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Today's Family Magazine

Cultivating a love of reading among struggling readers

By Michelle Person

Reading is quite possibly the most amazing thing that humans are able to do.  Think about it.  We are able to train our brains to recognize arbitrary symbols, that when put together on a page mean something.  And we are able to share that meaning with other people. We are able to communicate the full range of human emotions simply by placing these symbols on a page.  It is an extraordinary experience and one that everyone should have an opportunity to take part in.

Sometimes the process of making meaning out of those little symbols is easy, other times not so much.  For some it is a vexing task that often results in feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and when you are really young, tears.  If the process of learning how to read is difficult, the learner immediately looks at reading as a task, a task that is to be avoided at all cost, and not an experience.  The more you avoid it, the more difficult it becomes.  The feelings quickly shift from dislike to loathsome and the cycle perpetuates.  No parent or teacher wants to watch a child wrestle with those feelings, so it is important that we do everything we can to foster a love of reading with young  readers even if the process is challenging.  Here are some tips on how to foster a love of reading with all children:

1) Read the pictures.  As mentioned before, reading is one of the most complex things our brain can do.  It requires a lot of sustained mental energy.  If someone is having difficulty reading, they are expending an even larger amount of energy on that task.  The more frustrated they become, the less enjoyment they will feel.  Most children’s books have a wealth of rich illustrations. Sit with your child and let the pictures do the talking.  Allow your child to make up the words and do not worry if the words do not match the pictures.  You can reread the same book five times and make up a different story each time.  This takes the pressure off and hopefully brings some of the joy back.

2) Listen to books on tape while you read along with the book.  Repetition breeds familiarity. If you are presented with a text over and over again, chances are after your 3rd or 4th time listening you pick up something that will make you a better reader.  There are audio versions of many children’s titles.  It’s a great way for your child to listen to a story pressure free, hear what fluent reading sounds like, reinforce whatever skills you are working on, and possibly gain a few more.

3) Visit the library! Even if you have a huge personal library, a trip to the local library can add a bit of magic.  Peruse the shelves, share a book in an oversized chair, and participate in some of the free programs.  Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to turn an undesirable task into a tolerated one.

It is possible to develop positive feelings about reading even if the act of reading itself is challenging.  Be patient, be flexible, and most importantly be a model!  Children mimic what they see.  They will pick up on your attitudes about reading faster than any skill or technique you will ever try to teach them.  So get excited and grab a book!

Michelle Person is a former teacher and current elementary school principal with the Cleveland
Metropolitan School District.