Hooo boy, am I stressed out this weekend. One of my hundred part-times is coordinating volunteers for a local nonprofit to go into schools and read to fourth graders. The program starts today and runs for the next few weeks and I’m still scrambling to try to get together enough volunteers for the sixteen schools we’re operating in. It is hard and I am le tired.
But! I also firmly believe that it is super important! Kids with books is as right as hot chocolate with whipped cream! There are huge benefits to a child at any age who is read aloud to (Kemp, 2015), and reading for fun has huge ramifications for a child’s future academic success as well as their success in the workforce (Taylor, 2011). But right around third or fourth grade, kids often stop reading for pleasure, especially boys (Flood, 2015).
Now, my fourth grader certainly isn’t slacking in his reading time. I can hardly get him to come to meals most nights. (Why did I give him his own book case? Whyyyy?) So why does this dip in other kids’ reading matter to me? A couple reasons.
These other kids who maybe don’t read as much at home are my son’s friends. They’re the kids he hangs out with. I’m concerned with their well being – maybe not as much as his, but still. Plus I work in their school library. (So I guess that makes being sure they have book access et cetera kind of like my job… but, my other job. Not the nonprofit job. The school job. There are so many jobs…) But anyway the point is, I know these kids and I know their families and I care about them and I want to see them do well in life. They’re a part of our community. And outside of our school, it’s not hard for me to extend that blanket of community to the rest of the school district. Maybe I don’t interact with those other kids as much as our Pearl Creek Puffins, but I can’t imagine any of them are less loved by their parents and teachers than our kids are. (And Fairbanks babies are the best babies, what can I say? :P)
And then there’s the pure selfish reason that, as a writer, I want to make sure I have as many future customers out there as possible. There. I said it.
Kids may read less for all kinds of reasons, but our program is designed to engage those low interest readers. We love the high interest readers, too, but they’re going to read anyway and they’re going to like what we read no matter what, so we’re really working on those kids who wouldn’t pick up a book on their own. We want all kids to relearn that reading is fun.
To this end, we get enthusiastic volunteers who love to read to role model reading behaviors. We pick stories that we think the kids will enjoy, regardless of whether they’re literary greats. We typically read graphic novels, and while we get some flak for it from more traditional camps, the decision is deliberate. Graphic novels are better at engaging the low interest kids than text novels are. And since so much of the story can be gleaned from images instead of just the words, they follow along better. For this same reason, graphic novels can get away with higher level vocabulary without losing kids, and still light up their little brains in nearly identical ways as straight text reading. (Morrison, 2017) And since we tend toward exciting stories with engaging art, we can emphasize to the students how fun reading is, which is really what we’re after. Because if we can convince them that reading is fun, they’re going to read.
I won’t go into the details of how the program runs. (If you’re interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of it, you’re welcome to check out the program’s website.) But it’s been running for over a decade and the kinks are mostly worked out. I think it’s a fantastic program and my fourth grader loves hearing great stories while he eats his lunch with his friends. And maybe it stresses me out, but I’ll keep at it.
Speaking of, I still have a few more gaps to fill in the reader schedule. Wish me luck, and happy reading!
(I haven’t done this since college, haha, don’t judge my sloppy citations)
- Flood, Alison. Sharp Decline in Children Reading for Pleasure, Survey Finds. The Guardian, 9 Jan 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/09/decline-children-reading-pleasure-survey
- Kemp, Carla. MRI Shows Association Between Reading to Young Children and Brain Activity. AAP News, 25 April 2015.
- Morrison, Leslie. The Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Researchers. CTD News, 14 April 2017. https://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/blog/research-behind-graphic-novels-and-young-learners
- Taylor, Mark. Reading at 16 Linked to Better Job Prospects. University of Oxford, 9 May 2011