Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Engaging Older Readers (3rd grade and up) With Personel Connections To What They Read

Personal connections aid in understanding a story, whether your child is the reader or the writer (a composer like these two fellows in the picture to the right).  I encourage families to find great books that connect to your child's a passion so they will show more interest in reading.  I know you've heard that from me before but it is worth repeating.  
When a reader makes personal connections to text, he then becomes part of the story, adding his or her own memories, ideas, experiences to that of the author. He moves from reading on the surface into deeper connection and the understanding (what teachers call "comprehension") goes through the roof.  
So How Do You Get Your Kids to Respond That Way To Reading?
Good authors like Willie Morris (author of My Dog Skip) give us a large hook to connect with.  Nearly everyone has experienced a pet and/or the loss of that friend sometime in our lives like he tells about in his book.  If your young person is more into baseball, skateboarding or jazz, try Under the Baseball Moon by John H. Ritter.  Have a youngster who likes history?  A Wish After Midnight is a combo historical fiction and time travel adventure that will hold them til the very end.   Relationships and self-image important?  Try Nothing But The Truth by Avi.  If you want to share an adult book with your teen, feel free.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba is an incredible real life story of inspiration.  Sharing books you are enjoying (as long as you are comfortable with the content) is a terrific way to connect.  The key is that

if we are going to expect our young people to be readers in the midst of all the possible distractions in this modern world, then we must give them an authentic, meaningful-to-them reason to do so.

Carve Out A Little Reading Time
Once you have a good selection for your child to choose from (and have involved him/or her in the selection process, pick one time a week (protected from interruptions and outside distractions) in which the whole family will spend time reading. I've got news for you; it may not be easy at first, especially if this isn't already a habit with your family.  However, it can start with as little as this once a week, 15 minute time slot, but think of ways to expand it into travel time in the car on the way to soccer, or home from school, time just before "lights out".  It may be easier for you to start on the weekends.
Set a goal 
Your goal over the course of the next 6 months is to move from one such time a week to two and then to three.  Don't try to jump in all at once, especially if your family isn't used to this dose of reading.  Find the balance for you but know that consistence is very important.  Also, pay attention to your family schedule, your children's extra-curricular activities and school homework level, etc. when considering that is reasonable for your family.
W\hat you will often find is that your children will actually enjoy themselves, the adults will feel the benefit of a little down "doing something all together" time, and you'll be fostering a habit for reading.  In the meantime, you'll also be giving your child a dose of practice (something we all need to do if we are to improve our skills whether it is in reading, exercising, riding a bike or playing a video game).
Of course, the earlier you begin this in terms of the ages of your children, the more they will value reading as a habit and valuable use of time so my advice to those of you with younger children is to start early.  Don't believe the myth that some children just won't be readers.  Every child needs to read and read strongly for information, pleasure and, yes, even escape.
If your family can only manage 15 minutes to start with, begin at that level.  The goal is for everyone to be reading something during that time.
Give Them Control
As you allow your children to make choices - sometimes assigned materials from school, but other times magazines, ebooks, Wii manuals on the latest interactive games, a novel or a "fact" (nonfiction) book -- anything as long as it is reading, you will all be gaining benefits.  If you and your family have invested in an IPOD Touch, a Kindle or a even laptop, the novelty of reading "online" might appeal to your children more than holding a traditional book.  
Especially if you haven't done this a lot in your household before and regular reading together wasn't a part of your earlier lives together, this can be a challenge to get started.  However, I assure you, with the proper approach, even those who are at first reluctant will come "on board".
Need a little jumpstart?  Maybe some of the reading is tandem (you and your young child read a book together while Dad and Junior are pouring over an article in the lates Sports Illustrated. Your example of being interested and excited is essential here:  any child will see through you if you are just biding time and not invested in the experience.  Yet, on the other hand, if you are involved and getting something out of the reading, your child will feed off that too. 
A few more ideas for this "everyone is reading" time:
1. Give your children cool, colorful post its or sticky arrows (or even colorful strips from junk mail or old funny paper panels with a dab of rubber cement on the edge - did you know that its temporary if you only put it on one paper surface?).  When they run across a word they don't know, can flag it, then skip over it, if they can get the meaning from the rest of the sentence.  Later, you can spend a few minutes exploring the definition and pronunciation of the word together. 
2.  Everyone has one "pass" to interrupt and share about something they are reading (a particularly juicy description that makes pictures in your head, reminds you of something that happened last week, or was just fall out funny.  Print a paper ticket or coupon to hand out at the beginning of the reading time if you like (click here for a template "Polar Express" train ticket).  As an extra incentive for your kids to do this, they can also earn points toward freedom from a chore for a day, a small monetary reward (a quarter or dollar), or a special trip to the ballpark with a parent.  Again, choose those rewards based on what is meaningful and desirable for YOUR kids.

3.  At the end, with five minutes to go, you can also do something teachers call, "turn and talk".  Pairing again two family members together, you "turn and talk", telling each other about the best part of what you read.  If you run over (and you just might), don't announce "time's up".  Let the conversations go on as long as they will.
Don't turn your family reading time into a quiz, drill and skill, where you are pummeling your child with questions, just to see if he or she understands what she read.  What a turn-off and they get enough of those at school.  Instead, pose questions like these in conversation so your children see that talking about books is a natural activity.  Let your child's answers and reactions lead you to the next question:
What is your phrase or word you related to most in the book you read?
Have you ever experienced the feeling those words described?

When and how?

Can you imagine what it would be like to .....

Why do you think he/she reacted that way?  How could he have reacted differently to the situation?  What would have to be different in the relationship between Willie and his dog (or family member or whomever the interaction or emotion is shared with) to change his reaction.'

So what?  What is the significance, the importance, of his reaction, interaction, response?
I am taking this from knowledge (what I call regurgitation of fact) up through Bloom's to analysis, synthesis, etc.
You and your family will be practicing higher level thinking skills without turning your home into a academic "hothouse".
Share, Share, Share
Come back to this blog after you try this experiment and post your results.  Share what you are already doing with your children in this regard and how you squeeze reading into busy lifestyles and schedules.  We'll all benefit when we learn from one another.
A last tidbit:  You don't have to do this "encouraging your child to be a reader" alone.  All this week,  my friends at the Reading Tub and many of their friends are blogging about reading and children in their Share A Story: Shape A Future Event.   You will also find fun giveaways. I'm going over there right now to jump in; won't you join me?

Happy Reading!

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