by Carrie Kirk
How is a reader created? Is it just an innate quality in an individual, or is it a daily drilling by someone older and with some bit of authority and the power to influence? Perhaps it is modeling reading itself, surrounding yourself with reading material so that the up-and-comer always has something to reach for. Nature or nurture? Or maybe it simply is what it is--everyday readers take flight or unfortunately never take off.
Before I had children, I took some graduate education courses at IUPUI, including one that studied reading in a wide range of ways. It has been too many years to count since taking this course, but one thing I haven't forgotten was the professor's public lament to the class. She said something like, here she was an education professor but she couldn't get her teenage son to read, let alone enjoy reading. Anyone listening to her could hear the frustration in her voice, and her fists pounding the wall was a good indication too (just pulling your leg on that one).
Here was a person who could have both nature and nurture working in his favor. The professor was a voracious reader, and by pure genetics whereby the proverbial "acorn doesn't fall far from the tree," her son had a strong chance that through pure biology, reading could be in his blood...so to speak. As far as nurturing goes, most likely this boy's home was overflowing with books at every reachable level and location, along with at least one parent possessing the knowledge of successfully developing young readers. So with both nature and nurture working in this boy's favor, why hadn't he yet taken to it?
As parents, most would prefer their children to become readers in life, preferably sooner rather than later. After all, reading is a joy. It's something you can do while agile and young as well as while infirm and aged. And it makes the school years go more smoothly for both child and parent (and teacher and school). And evidently even though we don't know the precise combination of nature and nurture that leads to a young reader in our household, it doesn't stop us from trying things that might "take."
I recently visited my favorite children's bookstore in the Indianapolis area, Kids Ink. Even though it's on the same block as G. Thrapp Jewelers, the bookstore is the real gem of Illinois Street. For years and years the store has conducted story hours for young children, and I decided to sit in on one. Those kids are no dummies, staring at me as the one old person there without a kid.
Soon, though, they forgot about me and returned their attention to the three books that manager Terri was reading to them. Terri peppered each book with questions for the children. I learned that George likes "nanas," and August in the pink tutu thinks paper is better to eat than cardboard, and when asked if the children wanted to hear one more story, one of them openly and honestly answered "no." Because all three books had a food theme (Thanksgiving at the Toppletons by E. Spinelli, Gregory, the Terrible Eater by M. Sharmat, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by E. Carle), the children ended story hour by making a Cheerios- or Froot Loops-strung necklace. (Fine motor skills coupled with listening skills--a two for one!)
It was a sweet hour for the children and the adults, being surrounded by books and words and even a craft. Will this one hour help to spark a reader-in-the-making? Maybe, but it certainly can't hurt the effort. As parents we can only do our best to provide adequate access points to books. Whether or not our kids take off with reading is ultimately up to them, but we can be their copilot in the process. And when I asked listener George how old he was, he said "three" quickly; although, he added that when he grew up, he would be four. Yes, George, and hopefully an adult who loves to read too.
What about you? What have you found to be helpful in creating a reader? What are your viewpoints on sparking the reading bug in children?