Sight words. Decoding. Vocabulary. Context. That’s the ‘How’ of reading.
But what about the ‘Why’?
I know why I read! I will read anything that is interesting to me, and I will read – ravenously – anything that fills an informational or emotional need.
All the reading skills in the world will not make a reader. A reader is a person who reads. More to the point, a reader is a person who reads because it brings enjoyment and fills a need. Kids in preschool through high school need to associate reading with enjoyment and personal need. They become lifelong readers when they’ve acquired the habit of choosing their own books and other reading material.
One of the saddest things that happens in the day of a life of a Children’s or Teen Librarian is asking “What was the last fun book you read?” and hearing a kid say, “I don’t like to read at all.” Much sadder than that is hearing a parent chime in with, “He hates to read.” Parents, that’s not a message that you want to reinforce. More importantly, it doesn’t have to be a true statement. I like to respond by saying, “You might like reading more when you’ve found something you like to read.”
So, how do we help kids start that path to choosing books, comics, digital content, magazines and more for a lifetime of reading enjoyment? First, make lots of reading options available. Santa Clarita Public Library is here for you!
Consider the ‘Goldilocks Strategy’ (Olhausen and Jepson) which allows kids to choose books that are Too Easy, Too Hard, and Just Right. Too Easy books provide comfort and enjoyment. It’s refreshing to the mind to go to these books like we go to comfort food. One of my kids who loved Russell Hoban’s Frances books as a young child re-read all of them (in high school!) when she was very ill. This young lady, a college-graduate, is a lifelong reader who now chooses books I will never be able to understand.
Self-selecting books that are Too Hard is valuable for a couple of reasons. First, these books obviously provide a mental stretch. Perhaps more importantly, choosing books that meet a need but are not quite in the comfortable range reinforces the fact that reading is about filling a personal need. I know of a child who read a Dr. Seuss book during the same day that he tackled the first dozen or so pages of Moby Dick (at age 6 or 7). He didn’t get anywhere near completing even the first chapter of Moby Dick, but he desperately wanted to read a few pages because he had a strong internal need that day to see what it was like to read “long sentences and hard words.” I think he wanted to test his newfound reading skills by finding out what it would be like to read as an adult. That is, of course, an extreme example! The Too Hard choices should – and almost always will be – much, much closer to actual reading level. Nevertheless, it shows the power of letting kids choose what they will read. Strong lifelong readers are able to glean what their minds grasp without getting bogged down with the parts they don’t.
Ah, and then there are the Just Right books. There are educational terms for books in this group, but I’ll just say here that those are the ones your child’s teacher recommends – with very good reasons. Kids need the opportunity to choose additional books in that appropriate level. Strong gains are made when kids read in this area – just enough ease to maintain fluid reading, just enough new vocabulary – it’s a good place to be. It’s an even better place to be when some of those Just Right books are ones they’ve chosen on their own.
The Goldilocks Strategy helps kids self-identify their reading comfort level, and more importantly, identify their progress. They can mentally move books from the Too Hard group to the Just Right group. Then those same books will eventually be moved to the Too Easy category.
Choosing what to read feeds reading motivation. Reading motivation leads to more reading. As obvious and simple as it sounds, this fact is often overlooked: Kids become readers by reading.
One final word: it’s always OK to not finish a book. Life is short. There are too many books to read. Life is much too short to read a book that doesn’t bring pleasure or fill a need. Always give yourself and your child the permission to bail on a book!