
One of the major contributing factors in the decline of our society is the substitution of “values” for “morals.” It is most noticeable in the labeling of activities and viewing materials for our children and adults. By this slight-of-hand, something can be considered right for an older person but wrong for a younger person. The error in this should be obvious to anyone who knows a holy God. Why are profanity, nudity and violence wrong for children but right for adults? At precisely what age or time does something immoral become moral?
Our society prefers “values” because the word connotes relativity (an object’s “value” is determined by the market price). “Value” has nothing to do with right and wrong, only what society does, says or allows. This relativism permeates our culture. I remember as a teenager when my high school decided to have a smoking area outside the back door. I couldn’t explain it, but I wondered how smoking could be wrong in one place but right in another. Similarly, the parent who scolds his child for using a bad word and then uses it in an adult setting, just because he is an adult, has succumbed to the values of a relativistic society.
The atheist only has values, he cannot believe in morality. Neither can he insist that his values be incumbent on anyone else. But morals can’t bend nor change from one situation to the next. They are as absolute as the Moral Giver. Are they confining? Are they judgmental? Yes and no. Yes, morals give us a straight edge with which to judge and align our values. But no, morals are rather liberating! They tell us how much grace is needed and available in our sinful world. And in a culture where sin abounds, grace does much more abound!