I do read some of the blogs in the kidlitosphere and this week they have been discussing how very few families read aloud to their children. There have been discussions about how they can raise awareness of the importance of reading aloud. Because I have worked with adults for the past few years who have minimal reading skills, I think I come at this from a different angle.
Until I was confronted with the reality that some people really struggle to read, I always thought of reading as a preference. I like to read, or I don't like to read. Sort of like, I like brussel sprouts or I don't like brussel sprouts! It's not really like that, though. Preference plays a very small role..ability plays a huge one. The program I've been working in for the last three years takes a very different approach to reading. And while it's made huge differences in the lives of people everywhere, it's not exactly mainstream or accepted yet. If you want to know more about it, please email me privately.
Anyway, while I could go off on a complete tangent about that, I would rather focus on the role this plays in reading aloud. First, I think we need to look at what the goals of reading aloud are.
1) Literacy. By reading aloud to our kids, we hope that they will develop the desire to read for themselves. They see what adventures can be found in books, what knowledge, entertainment, and connection. By reading aloud to them on a regular basis, we hope they see that reading is a natural and important part of life. In fact, I think before they can read for themselves, kids like books. I've never met a pre-reader (I'm sure there's a technical name for that) that didn't like books. It's when they get to the reading for themselves stage that it gets more difficult.
2) Education. We often use books to communicate life values and truth. By reading aloud, we can pass this information on to our children often wrapped in the beauty of story.
3) Family Time Reading aloud to our children is a special time of bonding as we share the delights of story with them.
4) Modeling Not only are we modeling a life of reading, we are modeling good reading. This is so completely essential to the point I'm going to make. In order for kids to understand what reading for themselves is like, they need to hear smooth effortless reading for themselves, so they can conceptualize what reading is like.
So, enter the parent who struggles to read themselves. Even picking up a children's book, geared to the very earliest readers is a struggle for them. They go about their lives doing everything they can not to have to read. Do you think that by sharing President Obama's love of reading with his daughters or telling them that it's important to read their kids is really and truly going to change anything?
I'm here to tell you that it will accomplish nothing but to make them feel guilty. A lifetime of struggling to read has already depleted their self-confidence and they are truly embarrassed to even think of reading aloud to their children. Oh they want to! But after spending a long day at work, the last thing they are thinking about is engaging in an activity that traditionally has:
1) Been very difficult for them and
2) Is a source of embarrassment and shame
Furthermore, say they do decide to read their kids. What they will be modeling to their children is that reading is a chore. And that's the last message we want to send.
And this is where I think that avid book readers and the delightful book blogging community can jump in. Why should the kidlit bloggers have all the fun?
I think part of the solution is for us to get out of our comfort zones and find ways to get involved in programs that will give us the opportunity to read aloud to children. This is something I've personally wanted to do for a long time. While it has been fantastic to help adults improve their reading, part of me itches to do preventative work! The problem for me is that I work 8-5. Most school programs are concluded by the time I'm able to do anything. If anyone has any ideas on this, please let me know!
So, what I'd like for us to do (if anyone is willing) is brainstorm together how we can get involved in our communities and do volunteer reading. And I'd like to challenge all of you who love to read yourselves to think of how you can donate a couple of hours a week to this very worthy goal. If enough people express interest, we could possibly turn this into a campaign. Maybe set up a separate blog where we can share our experiences and point out programs other people can get involved in. This is an issue I don't think we can ignore any longer. Our culture of literacy depends on our active participation and support. Is anyone in?