I saw this graphic recently in commemoration of young adult author Beverly Cleary’s life. I read so many of her books when I was in elementary school. I loved books well before I could read her stories. I loved exploring imagination: sometimes I’d explore outside and make up my own stories, and other times I’d explore other worlds and perspectives through books. While I read in my room at times, I more frequently carried a book outside and positioned myself in a tree, hayloft, or wooded area. It was the best of both worlds: fresh air where I was and the imagination of where else I could be.
I could cite studies of what impacts a person’s love for reading, but it’s not too difficult to suspect. In general, the earlier children become familiar and comfortable with books, the better. That requires someone in their life who will take the time to look through books on their level. Sometimes that means doing a lot of skimming and back and forth flipping and re-reading (and re-reading and re-reading). It’s often less about the words on the page and more the interaction with and comfort of someone’s voice. If a young child wants to stay on a page that has only one word, the reader can stay there as long as the attention span lasts and simply refer to colors, shapes, or make-believe stories of that simple snapshot of a larger story. Some littles like the feeling of being on someone’s lap. Others prefer to see a face that goes with the voice or lie together on the floor.
It’s not just the pages being turned in their own books but the reading time they see adults engaged in. Even the presence of books in the home help. When my girls were young, I’d read as they played sometimes. It was a win-win. They were comforted by the storytelling rhythm of my voice, and I chose books that kept my attention but were still appropriate for young ears. And truth be told, while I didn’t spend a lot of money on toys and other entertainment for them, they had a plethora of their own books at all times, in addition to regular trips to the public library.
I know the required reading programs through elementary schools sometimes get a bad rap, claiming kids lose interest when reading is forced or read for the wrong reasons when they are being rewarded for the amount read more than what is comprehended, but I know many students who wouldn’t have much exposure to reading if not through schools. Not to mention, no single approach makes a lifelong reader. Some people simply do not ever develop a love of reading despite the best efforts of their family and other caregivers, including teachers.
It’s important to acknowledge seasons and schedules. Some people lose interest in reading through portions of their lives because the required reading they have or activities that require many hours crowd out leisurely reading. Work and family schedules might intrude on reading time as we get older. or if reading was something we primarily did when we were younger, we might not know where to begin to read as an adult. With so many options, it takes some effort to find what we might like. If you find yourself in that place, perhaps reach out through social media. Ask others for suggestions, giving some examples of themes you like, favorite television and movies, and even length. If you try a couple suggestions and they don’t mesh well with you, don’t give up. Try again, because there are enough options.
Some might ask, “Why read when I can just watch something?” While I acknowledge some people have difficulty reading because of eyesight or headache issues, when possible, it’s good to let your mind expand through reading. Watching a movie or series can transport you to other places but only from the perspective of the filmmaker within the confines of the screen dimensions. A book invites our imaginations to create a 360 degree interactive setting with shades of colors, character details, and more.
Why concern ourselves with raising readers when we can experience so much about life through other mediums? (1) A multitude of ways to experience the world and our imaginations is good. We stretch our minds when we take in information through a variety of methods and styles. (2) Being able to read is important, and experiencing the written word on a regular basis helps us when we’re in situations that require us to read for understanding and respond appropriately and timely. We can ask Alexa a lot and listen to audiobooks, but we will also fill out forms (paper or online), review documents before signing them, and peruse personal notes and information whether it’s printed or online—not to mention expressing ourselves creatively, following the inspiration of others’ imaginations.
Raising readers isn’t limited to the impact and responsibility adults have with littles but the impact and responsibility we adults have to ourselves and others.