Are You Raising an ‘Aliterate’ Child?

by Eleanor Wolf

Any child who can read and chooses not to is at a serious disadvantage. Read, read, read! Grandmother was right when she said, “Reading is good for you. People who read know more.”

Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (Heinemann, $25), supports Grandmother. According to Krashen, research shows that voluntary free reading has more power in teaching language skills than direct school
instruction. Required school reading is not the same as choosing a book of your own to read for fun.

Children who are hooked on books have better vocabularies. Even comic books use more advanced words than most television. Since reading challenges memory and imagination, habitual readers develop better thinking skills.

The good news is more Americans can read than ever. The bad news is they just don’t read as much as they used to. This is ironic since there is an increased demand for literacy in even the most routine jobs. “We have taught our children how to read but have forgotten to teach them to want to read,” says Krashen.

Reluctant Readers 
“Aliterate” kids know how to read, but choose not to. They often say reading is boring, but really have not found the right books. Our high school’s “you can’t make me read” teens have discovered and devoured Christopher Poalini’s Eragon and the sequel, Eldest. Now they’ve begun exploring other fantasy books with adventure, magic and memorable char-acters. They’re aliterate no longer.

Harry Potter has taught us that the right books attract readers, young and old. The more children read, the better readers they become and the more they enjoy it. Reading magazines, newspapers, comic books, graphic novels, and teen romances leads to other more difficult reading. Librarians are experts at helping kids find the right book, be it sci-fi, adventure, fantasy or romance.

Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook (Penguin Group, $15), offers these three B’s as a way to encourage the reading habit:

Book ownership. There is something special about owning a copy of a favorite book, reading it over and over and not having to share it. Mega-bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble and Borders have staff that will gladly help parents find good books for a birthday gift. 

Book rack. Trelease says magazines on a book rack in the bathroom encourage the whole family to read.

Bed lamp. If children are big enough to have a real bed, they are big enough to read in bed.

Parents’ Role
Most parents read to their young children. Parents can continue to promote reading to tweens and teens to create a lifetime reading habit. Here’s how.

Provide reading material. Having books, magazines, pamphlets and newspapers available at home is essential. When there are things to read, more reading occurs. Teens who always have a paperback in their backpack usually have grown up in a house full of reading material.

Reading yourself. Parents can help their children become readers by showing, not telling. If kids see their parents making time to read books, magazines and newspapers, they will know it is something adults do for enjoyment. Parents who have gotten out of the reading habit will find it is fun to read again.

Allow children to read in bed. Bed is a nice quiet comfortable place to read. Reading is a great way for kids to wind down in the hour
before lights out.

Get a library card for everyone. In regular, unhurried visits, parents can teach their kids how to use the library, look up references and find their own books

Be a book buddy. Oprah has taught us that one of the best parts of reading is sharing books. Parents who read and discuss books recommended by their teen show that their child’s opinions matter. 

Reading aloud. “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” Trelease says. Even teens like to hear an article from the newspaper or a funny story their parent liked.

Listen to books on tape. A good book can be savored and debated on a car trip or at home. Our family just enjoyed a riveting mystery while putting a fresh coat of paint on the bedroom walls.

Reading for fun does not guarantee a child’s acceptance by an Ivy League university. However, reading, being read to, having books around, seeing parents reading for fun and talking about what has been read will, as Grandmother promised, make children smarter.

Eleanor Wolf is a freelance writer.