More times than I care to remember, I’ve heard teachers tell parents, “It doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they are reading.”
It does matter. With human beings, as with computers, garbage in=garbage out. Reading provides food for the mind. If children read nothing but limited vocabulary books about sports and media celebrities, how are their minds supposed to become furnished for adult thinking?
Some years back I wrote an article for The Christian Science Monitor, “Giving Students Something to Build On,” in which I mentioned the tendency of school librarians to limit the reading experience of children by encouraging them to read books about people most like themselves.
I’ve read discussions on the web in which reading specialists recommend that children be given books written at a lower grade level than their own so as to ensure their “reading success.” How different is the advice of fitness specialists who encourage their charges to reach beyond their current level in order to become stronger!
There’s nothing wrong with light reading. I like nothing better than to sit down with a favorite mystery author and read her latest book in an evening. When I was a child, I read every Nancy Drew and Bomba the Jungle Boy novel I could lay my hands on.
But that’s not all I read. I also read The Secret Garden, Johnny Tremain, Master Skylark, Treasure Island, and Kim–books that required me to look up words now and then. Books that taught me about different historical periods, locations, and ways of looking at life.
I don’t know how common the practice of requiring school book reports is any more. When I was in school, the requirement was at least one book each six weeks. And the teachers made sure we’d read them. Those sluggish students who tried to get away with skimming, or rewriting the blurb on the jacket usually got caught and humiliated.
Even if your child’s teacher doesn’t require book reports, you can.
Reading the literary classics needn’t be viewed as a punishment. Get the whole family involved. Have everyone read the same book and then discuss it over supper or in the car. Talk about the characters in the book the way you do about friends or acquaintances. Why would anyone do such a thing? What would have happened if…?
Your child may be required to do book reports for school. That’s good, but it doesn’t leave you out of the equation. Don’t permit the child to wait until a day or two before the report is due to read the book. Make sure the book is in the house early enough for both of you to read it. Set your own deadline for the completion of the report–at least two days before the teacher’s due date.
If Americans are not a reading nation, it is because they do not find books interesting. If they do not find books interesting, I can only think it’s because they never discovered the excitement of books while they were young. If all I’d had to read when I was young had been the boring drivel that passes as “relevant” reading for young people these days, I might never have developed a love of reading.
Don’t expose your children to public education before you’ve exposed them to the love of books. Read to your toddler. Make bedtime reading a daily ritual as long as you can. Take your child to the library at least twice a month. Give beautiful books as birthday gifts.
Whatever you do, don’t fall for the television ads that show doting parents looking on as their child reads from a computer screen. The computer screen is no substitute for holding your child in your lap, imparting a sense of love and security to the act of reading.