I’ve spent over 35 years of my working life (and much time in retirement) interested in and talking with people about reading. Being able to read is a great gift from God. It seems that God agrees, seeing as how she has chosen written language as a primary way of revealing herself. Reading has many uses, not the least of which is being able to access the Bible, God’s love letter to us. Then there is the immense enjoyment and enlightenment that comes from reading non-biblical literature. Finally, there is the usefulness of being able to read more functional print such as reports, memos, manuals, recipes, medicine bottles and road signs. Parents understand the importance of reading. “What can I do to help my child be a better reader?” was one of the most frequent questions I heard during my long career as a teacher and reading educator. My answer? “Read with each of your children for 15 minutes each day.” That’s it.
“That’s it?” many ask. “Surely there’s more to it than that!”
“Nope. That’s it.”
“What about buying that $400 program that teaches phonemic awareness and phonics and important stuff like that?”
“Use the money to buy good kids’ books instead, and read with each of your children 15 minutes per day. Find a quiet spot and take an unhurried and uninterrupted 15 minutes each day with your children, preferably one-on-one, and share a good book (or even a not so good book if your child isn’t interested in the classics). Read to your child and talk about what you’ve read. Have the child read a few words or sentences, or just point at a familiar letter or a picture that goes with what you’ve read. Make this a special time so that reading becomes associated with your love for each other. For what a child (or any one of us) experiences as a loving, enjoyable, special time is the greatest motivator for wanting to continue with that activity, whatever it is.”
Canadian literacy expert, Dr. Frank Smith, has said that learning any worthwhile skill is largely a function of the company we keep, whether that’s learning to play hockey, fly fish, bake a cake or read. Our children emulate those whom they love and respect, both real and virtual people.
In Edmonton, where I live, the memory of having had the world’s greatest hockey star play for the Oilers lives on. Our new $600 million hockey arena is already sold out for the upcoming season as Connor McDavid promises to be the second incarnation of the Great One. Fathers (and many mothers, too) buy their kids skates and hockey gear worth hundreds of dollars in hopes that their children may too become well-paid hockey players. Many families religiously watch Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday evening. Is it any wonder that most self-respecting Canadian boys (and some girls, too) see themselves in some way or another as hockey kids? They need to know about hockey and, better yet, play it to be part of the “hockey club” that seems to count so much with friends and adults in their lives. Similarly, reading with your kids, and having your kids seeing you read often and avidly, will be a great incentive for them to be like you and become readers too.
Does this sound too easy? Well, it’s not. Finding 15 dedicated minutes a day of reading time with each of your kids is probably one of the hardest things you can do. It’s hard to make this much unhurried, dedicated time available in the midst of a busy life of work, household chores, errands, meetings, phone calls, emails, Facebook, Twitter, dog walking, nose wiping, homework helping, TV watching and all the other seemingly endless things that take our attention as parents.
Your kids’ teachers will do many wonderful things at school to help them unlock the intricate code of written language. The best thing you can do is read with each of them 15 minutes per day.
You just read something for free.
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