“My child doesn’t like to read.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this. In the beginning of the year I would meet with parents of the kids in my third grade classroom. Inevitably I would have a large handful of parents who would explain to me that their child “just doesn’t like to read”, as if this was something that couldn’t be changed and that they were reluctantly ready to accept. My response to them was that of course their child doesn’t like to read right now. Reading is work. It is hard and something that doesn’t always come naturally or easily. The books at their level are boring. But I promised that by the end of third grade their child would like to read.
And this would happen 98% of the time. I am no miracle worker, so yes, there were a few children who slipped through without loving reading, despite my best efforts. But by fourth grade these kids would usually come running down the hallway to me to tell me how much they now loved to read.
Part of the love of reading is developmental. A child’s brain connects with the words better and stronger each day, and in turn you have a child who can now read more confidently and fluently. As abilities increase the books become more interesting, which then drives a child to want to read more. This lovely cycle accounts for 80% of my students who don’t like to read upon entering third grade. And by the way, practice (in the classroom AND at home) is the only thing that gets them to the point of getting better. It doesn’t just happen, people!
The other 18% of students, whose reading development is right on track but still don’t enjoy reading, are my challenges. I love challenges, especially when it comes to children.
One thing I do with my students who don’t like to read is take them over to the classroom bookshelf for some one on one guided exploration. It’s just me and that one child. We go through bins and bins of books and I see what makes their eyes light up and what makes them cringe. I show them my personal favorites and have them pull out books that they think look awesome. All of this information is stored in my head and used in one way or another down the line. A book that is my favorite will one day become a book they are dying to read. A book that looks awesome to them will become their goal book, and books that they stick their tongue out in disgust to are ones that, well, ones that we completely avoid and don’t even try to push.
During this process I am engaged and interested in their thoughts. I am excited and share my opinions. I don’t talk down to them and push them to make a choice. Children have strong opinions, whether they are shared or kept in their head. My job is to open them up to trying new things, and the no-pressure tactic always works best.
After we go through that shelf and I have them somewhat interested in reading and books in general, I take them to my secret, special shelf…the shelf I save for last. The poetry shelf. I bring them over to the poetry shelf with hesitation. The look and sound of hesitation takes on this expression and tone: I don’t know if I want to share this information, I just want to keep it to myself. This is an instant draw for any child.
Poetry is my go-to because poetry is like a good fling: short, non-committal, entertaining and best of all, it always welcomes you back.
Short: Most poems aren’t long. Please don’t pick any poetry books for your budding reader that have long poems. This is not the time to introduce them to Robert Frost and hope they appreciate the language. New readers want short poems that they can get through and feel accomplished after reading.
Non-committal: You can pick up and put down a poetry book whenever you want. You can start on page 25 or page 1. You can read one poem or five. No commitment necessary. No strings attached.
Entertaining: Poems written for children are funny. They are about things that children love to hear about: hating homework, teasing siblings, eating gross food, animal noises….Jack Prelutsky, Shell Silverstein, Kenn Nesbitt and Bruce Lansky are a few of my favorite authors.
In addition to funny poems, the entertainment value of reading poems out loud is the interaction between you and the child. If and when you read a poem have your child finish the sentence. This works especially well if you have read the poem before. If they are listening and understand the poem, they should be able to think of the rhyming word that works.
Always welcomes you back: I usually recommend that my kids keep a poetry book in their book boxes. You never know when you just want to read some poems. Some days just aren’t meant for reading a chapter book, and I give my students the option to always return to poetry. Keep poetry books around the house and easily accessible.
Kids go through reading phases. For a week they will just want to read poetry. The next week it may be comic books, and the following it may be picture books. They hop around and work with what feels right to them and what they want to explore at that moment. This is OKAY, and a GREAT way to get them to love reading.
Some poetry book suggestions:
Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends – there is some tough vocabulary in these books, so reading with your child or to them will be important
Jack Prelutsky’s It’s Valentine’s Day – can be read independently (an I CAN READ book)
Jack Prelutsky’s My Parents Think I’m Sleeping – can be read independently (an I CAN READ book)
Kenn Nesbitt’s When the Teacher Isn’t Looking: And other funny School Poems
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with photographs that Squeak, Soar and Roar – a great combination of non-fiction and poetry!
The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry
Jon Scieszka’s Truckery Rhymes – poems about trucks. Yup – there’s poetry for everything!
Jack Prelutsky’s Scranimals – for the older child (3rd/4th grader) who appreciates quirkiness
Happy Valentine’s Day from Reading with Bean!
I Made My Dog a Valentine
By Jack Prelutsky
I made my dog a valentine,
she sniffed it very hard,
then chewed on it a little while
and left it in the yard.
I made one for my parakeets,
a pretty paper heart,
they pulled it with their claws and beaks
until it ripped apart.
I made one for my turtle,
all he did was get it wet,
I wonder if a valentine
is wasted on a pet.