HOW TO ENCOURAGE YOUR SON TO READ
By Bill Zimmerman, Creator, MakeBeliefsComix.com
My lifelong passion for reading began when I was just a little boy.
I remember my mother taking me by the hand to the neighborhood library each week and making sure we didn’t miss the magic hour when the librarian would read storybooks out loud to all the children. I can still hear her voice and recall the marvelous changing expressions on her face as she read the parts of different characters. No actress today could stir me more than she did back then with her beautiful, dramatic readings. I wanted her reading to never end.
Story hour was the happiest time of the week for me, and the seeds for my love of books were planted then. For that short time I could enter new worlds, fly with Icarus, accompany Aladdin with his magic lamp, be a knight with King Arthur, or travel the world with Dr. Doolittle and his animals. I could escape from my many childhood fears and worries and feel braver and freer as I allowed my imagination to paint pictures in my mind to go with the stories I heard. The librarian made me want to read, too, and I can still recall the pride I felt when I received my first library card. Now, I could borrow an armload full picture books to bring home to enjoy and turn their pages, even though I still did not know many words.
One other early book memory: I see the family bookcase in our living room where my parents proudly display their book collection. I remember the maroon-covered complete works of Charles Dickens, the golden-covered masterworks of literature by the world's great writers, all beautifully bound in leather which you’d want to touch and smell. While it would still be years before I would have the reading skills to tackle these books, I knew back then that one day I would read them, too. How could I not, being surrounded by such books?
The bound books in the bookcase motivated me during my early school days when I initially encountered great difficulty and anxiety in learning how to read. I still don't know why it was to hard for me to learn -- maybe it was my lack of confidence, or my fear of making a mistake, or that, developmentally, I wasn't quite ready to read. It was only after many, many weeks of being tutored after school by a very kind, caring teacher that I was finally able to make my breakthrough and with her encouragement began putting the sounds of the letters together to make words. I think I persisted because I was determined to read those books in the bookcase, no matter what! I also wanted to know as much about books as the local librarian did.
I share these early memories with you to suggest some of the secrets that parents can use to encourage their young, preschool boys to become readers. I'm focusing here on boys because they generally seem to have a more difficult time than girls in reading books and developing an interest in literature. But the ideas offered here certainly apply to encouraging girls to read, too.
Perhaps the most important secret of getting boys to read is for parents to convey their own love of reading to their sons when they are very young. Simply put, if parents believe that books are as important as food to sustain a full, happy life, then their boys, too, will also be predisposed to loving books. This means that children need to see parents reading all the time, and that books and magazines and newspapers are placed throughout the home – bedroom, kitchen, bathroom -- for a child to come across and glance at.
As I write this, I recall the image of my own still–toddling daughter sitting in bed between my wife and me as we read our newspapers on a Sunday afternoon and our daughter asking for a section to read, too, even though she ended up "reading" the section upside down. There was no doubt she wanted to do what we were doing and her imitating us was her way of getting ready to read. She sensed correctly that we were doing something very important.
OTHER READING SECRETS
- Read aloud to a child to get him ready for wanting to read, too. Find some books with beautiful illustrations that invite a child and call out for him to turn the pages. Before you read the story, talk to him about the book and by having him look at the illustrations, ask him to see if he can figure out what the story will be about. Try a variety of materials, serious books, funny books that make your son giggle. Comic books are great reading resources, too. Show your child how much pleasure the words in books can bring him. Have him look at the pictures as you read together. Point out some of the important words to him. Read aloud on buses, the doctor's office, at quiet moments during the day, at bedtime. Your reading aloud helps your child practice for the time when he will be reading by himself and encourages him to eventually tackle books himself. Your reading aloud shows him how much fun and joy a book can bring to his life. Your reading aloud binds you and your child closer, which is a wonderful result, no?
- Make sure a boy sees his father or other male figures read. Seeing a male read gives a young boy "permission" to want to do the same, that this is what males do.
- Accept a broad definition of what reading means. This means embracing a boy's interests, whether it’s science, fiction, human, comic books, sci-fi. His interests may not necessarily be your interests, but they are important to him. If he loves dogs, he’s going to want to read a book about dogs. But keep in mind his interests will keep changing as he grows.
- Demonstrate to your boy that not only is reading pleasurable, but it is empowering in terms of helping a young person master his world. If, for example, we can learn to read the signs on the road, or the directions on a map, then we have more power to make our way in the world. If we are able to read instructions on a box, then we will be able to use the equipment more easily. So, computer manuals can be good reading material, too. So, too, is a book demonstrating chess moves. Collecting stamps in a book is also another form of reading.
- Make a big deal of getting your son his first library card -- you are helping him enter a big new world. Visit the local library on a regular basis and allow your boy to choose what interests him. Take him to the book tables at street fairs and let him choose what he enjoys. Try not to censor what he’s truly interested in if you want him to feel natural around books.
- Encourage your son and his friends to start a book club to read together and discuss what is read. Better yet, start your own book club with other parents and their children and take turns reading aloud. Encourage your boys and his friends to become reading buddies and share their books together.
- Show your son that he is capable of creating stories, too, by having him dictate to you the stories from his imagination and your typing them as he speaks them. Keep these stories in a special folder and have your son create a cover for the folder and illustrations for the stories he has created. This becomes his own sacred book.
- When you read to your son, ask him what he thinks the ending of the story might be after you have read some pages. Or, ask your son to extend the ending of a story to keep the story going. Show him that he, too, can have ideas that can become books. Everyone, even a little boy, is capable of becoming an author.
- Give your son a small notebook he can carry around in him and put in a new word that he can learn each day. Have him close his eyes as you open a dictionary, and let his finger touch on a word that will become his word of the day.
- Get your son a picture dictionary to help him understand what words look like and mean.
- Sign your son up for different catalog mailing lists for subjects that he is interested in, so that he starts receiving mail that he will want to read with your help. Everyone loves to read something they get in the mail.
- Write short, funny, loving notes to your son that you can leave under his pillow for him to discover when he wakes up in the morning, and which you can help him decipher. Perhaps the letters are from you or from the Sleep Fairy who watches over him. Perhaps it’s a birthday message written in the "pawwriting" of the family dog or cat. Draw illustrations on the notes. A traveling parent should also be encouraged to send a postcard to email to his son that can later be read together.
- Convey to your son that when he begins to read, he will also be taking a big step to independence, and will no longer have to wait until a parent reads to him. Growing up means being allowed to read on your own.
- Build a family library together where your child's books are accorded valuable shelf space along with your own books.
- Consider starting a reading log in which you and your son list all of the books you have read together, along with a note whether this was a good or not so good book.
- Convey to your relatives and friends that the best gift they can give your son is a beautiful story book. Ask baby sitters to read, too.
Like everything else in life, keep the process of reading pleasurable.
(Bill Zimmerman, creator of MakeBeliefsComix.com, is the author of 100 Things Guys Need to Know, a book of encouraging words for boys. His educational web sites – www.makebeliefscomix.com andwww.billztreasurechest.com — are filled with activities that encourage viewers to read and write.)
If you like the ideas expressed in this section please share them with other parents and groups you belong to.