I grew up surrounded by books. My mom was a kindergarten teacher who turned our biggest bedroom closet into a library. I can still hear the metallic sliding sound of the sliding closet door. Every night I would go into that closet and pick out some books for my mom to read to me. We did not do this because I had a reading log to complete or a book report to do. It was just simply what we did.
LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be
When I think of childhood, I think of Shel Silverstein. My mom read A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends over and over to me as child. Many I can still recite from heart for even after reading a different book, I would beg for one or two poems. When I could read on my own I would lay and read his words over and over letting my imagination go wild.
My father read books too, but mostly nonfiction. Books about golf swings and basketball plays were his favorite. I have written a lot about how influential my father was over my life, but when it came to reading it was always my mother who did it. Now that I am sitting here thinking about it, I cannot think of one time in my life where my father read a story to me. Though I guess he must have at some point.
I do remember my older brother Matthew carrying a book with him all of the time, even to the Thanksgiving dinner table. My father would yell at him to get his nose out of the book. But, my mom’s influence sunk in and it sunk in deeply. My younger brother Gregory went on to be an English major in college too.
Reading gets so much focus in today’s schools, yet this focus has caused education to stray away from the actual act of reading. Kids are asked to do so much that there is little time to read. Whether it is a worksheet of comprehension questions, a reading log, a journal entry, a book report, a project or a test, little time is left to read or to be read to. By middle school, where I have spent most of my 12 years of teaching, many students haven’t been read to in years. Once I figured that out, I made a point every year to read at least one entire book aloud that was simply for fun. No tests, no quizzes, no nothing. Just for fun. And let me tell you they loved it.
I am a lover of books. I am a teacher who required and motivated my students to read 20 books outside of class each year. Yet I find my second grade son’s reading log to be a thorn in my side. I read to him every night with his siblings, but making time for him and his kindergarten aged brother to read aloud to me every night is difficult at best. I talked to my husband about reading to them more and helping find time to listen to them read too. More and more my husband has been reading with them and I don’t think I have ever seen anything sweeter.
This past weekend my son read to my husband from his World History book, and they got into some very deep discussions about Roman soldiers.
I guess reading logs are necessary in today’s society, though I wish there were a more organic way to encourage reading. It is so crucial for kids to see reading as more than just homework, especially boys.
Over the past forty years we’ve witnessed a marked increase in girls’ academic achievement. Unfortunately, there’s also been a documented decrease in boys’ academic achievement.
There are several theories about why this is happening, but perhaps the most compelling is the assertion that school, and reading especially, is being seen increasingly by young boys as a “feminine” activity.
Even though it’s likely our fathers did not read to us (Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, cites a study where only 10 percent of participants reported having fathers who read to them—see xxiv), fathers reading to children is one of the very best ways to reverse the academic ambivalence we’re seeing in young boys.
With a focus on achievement and standardized testing, schools run the risk of turning more and more children off to reading. This is especially true for boys who are often already difficult to motivate to read. Reading should be a million things such as fun, entertaining, informative, thought-provoking or helpful. But the problem comes when reading becomes nothing more than an exercise to prove one’s ability or the effectiveness of a teacher or school.
If every teacher started each day with a Shel Silverstein poem and every parent ended the night with one, we may not have a country full of geniuses, but somehow I think it would cease to matter.
Where the Sidewalk Ends
from the book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1974)
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.