I grew up in a family of readers. Beyond parents and siblings, this extends to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews… everyone. Reading has been a lifelong pleasure for my entire family tree. Tastes range from fiction to biography to medical journals to every page of every local weekend paper; as long as there is reading material at hand, it will be consumed by some member of my family. One of my earliest memories is of a summer evening at my grandparents’ cottage, saying goodnight to a roomful of adults who were each reading their own book, not conversing with one another. (This may or may not have actually happened. My older sister has no memory of same. And it’s not to say we’re introverts; we just really enjoy some quiet reading time.)
So how do we foster a love of reading in our children? The literature suggests some pretty standard strategies: read to them often, have books readily accessible in the home, model the behaviour, etc. A recent international literacy study looked at reading ability in grade four students in 45 countries and by all accounts, Canada scored very well. The study pointed to several key factors that can help or hinder children’s early affinity for reading. Parental involvement is important but it seems there’s a subtlety to it. It’s not about teaching the children to read, but rather teaching them the joy of reading. Research suggests that teaching a child to read early, as North Americans seem inclined to do these days, may result in early ability but the child is more likely to be disinterested in reading by the age of eight. Socioeconomics plays a role as well, although the good news in Canada is that this plays less of a role than anywhere else in the study. Kids will be happy to hear that time spent on homework isn’t all that important either. Canadian students doing less than 15 minutes a day scored higher on the test than kids in other countries doing much more.
I’m very happy to report that my family’s love of reading has (so far) been passed down to my own children. They’re keen to be read to and now that my eldest can read on her own, she devours chapter books at a breakneck pace. One of our current favourite activities is “reading club”, where we curl up on the couch together and each read our own book. It truly warms my heart. We’ve even started a two-person book club. I’m going to read her favourites and then we’ll talk about them. In honour of National Family Literacy Day (today!), I’ve added the first book to my 2013 completed list: Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows. So far our discussion has been limited to: “Didn’t you think it was funny when Bean called her sister a boogerhead?” although I’m hardly disappointed. That’s 100% more discussion of the book than my last book club evening.
Happy Family Literacy Day everyone. I hope you’ve been able to find a moment to celebrate.