Friday, May 11, 2012

Guest Post week 4: The Importance of Interest

The Importance of Interest

Ways to make reading FUN and PERSONAL for your kids!

Emily A. Swan, Ph.D.

Last week, I talked about the some common pitfalls parents make when trying to motivate their children to read. Yet, often these ways backfire.

I encouraged you to make reading FUN! So how are you doing? I’d love to hear about your progress?

·         Are you reading to your children daily?

·         Are you going to the library?

·         Are you having conversations with your children about what they are reading?

·         Are YOU reading?

·         If you answered NO to any of the above questions, What is the problem??

o   What to do: start TONIGHT reading with your kids! You can always start!

This week, I am going to talk about the topic of INTEREST and how vital it is to helping your children see the relevance to reading. Interest also plays an important role in helping your child find connections to what they read, which makes reading more FUN, so kids actually spend more time reading. It’s a nice cycle to get into.

The Importance of Interest

Can you imagine if you walked into Barnes & Noble and the sales person greeted you at the door and said, “Oh hello. The books you are allowed to read are on this table.” So you walk to that table and there are only 4 books, none of which are about anything you find interesting. But those are all the choices you have. You are not allowed to read “thicker” books, books on “those” topics, books by “those” authors, books with “those” genres, or even books on “that” level! Ridiculous, isn’t it? You would NEVER go back to that store again!

But what kinds of choices to we give kids? We tend to think we know best what our children, or our students should like, should read, or can read. The truth is, often we are wrong. The following few guidelines might be helpful the next time you are trying to convince your child to spend more time reading.

1.    Interest is one of the most important reasons to read. This is true for adults as well as children. When we can find something of interest to our children, chances are, they will listen to us read it to them; or better yet, they will read it on their own if they are able to do so. Even if our children are young, they can thumb through page after page of books on topics of their interest, if we have them available.

2.    Interest is more important than reading level. Research has shown that kids who have a high interest in a topic, will read for longer periods of time and will struggle through more difficult text because their interest is the motivation. This doesn’t mean that you can give your child ANY book. But it does mean that you can find books at appropriate levels on the topic of interest and your child is much more likely to read them and enjoy them!

3.    Interest is the way that readers determine what is important. Authors determine importance by how their books are structured, how much information to put into their books, and how deeply they cover a topic or topics. Teachers or tasks determine importance by curriculum standards, time, and skills that need to be taught. But INTEREST is how individual readers determine what is important. If kids don’t think reading is important, they won’t read for pleasure. They will only read out of compliance to do an assignment for a teacher and this is NOT the way to increase a child’s love of reading!

So. . . what are some ways to generate interest? How do you make reading FUN? How do you make reading INTERESTING?

1.    Create interest! If you don’t know what to read to your kids, or to have your older children read, create a situation that generates interest! How? Buy a pet (the creepier the better). Buy a snake. Go on a fieldtrip. Go on a hike. Go to the zoo. Visit the aviary. Look for bugs. People watch. Go to an amusement park and watch the different kinds of rides. Look at things differently.  Go somewhere and NOTICE THINGS! Observe. Draw pictures of what you notice. Pay attention! This is the first step.

2.    Ask lots of questions! When you ask your child, “Why doesn’t the rollercoaster fall off the track when it is upside down?” your child will have to think about the answer. “How do roly-poly bugs have babies?” Do you know? I got asked that question when my daughter was 4 and we were looking for bugs. That one question took us to the library and we read books about roly-poly bugs for a week. Listen to the questions your child asks when you are on a hike, at the mall, at the zoo, or looking at amazing birds. Questioning is the beginning of wonder. Wonder is the beginning of curiosity. Curiosity is long-term interest!

3.    Write down the questions. All of them. The only stupid question is the one to which you already know the answer. All the rest of the questions are fair game. When questions are written down, you have a list of reasons to read.

4.    Find interesting books—LOTS of books—on the topics that interest your child. Go to the library, to the bookstore, to your own shelves. Find a big stack of books and sit and read to find the answers to the questions. This takes time and it is a BLAST to do with your kids. You will learn things too! Go to the internet and look things up and see if you can find other information. LEARN as much as you can!

·         Interesting books, by definition, are books that (1) have vivid details, so that kids can get information by looking at words or photographs, (2) have colorful illustrations, diagrams, pictures, etc. that allow kids to get information in a variety of ways, and (3) have information that is easily accessible to children (e.g., clear explanations, short snippets of text, clear titles and subtitles, etc.)

5.    Read! Together! Find as many answers as you can. Get smart!

6.    Make connections to your life. Help your child make connections to their life. Take pictures of your hike, your trips, your adventures, your observations. Talk about them. Find the relevance to your child’s life in the reading and questioning and searching for answers. Your child will remember these times! They are powerful.

7.    Share what you know with others. Have your child share with a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, your spouse, whomever—what they have learned! It’s amazing how empowering this experience is. All of a sudden, your child becomes the expert on a topic of interest. They know something and knowledge is power!

8.    Repeat! Do these steps again and again. This is the process of learning. And it is one of the secrets to a happy LIFE!

Summer is almost here! There are so many great things you can do with your children to spark their interest! Every Public Library has a list of Award Winning Books. These are the Newberry (Best fiction book), Caldecott (best Picture Book), the National Book Awards, and even the Utah Book Award-winning booklist. Start with these books! They win awards for a reason. You can pick up this list at the library and there is a section of the library that showcases these books and authors.

If you are interested in other tools, stay tuned, I’ll give you more tips next week!

Action Plan for This Week:  Create interest with your child. Find out what your child finds fascinating. Then get books and read about it! Remember to allow your child to wonder and question. Write down the questions. Read to find the answers and share them with others. This is a winning cycle that will teach your child how fun reading can be!!

 Next week I will be discussing the importance of QUESTIONING and how this helps readers gain deeper levels of knowledge! Have a great week!

 If you are interested in how to build literacy skills over the summer with your preschooler or Kindergartener. . . My business partner Michelle Roderick and I have created a tool for parents to maximize the time they spend reading to their young children. One tool that will soon be available to parents, grandparents, babysitters, or other caretakers, is our product called DiscoverLit Kits. These wonderful kits are designed around a book (e.g., Bugs) and we have written research-based activities around these wonderful books that increase comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, word study/phonics, and writing. We include easy step-by-step instructions for mothers and others that are easy to follow. We also integrate math, science, or art into our kits to extend learning. They help parents and children discover the fun of literacy. . .in a kit. The kit ships right to your door and all of the materials for the activities are included IN the kit. Simply choose an activity per day. Do as many or as few as you want. You can do them in any order. Easy. Convenient. Portable. We take parents and young children through the steps of creating interest, questioning, discovering, reading, sharing, and making connections. Our goal is to help parents know how to prepare their Preschooler or Kindergartener for school during the summer months. We will soon have kits for grades K-1 too. By fall, we’ll have kits for grades 2-3 and 3-4. We are excited to be able to help parents motivate their children in fun, meaningful ways that truly build lifelong skills and build special relationships between parent and child, by reading together.  

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