Monday, September 28, 2009

Literary versus Literacy

Whether you have children in middle or high school, you know there is a lot of reading they have to do to be successful in school. Some of it can be complex and "high brow" literature, introductions to the literary world. Although that certainly has value, many kids today have trouble relating to that sort of reading and it may turn them away from the reading that will help them be successful, happy and productive in our world. I can't tell you how many parents have said to me: "My child loved to read as a small child but now he hates it. What happened?"

It could be that your child has lost an important support system when he moved from the "snuggle and cuddle" stage to being mostly an independent reader. He may have begun to think about reading as "all that school required reading" instead of as a tool for life.

Certainly you can't expect that 13 or 15 year old to want to sit with you and read like they did when they were small. But you can keep whetting his/her appetite for reading by exposing your young person to reading materials (books, magazines, Internet sites, how-to manuals, vacation brochures, etc.) that connect to his interests. Here are five tips on transitioning into supporting your teen's reading habits.

1) Make sure you have plenty of reading materials (from a variety of sources) in your home. You don't have to spend a lot of money. If you have Internet access, and a nearby library, much of your reading materials can come from those sources. Teen Ink is an Internet site where real kids are posting their own writing. It just might be the hook your child needs.

Share what you are reading with your young person and talk a little about what you are getting out of it. If you aren't reading something (it doesn't have to be a 300 page novel) and sharing your responses to that reading, you are missing a great chance to send the message "reading is important". Think back to all the things you've had to read today - here's my list from just this morning: emails, grocery ads, phone book, online ads for alternatives to our current telephone service, directions on weed killer, my favorite blogs, the local newspaper (and it's only 9:30AM). I just finished reading a fascinating novel (historical fiction) about the mother of Leonardo de Vinci entitled Senora da Vinci.

2) Respect your child and listen to his ideas. Those are the tips which tell you exactly what your child might be interested in reading about, on his own, away from school "stuff". They need an escape, an outlet just as we do. And books and reading can be a healthy option. For some teens, that is reading about kids their age in social situations, struggling with some of the same things they are; for others, the topic might be another part of the world or another time, space exploration, animals, or cooking. There are books about popular guys and girls, about kids struggling with divorce in their families, ADHD, making smart choices. Chris Crutcher's Anger Management and Laurie Halls Anderson's Fever 1793 are great examples. Magazine subscriptions that relate to his/her interests are also a great way to keep that fuel coming. Visit World for a wide list to choose from.

3) Continue to give your teen books during the holidays and birthdays you celebrate. Don't choose the boxed set of classics (unless your child has voiced an interest in those). Think about a novel their favorite movie is based upon. What about a hiking manual for your area f that is an interest for your son or daughter? A book on young self-made business people (Conversations with Teen Entrepreneurs). Don't select the book you think they "should" read; pick one they will want to. It doesn't have to be the only gift, but make sure you include one.

4) Don't stress if sometimes your teen has so much reading to do for school that he/she doesn't seem to have as much time for "outside school" reading. There will be times when that takes priority. But know that, if you are protecting and encouraging your young person's love of learning, he or she will want to read(on a subject of their choice) or read more deeply on a subject just touched upon in a class.

5) Last but not least, help your teen see that reading is a tool for life. Everyday we use reading of some sort (even text messages or Facebook profiles) to connect with our world. Acknowledge those activities we don't usually think of as reading, talk about what you (or they) are taking away from those experiences with text and explicitly relate that sort of reading as an application of what they are studying in school.

Follow this blog and share it with families who have children first breath to twelfth-grade. We'll continue to alternate the postings between parents of young children and those who are parenting independent readers. They both need lots of support!

Visit Reading is for Everyone for even more resources for parents of all ages!

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