This blog post was the outcome of an exchange between a parent and me when she said her eight-year-old 'studies', Harry Potter. For those of you who don't know what I do, I work as a creativity researcher and a writing coach. As a writing coach, the most obvious thing I do is to teach writing, and predictably, in the process, reading always intersects our efforts.
Reading seems like the most natural thing to do, right? I mean what is there to it? Pick up a fascinating book that can hold your attention, and then you begin to read, right?
Reading is not always about stringing words together and then forming ideas or wild imagery in your head as you go along. Reading is a lot more than that. So what exactly is good reading then?
It's a rather simple answer: good reading is when you are able to comprehend fully what the text has to offer. This includes, skimming, scanning and close reading. All of these good skills don’t appear miraculously. As we all know, it only comes with discipline and practice. Expert reading only happens after a considerable number of years. Perhaps well after crossing into adulthood.
Let's look at an early-years reader as a starting place. Independent reading is perhaps beyond the reach of four and five-year-olds. By six or seven, most students read single sentences or sometimes more. Most often, children within these age brackets are read to. In this process, if you thrust a Harry Potter into those fledgeling hands, you are derailing what could possibly be an incredible life-long love for reading. I am not saying all children should be denied the pleasure of a Rowling book. What I am stating instead is that not all children have the ability to decipher the nuances of this genre of fantasy fiction.
Potter books much like a dish made for the king, is brimming; brimming with magic, humour, pathos, suspense and fast-paced action where school story, mystery, adventure and horror along with an utterly appealing hero makes for some compelling reading. Isn't that the tradition with most children's literature? An orphan who defies established order becomes larger than his destined future? Something all children want to be and do--live life king size.
However young or old a person may be, one needs access to decipherable materials. Many parents wonder why their voracious child-reader after the age of ten suddenly stopped reading or has a general distaste for reading.
The age-old litany of "my child isn't interested in books" is baloney. I say that because humans are inherently driven towards objects that are appealing. If a book is appealing, then the books become an object of desire.
So what happens around the age of nine or ten to usually enthusiastic readers who don’t want to read anymore?
It could be a host of things, but I’ll identify a few as far I’ve seen them based on the work I’ve done with young learners.
For starters, it is as simple as having too many distractions. Kids aren’t sitting in log cabins in scenic settings with nothing other than books to read. They have the intrusion of gaming, television, school work, outdoor activities all of which are far more appealing to a young mind, than reading.
It could also be age related. As kids get older, their motivation to read tends to decrease. Just like any other skill, practice is key. If you don’t read consistently, you will not get better at it.
It might be that children don’t have age-appropriate and interesting materials to read. School textbooks or reading materials related to school work do not count towards their leisure reading.
Lack of modelling at home and at school by parents and teachers also contribute immensely to children’s inability to build good reading habits.
Also, by age nine or ten, learning challenges or learning disabilities become prominent. If these remain unaddressed, then there will be continued strife in other areas of academics as well. If your child reverses ‘b’ and ‘d’, then it may be related to a visual problem. It could also be an early sign of other disabilities.
The key point I am trying to make in this post is that much like we keep abreast of our children’s developmental milestones when they are toddlers, it is equally important to keep abreast of their educational milestones as they get older. If a problem is apparent, then it is extremely important and perhaps urgent even for caregivers and parents to understand the root of the problem.
If your young reader is really struggling to read or just does not read, then you can make a very simple start by reading to them.
In the next post, I will write about reading difficulties that children might exhibit and how parents or teachers can identify them early and provide supportive interventions.