If you, as a parent, are someone who pays great attention to your son/daughter's education, then the title of this article is sure to have stoked your curiosity. After all why would someone actually advocate that children should not read? In fact the title to this article is only partially complete. I would imagine the following would be more palatable to most of us: 'Children Reading: Why they shouldn't read from just one particular medium', though had the full title been included it might not have achieved the desired result, that being your attention.
Having been in the field of education since 1993 I have seen a great number of children pass through my classroom door with various interests and different competencies in the area of reading. Some loved reading and spent as much time as they could with a book in hand whilst others had to be constantly encouraged and rewarded for getting through a book.
We all know that children's interest vary and what may work with one student may not work with another. It is with this reasoning that we as educators, and just as importantly, as parents need to focus on what interests our children and tap into that interest as a catalyst to get them reading.
To this very day I can still remember a young 9 year old boy in my classroom, in the early days of my career, who was clearly not interested in reading the traditional classics and not very much of anything else for that matter. During the first Parent/Teacher interview his parents had stated how they had tried to get him to read the classics but to no end - he just wasn't interested. When I had queried why it was so important to them that he read the classics, the answer I received was clearly: Well if he didn't read these books how would he be able to expand his vocabulary and appreciate various forms of literature? A very valid reply to be sure! I remember informing them I would look into the matter and see how we could get him to start reading.
With this new found challenge in mind I began to keep an extra eye on him during the school day. I soon realised that he had a love for insects and superheroes and then an idea came to mind. In addition to reading books I also grew up with a love for reading comic books, many of which are still lovingly stored away to this day. As I revisited my collection I picked out issues with cover illustrations that I felt would be captivating to this student. Each issue was stored in a protective acid free bag and I took with me a number of them from the 70s straight through to the 90s. The idea was to introduce these issues into a cross curricular lesson involving English and Art so that all of my students, including this particular one, would benefit from it. Without delving too much into the details of the lesson I can confidently say that a light had been switched on in this particular child's mind. His eyes grew wide open as he scanned the cover of each issue that he held as they were passed around the classroom and I knew that I had planted a seed which hopefully would sprout and grow.
Sure enough this boy came to school with his own comic book the following day. He had gone home and had asked his mother to take him to his local shop so that he could purchase his own comic book, an issue of Spiderman which combined his two loves.
His love for reading comic books began to flourish and soon enough his mother had asked to speak to me. During a telephone conversation she had stated how happy she was that her son was starting to develop an interest in reading however she was concerned that he wouldn't obtain the same quality of grammar and vocabulary that one would expect to find in a paperback novel. I assured her that this was just the first step towards helping her son reach the objective of reading books and encouraged her to allow her son to delve deeply into the fun of reading these comic books, after all if reading is fun, children will read of their own accord and eventually look for other things to read.
Two weeks later I called the student to my desk as his classmates headed out for their morning break. I asked him to show me the issue he had at his desk and we spent a few moments discussing what he had liked about the story. I could see the gleam in his eye and felt that he was ready for the next step. I remember telling him that I was going to let him read one of my favourite comic book stories and that he would have to take really good care of it. That sentence in itself stoked his curiosity. I opened one of the drawers in my desk and took out a graphic novel of the Moby Dick story. His eyes widened once more at the sight of this graphic novel filled with illustrations, adventure, and most importantly - words. I gave him the pleasure of reading the novel with the request that he be able to tell me all about the story after reading it and that if he did a great job, he could keep the novel. He went straight to his desk and began sifting through it. A week later he came back to school with an excellent summary of the story and true to my word, he was able to keep the graphic novel.
Very often many of us believe that only paperback novels or books of fact can be the only medium that can be of benefit to the development of children's reading. This article was not meant to downgrade their importance but rather to suggest that children should be presented with as many mediums as possible to help keep their love for reading alive, both in traditional and digital formats. A child may not take to any of the classic stories, he/she may not even take to books of fact, but if he/she enjoys sifting and reading through a recipe book, a magazine about a topic which holds his/her interest or even a graphic novel, isn't their interest in reading being encouraged? And if so shouldn't we, as parents and educators, help to cultivate this love. They'll get to love reading books of fact and classic stories, in time - when they're ready to do so. By the way, the boy mentioned in this article, we crossed paths some time ago. He has his own family now and was currently reading three different novels as he couldn't decide which one to read first and by the way, he continued collecting comic books even after leaving my classroom which he is sharing with his own kids. I'd like to consider this a success story.