I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the statement, “My ‘preschool age’ kid (or kids) hate reading. And every time I hear this, it just breaks my heart but not for the reason you may think it does.
I can remember even in my own preschool having a teacher say, “My kids don’t like reading.” Hearing this from one of my own teachers made me start to panic. My heart rate got faster, my face was flush, and I had to do some serious slow breathing to bring it all back down so I could think on it a bit. Why is it that this teacher feels her students don’t like to read? How does she know that they don’t like to read? What do we need to do to change this?
Then I realized…
I will be honest with you, I didn’t know what to say to the teacher at the time but since our conversation, I put a lot of time into thinking about why young children may not like to read. I am writing down my thoughts here today for you to think about just like I did.
I realized that most young children aren’t actually reading yet. They are being ‘read to’ which means that it isn’t that young children don’t like to read. In fact, they don’t even know if they like reading yet or not because they aren’t reading yet. Do you know what the real problem is? The real problem is that the children don’t like the EXPERIENCE of reading.
You see, reading with young children is all about the reading experience, not the actual act of reading. And who is in charge of that experience? I am. You are. My teachers are. Parents are.
The Experience matters most…
So what do I mean when I say, “Reading with young children is all about the experience of reading?” Although young children are not reading yet, they are developing attitudes about reading based on their early experiences associated with reading. You see, during the early years, the experiences associated with reading are incredibly important. Those experiences create attitudes (good or bad) about reading. Early years reading experiences lay the foundation for the child’s willingness to actually want to read or for the child to decide reading is just not fun. Early reading experiences give the child the willingness to want to work through the “hard” and come out on the other end of becoming a reader because they can’t wait to be able to do it all by themselves.
But above all else, it is important to know that until a child is actually a true reader, you don’t know if the child actually likes reading or not. All you know is the child doesn’t like the experience of reading and knowing that will give you all the insight you need to begin fostering a love for reading every time you pick up a children’s book.
Here’s what you can do…
Let me give you a few examples of how to create positive experiences whether you are at home or in the classroom.
Reading at home…
I found that the best time for reading aloud with my three oldest grandchildren is at bedtime. This is because they don’t actually want to go to bed so they are excited about anything that will let them stay up for a few extra minutes. I have learned to take advantage of this by being prepared. I choose a really good book (or two or three) that I think my grands will enjoy and we all snuggle in together and read together. The experience is about being together just as much as it is about reading the book. But the experience of reading together is associated with snuggling in bed, getting to stay up a few extra minutes, and just being together.
Of course, you can read anytime with your child at home but keep in mind that what matters most is that the experience of reading with you should be warm, joyful, interesting, and fun. There is an old saying that “reading begins in the lap of a parent,” but this is true only if the experience of reading aloud is creating positive memories of spending time with you in the process.
Reading at home is also about building on something your child find’s interesting. Trying to get my three year old grandson to snuggle in and read a book with me seemed almost impossible but then one evening while his family was watching a movie, my grandson came to me with a book. Now this book wasn’t all that interesting to him or to me but I realized that he just wanted some attention and wasn’t interested in the movie. We thumbed quickly through the book then I had an idea. He loves Spiderman, so I told him that I have a better book for us to read and it is all about making spiderwebs. I grabbed the book, “The Very Busy Spider,” and he was all in. We stopped to feel the spiderweb on every page and took our time making the sounds of each animal. He asked to read the book again several times and by the end, he was reading out loud with me. We had a breakthrough that night. I discovered that he did like reading but it had to be the right time, with the right book about the right topic. I have to keep his interest in mind and captivate or capitalize on that interest.
Reading in the classroom…
In the classroom, reading is also about building relationships and tapping into the children’s interest just as much as it is at home. In the classroom, reading together is about choosing a good book that you think the children will love then gathering everyone together to enjoy the experience of reading together. Not gathering together to sit still and listen while you read a book they don’t enjoy but to instead, read a book that makes your students laugh, ask questions, and be a part of your community. In the classroom, reading is about building an experience that builds your relationship with the children and ultimately, the children’s attitudes associated with the reading experiences you provide.
Putting the book into the hands of the child..
I talked about this concept briefly in my last post, “Exploring the Sweet Smells of Christmas,” but let’s review it again. What “putting the book into the hands of the child” means is to take something from inside the book and bring it into real life or make it actionable. It can be a character, a concept, a word, an object, an illustration, or even the story itself. Look for something within the book that you can build on right there in the moment after reading the book aloud with your child or your students. It can be anything but it should be fun, interesting, hands-on, and active.
It takes practice to put the book into the hands of a child and you have to be willing to put a little extra time and effort into your read-aloud experiences. Every time you bring something fun or interesting from inside the book and put it into the hands of a child, you are creating positive experiences and memories all associated reading that book. Again, reading with young children is about the experience of reading and not just the act of reading.
The next time you start to say or you hear someone else say…
The next time you start to say or you hear someone else say, “My preschool age child (or children) do not like to read,” restate the problem. Instead say, “My preschool age child (or children) do not like the experience of reading,” and then go off and change the experience.
Now it’s your turn…
Leave me a comment below and tell me about how you are making helping young children fall in love with reading. What kinds of reading experiences work best for you?