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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reading to Learn

One of the best practical educational ideas I've gotten from the book The Well Trained Mind is how to use the library for our children.

One of the authors of the book described how she went to the library with her children. She told them they could check out seven books each: one biography book, one science book, one history book, one practical or arts & crafts type book and three books that can include fiction, poetry or non-fiction. She said she went in weekly, which is why she chose seven books, I'm assuming.

I have modified this is bit. Our library checks books out for three weeks. Some of the books our children choose will take more than a week to read, at least for the older boys, so I have them pick out books monthly rather than every week, and I choose subject appropriate stories, histories, science books, biographies, etc. each week, according to where we are in our study of history. Elijah and Amira get stories from their preschool program each week, plus their monthly picks, and all of them have pretty much free reign over the books we have here.

I've also changed some of the book categories. I add autobiographies to biographies, and I want them to read good fiction, so it is a required category, leaving two "free" books that can include more fiction, the poetry or non-fiction of their choice. This gives us both a framework and a place to start when we are at the library. I help them find age appropriate and parental approved material, but subject matter and type of story are pretty much up to them. It has been amazing seeing what they have learned just from reading what they want to read.

Most parents, when their children are young, think in terms of children learning to read. This kind of provides the reading to learn. Dominic loves African and Middle Eastern mythology. Alexander is interested in all things avian. Both read adventures and mysteries like they are going out of style. They read books of science experiments like novels and come up with the ones they want to do at home.

I really despise the trend to make learning "fun." Not because I think it should be drudgery, but because there are parts of it that are, and I think even children should be trained to do what isn't fun for the value and reward that comes of doing it. However, this is a little bit like making fun into learning. They'd be reading anyway. All of the children love books, reading and being read to, so it's no great stretch that we spend time in the library anyway. This way, what they're reading and hearing puts something beautiful, truthful and useful into their minds.

One thing I've learned to relax about is what age the children learn to read. It was a huge deal to both Rich and me that Alexander and Dominic were not reading fluently until kindergarten. Both of us read early, around three and a half and four, and so we did not get why the boys were taking so long. I was starting to get especially worried about Elijah, who in kindergarten now, still doesn't quite grasp reading, though he's making the connections slowly. Amira, on the other hand, is raring to go, and she is learning letters and words, and memorizing stories to "read" to Jerome.

The research I've read basically said that a child who learns to read at four and a child who learns to read at seven or eight both end up with the same level of comprehension at ages 10 and 12 and later. So, since I read about statesmen and authors and scientists and more who didn't learn to read until they were eight or nine, and since compulsory schooling isn't even required until age eight in our state, I've let it go.

Elijah is excited about books and words, and he can read very simple things, spell his name, and wants to learn. That's the big thing for me. I just make sure that when he wants me to read to him, I am available to do it. Since Jerome shows the same kind of interest in books that Amira has and that I had, I imagine he will be ready to read much earlier than his brothers. I just don't have the personal stake in it that I felt like I had with the older boys. As long as we are willing to teach them, and read to them, and expose them to books, they'll learn to read and love reading more easily than if we force them to sit down and work on the letter A all week.

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Ben is also wanting to learn to read and actually teaching himself. I'm the opposite of you and Rich. My mom was very influenced by Raymond and Dorothy Moore's "Better Late Than Early" and the body of research that suggested it was better for kids, esp. boys to read later, start school later, etc.... My brother didn't read until 11; my mom purposely kept him from it. When he started he had surpassed my cousin's reading level (a year older and in the 6th grad) within a month. And he's an attorney who reads 7-10 books a week now for fun.

My husband's mom teaches all her kids to read when they are 4. Mike loved it and has done fine but most of the others (he's the oldest of 9) lost interest in academics well before they were done with high school and haven't achieved education beyond that.

So while extremely prejudiced against early reading/school for boys, my own son is unstoppable and obviously my husband, and you and Rich are still reading. So my new hypothesis is that pushing is the problem; not when you start reading.

We haven't check out a lot of books yet. I'm always afraid I'll never be able to find them again. I guess I'm going to have to get over that.
I actually do think it's better for children, especially boys, to start later than earlier. In theory. I just don't think it's bad for them to start early, either. So I guess I'm with you, and that it's the pushing that's bad, rather than early or late start. I wouldn't stop them if they wanted to, but I refuse to force Elijah, for instance, since I think that would kill his love of books.

For us, it was more just expecting our children to teach themselves to read with minimal help, the way I did, or from the family reading and help with letters, the way Rich did. It was a surprise that it didn't happen that way. I remember Rich being concerned about the boys not reading well when they were something like four and a half, and me finally realizing it just wasn't that big a deal. I have to admit that I had a bit of my ego caught up in it still, though, as I always felt like I had to apologize that they weren't reading all that well.

Every now and then I get a twinge when I see children Elijah's age or younger reading better than he does, but I squash that. It's not worth making him hate learning to get him to try to read more so I look better. I remember being pushed hard all through my schooling, I'd get grounded for bringing home Bs, and I burned out really early on in college.

As for the library trips, I don't know about your libraries, but ours have great buyers, and a good website, so I just put a bunch on hold every week, and we go check them out once a week, on the same day so I remember when to check the website to renew books/movies/etc. I do the big trip with the children picking books once a month. Also, there are lots of books on CD and tape, and you can play those in the car, if you want.

We got the children their own library cards when they could write their own names. Whenever that was.
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