March is Literacy Advocacy Month. Literacy at its very core is the ability to read and write. That ability to read and write is one of the most important things we can encourage in our children and in our community.
Studies show that students who read for pleasure have consistently higher reading scores, do better in school, and gain better employment. It is also shown that 29% of adults in the United States struggle with reading on a daily basis. We know that literacy is important, but what are some practical ways we can nurture our children’s literacy?
My biggest suggestion is to model for them. If we want our children to be readers and writers, we need to be readers and writers. Many young people (and really people of any age) hate reading and writing in school because they say it is boring. But, what if you got to write for fun? Or, read something you wanted to read? The key to encouraging and nurturing literacy in our children is to lead by example. Here are some practical ways you can model for your children, and have fun doing it.
Let you children see you reading something for fun. If your children see you reading on a regular basis, they will want to read too. Right now I’m re-reading the Harry Potter series and last summer I returned to Nancy Drew. If you ask either one of my kids what I like to read, they could list off characters, comics, and books. They know that I read for fun and I talk about what I am reading. (Maybe a little too much.)
Read with your children. I like to carve out 10 to 20 minutes a day to just read with my kids. Sometimes we read out loud together and sometimes we sit together and read silently. It doesn’t always have to be a book. You can look at the newspaper, read their homework with them, read a magazine or comic, or read a newsletter or something you got in the mail. It doesn’t matter what you read. The key is to take some time to make reading part of your routine.
Ask people what they’re reading. One of the first questions I always ask children and young people I meet is, “what are you reading?” If they’re not reading anything, I try to ask them what they are interested in and give book suggestions. I worked with one elementary school where everyone in the school had a book they read for pleasure (and I mean everyone—even the janitors and lunch staff). At any time, anyone could ask you about your book and you would tell them about it. Adults and students were encouraged to carry around what they were reading and share them with each other. There was only one requirement—it had to be a something they wanted to read for pleasure and not as a requirement. It could be a comic or magazine or novel, anything they wanted to read. Imagine if everyone in Macomb were reading something for pleasure and we all started talking to each other about what we were reading?
Just like reading for pleasure, write for pleasure. Let your children see you keeping a journal, writing letters to friends, or even talk to them about how texting or posting on Facebook is a way you write for pleasure on a daily (or hourly) basis.
Let your children know all the ways you write during your day. If you have to write something for work, talk with your children about what you’re writing. Show them the writing you are doing and share the practice. If you are paying bills, changing your address, applying for a job, anything that involves writing, talk to your children about what you are doing so they see how important writing is in your daily life.
Write with your children. There are many cool writing projects you can do together at home to encourage your children to write and to value writing in your house. Make a book together. Have you recently taken a trip? Do you have family traditions or experiences you can share? Do you have funny family stories? Write them down. You don’t need to create a fancy book, but you can work together to take photographs or draw pictures and then write the story together. Family books can be something you read together and can be passed down or shared with others. Plus, they make great gifts for grandparents.
Create a family time capsule. Put objects into the time capsule that represent who you are today. Each of you can write a letter to yourself to put in the time capsule. You can also write letters to each other. Have everyone gather their objects and letters and put them in your capsule with a “Do Not Open Until” sign on it and put it somewhere you won’t be tempted to look at it early. Years later you can have a snapshot of what you were like and how you wrote together.
Write notes to your child. Put them in your child’s lunchbox or school bag. Or, leave them notes in their room. Have children create “To Do” lists or check lists. My kids both love to write notes to us or to each other. (Usually when they’re mad or when they want something.)
Get your child a writer’s notebook and encourage them to bring it with them wherever they go. If you go on a trip, to Grandma’s, a restaurant, or basketball practice, ask your child to write down what they notice, question, and experience.
Write reviews together. Have you seen a movie that you all loved or hated? Did you buy a game you wanted to tell people about? Write a review of it. The review doesn’t need to be long, but you can all practice informing others about your experience. And, if you feel good about your review, you can post it online somewhere.
Tell stories together. Make up stories and characters your family can use in stories. If you see a movie, watch a television show or read a book, work on retelling the story with more detail, change the ending, or add new characters. If you visit a landmark or even at a local restaurant, make up stories about what you have seen or people who might visit there.
You can also encourage reading and writing by visiting the local library and bookstores together. Look at books and talk about them together. Spend time in places where people are reading and writing.
If you see someone reading or writing in public, point it out to your child. You could even make up stories about what they are doing. Show your children the many way people are using writing and reading daily.
There are many ways to encourage reading and writing at home. These are just a few. During Literacy Advocacy Month, start to think about the ways you actually use writing and reading in your daily life. I want to encourage you to start thinking about the ways you enjoy reading and writing. If you’re reading a great book and you see me around town, I’d love to hear about it. And, if you haven’t picked up a book in a while, grab a favorite and read it. Then, write a letter to a friend about the book or put it in that writer’s notebook you need to dust off.
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.