Fostering a love of reading

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With the school year in full swing, children are coming home with reading assignments and library programs are abounding.

For children who struggle to read or don’t seem to show an interest, however, it can be a trying time.

Local experts from Project READS and the Allen County Public Library offered some insight and tips for parents of these struggling readers, or anyone who wants to foster a love of reading in a child.

“The first thing you want to do is model behaviors. If kids see you reading, they’re going to think it’s a cool thing to do. Kids really do look up to their grownups that they respect,” ACPL children’s services manager for the main branch Mary Voors said.

This can also help with teens who are required to read certain books for school, ACPL main branch teen’s department manager Mari Hardacre suggested — if someone else has read it and can help draw them in, that can help their interest level as well.

Let them choose

Another important way to foster a love of reading in children of any age is to let them pick out their own materials.

This is beneficial for several reasons. First, children are more apt to enjoy a book if it’s about one of their interests. Second, children will often push themselves to the limits of their reading skills if the topic is interesting to them.

“When you have a high interest, you’ll stretch yourself to do harder words. … The children push themselves instead of you pushing,” Project READS Executive Director DeShawn Wert said. “If they have a high interest in something, really bolster that interest because they will read above their regular reading level in high-interest material.”

This is especially true for graphic novels or comic books, which some parents think of as “cheater” books because of the abundance of pictures, Voors said. However, these are often at higher reading levels than a child might find in a traditional chapter book.

High-interest material doesn’t have to be limited to children’s books, either. Project READS Program Manager Deb Dutton said when her son was struggling to read and loved dinosaurs, they would do research on dinosaurs and even visit museums. Children who love to cook can help read recipes and look at labels in the grocery store.

Non-fiction can be helpful for teens as well, who might be drawn to informational or historical books rather than novels, Hardacre said.

Help them feel successful

Another important way to foster of love of reading is to allow a child struggling to read to be successful.

When students initially enter the Project READS program, they are started on books that are a little below their typical reading level so they become more comfortable, Wert said.

“There’s stretch time and there’s practice times,” she said.

A simple way to tell where a book is within a child’s reading level is the “five finger rule”: have the child read the first two pages of a book and discreetly hold up a finger for every word he or she doesn’t know. Zero or one finger might mean the book is below his or her current reading level, while four to five might be a bit above. Two or three, however, is probably just right.

This can apply to teens as well, who may want to read books for enjoyment that are below their reading level.

“Not every single thing they read has to be expanding their reading level, because sometimes reading things at their current level or things that they just enjoy can help them with greater fluency and enjoyment and for relaxation,” Hardacre said.

The library offers several resources to help students become more comfortable, Voors said.

First, it offers a series of books called We Both Read.

“They’re designed for a grown up to read with a kid,” she said. “On one page it has grown-up text, which is a little bit more complex both in vocabulary and in sentence structure, and on the next page it has much more simplified reading. It will have picture cues for the words and it will have simpler sentence structure, or for the very young it will have one word. But the parent and child can read it together and the child will really recognize that they are reading at an equivalent level, moving the book along with their grown-up.”

The library also offers Paws to Read every Thursday at the main branch and throughout the year at other branches.

“Specially trained therapy dogs come in, and they are trained to listen to children read. So if a child may be reading fine independently and silent reading but uncomfortable or unsure in reading out loud, which is real important to be able to do, taking time to read to a dog” can be helpful because the dog seems to be enjoying the reading and never corrects the reader, Voors said.

“(Feeling successful is) a powerful thing, we all want to be successful at the things we endeavor to do, and reading is no different,” she said.

For older students, the library also offers an ever-growing supply of books just for teens.

“We definitely saw an uptick in the number of titles published for teens between 1998 and 2018, it’s definitely gotten bigger. … The market is pretty robust. Publishers are putting out new titles and they’re trying now to have more diversity of titles,” Hardacre said.

Literacy is everywhere

Improving literacy doesn’t begin and end with books, however — in fact, it begins long before children are even able to talk.

“A big thing I know they’re pushing with preschool kids is talking to your children,” Dutton said.

This is because children need to have heard words before they can express them and read them themselves.

“Literacy is listening, talking, reading, writing,” Wert said. That means reading to children, talking about books and reinforcing concepts in the real world can make a big difference in a child’s ability to read.

Project READS offers resources for parents and adults in the form of Follow the Reader, a series of six videos that feature Project READS tutors covering topics like picture walks, word decoding, sight words and more, designed to help adults help children read. These can be found at //followthereader.abouteducation.org.

For more information…

Project READS works with students in kindergarten through third grade to achieve their grade-level reading goals with the help of adult mentors. The program is at 20 sites across all four school districts in Allen County. Students are selected based on the recommendation of their teachers.

The number of students helped through the program is only limited to the number of adult volunteers, Executive Director DeShawn Wert said, adding the organization is always looking for mentors. No previous training required, just an enjoyment of working with children. To volunteer, visit //abouteducation.org/students-volunteers/volunteer-applications/.