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A Different Kind of Recipe: Recipe for Raising Readers

Natural Kids: A Different Kind of Recipe: Recipe for Raising Readers

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Different Kind of Recipe: Recipe for Raising Readers

My First Book
Sorry, but today I don't have a regular kind of recipe. I hope you are not too disappointed with me. Rather than give a recipe, I wanted to ask you for yours.

Often I have wondered where the love of reading comes from. Is there a "recipe" for raising good readers? How can we whet childrens' appetites for books and turn them into good readers? Does it get handed down from parents to children? Or, is it merely a matter of parents reading to infants and toddlers as parenting books tell us? Is it mainly the job of schools and educators to foster a love for books in children?

I can only speak for myself. I suppose in my case, the love for reading did not come through my parents. They were not great readers themselves. I never saw my parents read books. My dad only read the paper. My parents never took us to a library to check out books, nor did they - except for the standard Grimm fairy tale edition owned by every German household - read to us. I figure my mom, who had not much schooling, did the best she could by reading fairy tales to us.

There were certainly lots of books around our house when I was growing up in Germany. My mom had acquired an eclectic selection of novels via membership of a mail order book club in her pre-married life. My dad's books were mostly antique tomes about religion and history, some with fancy covers that would make you want to leaf through and admire the beautiful pictures. Dad's books were mostly printed in old German type and not accessible to a young child even after I had learned to read. I also distinctly remember a book with pictures from WWI and WWII. I am not sure why this horrible book sat around on one of the lower shelves. It certainly made an impression on me as a young child.

So maybe osmosis - by being surrounded by a number of books - was a factor, since there wasn't much encouragement to read on my parents' part. I recall my love for reading started in first grade. It was then that I bought my first book with my own money. I had saved up my allowance to purchase a book of fairy tales printed in cursive. In those days, German kids were taught to read and write in cursive. We were never allowed to print letters. I surely loved learning to make those curly letters, my lessons in Schoenschreiben (transl. writing prettily = penmenship), and my first book that I could read by myself.

This Schneider-book belongs to Ulla
Maybe books were my way to escape the reality of a not-so-happy childhood. The Catholic girls' school I attended from 5th through 13th grade had a fairly small library with juvenile fiction tucked away under a stairwell somewhere. Only the older kids could use the "real" library while the younger students were limited to the "stairwell library" run by the nuns. It was the strangest little library you can imagine, but I read every book in it. I cannot recall ever being bored in my childhood. How could you be bored when there were so many great books to read?

It's harder these days for me to find time for reading. After a long day of doing chores around the house, running around to activities, taking care of the kids, crafting, and working on the computer, one gets too tired to read at night. Is that how my parents felt? Usually, I fall asleep after a few pages.

However, we try to set a good example for our kids. We make regular trips to the library and have done so since they were infants and old enough to attend story time events. Yet, I find it terribly hard to compete with the thrills of modern electronic devices these days. There was no Nintendo to tempt me, no computer screen calling to play evermore addictive games, no cellphone, XBox nor Wii. In a way it was much easier for a child in the 1970s to become a reader.

Maybe it would be easiest to ban all those things from one's house completely. I think we are the only parents in my kids' class who don't own a Wii. But how can I forbid them to play with the computer, when the children see me sit and work at my computer every day? So I see my role as parent mainly as a guide and role model. I try to set a good example by limiting my own computer time. I try to steer them away from screen time as much as possible - less than 1 hour per day.

Have you tried to do a family reading night? I know after a very busy day it seems so much easier to turn on the TV or pop in a movie. But really if you tried, you might find that sitting together reading books a couple of nights a week may be more relaxing....

What's the last book you have read? With or without children? For Christmas, my son gave me the bestselling books (see picture)by Stieg Larson. I really got into them on one of our "family reading nights" and read them in less than a week's time. Looks like Ulla-the- voracious- childhood-reader is back! Any book suggestions for me?

Please, share your recipe with us! We need the perfect one. I think our recipe worked for our son, but we are struggling with our daughter who has not shown much interest in books and has a hard time finishing books. How do you cater to the different appetites of people? I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this one!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My recipe - for whatever it is worth!
1. Reading to them from birth. When they were both infants I read Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold out loud to them. I just find the writing so wonderful and soothing.
2. LOTS of kid friendly books. The more they enjoy picking up books at a young age the more likely it will just become habit (I think). So I surround my girls with silly rhyming books, lift the flap books, touch and feel books, etc.
3. Read to them everyday. A lot!
4. The library. I can't afford to stock our shelves with new and interesting books all the time so I mix it up by going to the library constantly.
So that is it, not rocket science or anything special just the way I hope to raise readers. But as my girls are 3 and 1 I have no proof that any of this will work!

If you loved "The Girl With..." books you should check out the Swedish versions of the movies. I am not a subtitle person but these movies were really great. A bit vulgar at times as I am sure you can imagine from reading the books, but really good!

March 1, 2011 at 7:34 AM  
Blogger germandolls said...

I think we pretty much followed that recipe with our kids. Our son loves to read and only resorts to screen time when he runs out of a book. With our girl it's a different story...She just doesn't have the patience it seems. She will jump from one book to another and never finish a book. How do you change that?
I have not seen the movies but they sound interesting...

March 1, 2011 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger Laura from The Wood Garden said...

Like most things in life, I don't think there really is a set "recipe" that you can follow to ensure your children are readers.

My own parents don't read at all. Ever! They almost never bought books for us as children, and I distinctly remember that when they themselves got books as gifts, they were disappointed because they just didn't like books. We never went to a public library once when I was a child either.

Yet somehow, I turned out to be a voracious reader. I devoured the books I took out from the school library, and I still love to read and love to fill our home with books. Why? I can't say! Books just always appealed to me. Perhaps like you, I enjoyed the escape from my not-too-happy childhood.

I read to all of my children right from birth and made sure they always had lots of books. Now all 3 of them love books. But maybe that still would have been the case if I hadn't done that. I don't know.

The last book I read was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It was a very long, complex book, but I loved it! It was one of those unforgettable tales that you are sorry to have to return to the library.

March 1, 2011 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger andiscandis said...

My parents aren't readers, either. I've never seen my mom read a book to herself... ever.

But you know what? When I was a small child, my mom read to me every single night. I had a stack of Little Golden Books that she can still recite from memory.

As adults it's pretty easy to look back at all of the things your parents did wrong and I've done my share of blaming. But I'm SO grateful to my mom for reading to me. So when I'm tired and lazy and don't feel like reading to my kids, I just remember that my mom did it for me and she doesn't even enjoy reading.

March 1, 2011 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger germandolls said...

How do you all feel about the new electorinic devices people use for reading? Is called a kindle? I don't even know how to spell it. The last book store in our town has just closed. Mind you it was Border's! I find it really sad that in a city of 120,000 people we can't even support a bookstore any more.

March 1, 2011 at 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Woodcraft Construction Kit said...

Soon all kids will get iphones from their parents. I guess they will even get their homeworks on these kind of gadgets.

March 1, 2011 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger germandolls said...

Our 12-year old is the only kid in his class who doesn't have a phone yet. It's really hard to be the "weird" parent...

March 1, 2011 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger Saints and Spinners said...

My recipe is quite similar to yours! We don't have a tv, but we do have a computer. Every room in our house is filled with books (it's a small house, believe me), and my husband and I read to our daughter from an early age. Our daughter is really into the stories in chapter-books that are beyond her reading comprehension now, so we still get the cozy-time together with reading.
-Alkelda:Dolls for Storytelling

March 1, 2011 at 9:28 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Varon said...

Great post.
Here's my recipe - think of brewing up literacy rather than reading... speak beautifully in front of your children, read beautiful books with beautiful images - like anything by Elsa Beskow, The adventures of Nils, etc...Stay away from any book which is a quiz in disguise. These are not usually beautiful stories, but teachy thingies-- remember that anyone can learn a symbol, like a, but if I give you an apple and you taste it, look at it feel it smell it, etc...How many words can you think of to describe apple. Now let's look at a pic of an apple. How many words need to go out of your head...Now just the word apple? How many go now> Ok, now: the letter "a" Are there any words to describe an apple from just the letter a?

I learned this part from a waldorf teacher. I think it is so fab and really taught me why a love of language, rich, imaginative language will instill literacy in a child and will make them want to consume books for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight snack, just to get more of those delicious images!

March 2, 2011 at 1:10 AM  
Blogger germandolls said...

Hey, Rebecca! Now there is a new interesting take on the subject. If only we all had the making of a poet. I guess my kids are lucky that their dad teaches English. He has quite a vocabulary...LOL

March 2, 2011 at 5:27 AM  
Blogger Banana Bottoms said...

I really enjoyed this post, too, Ulla. We limit screen time, as well, but you are right, it/s really hard to compete with all the technology out there. We don't own a lot of it, so it makes it easier, but you still feel the pressure from it.

But we have a reading household. Both my husband and I read and the kids see us read. We frequent the library often and have storytime every night. The result is that our kids love books and look forward to bedtime stories. As someone else pointed out, maybe they would still love them, but I hope that what they have learned is that reading is an enjoyable family activity, and one that they will share with their families one day. And hopefully not on an e-reader ;)

March 4, 2011 at 5:52 AM  

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