You often run into some great people online. I happened to meet a fellow WordPress blogger, Dr. Connie Hebert, who is a nationally renowned reading specialist, teacher of teachers and motivational speaker. Her special focus is on helping struggling readers. We got to emailing and she agreed to talk to me for a blog post about helping all children – typically developing and those with special needs — transition back into school mode now that summer is slipping away (sad). Keep in mind that my son with Down syndrome and his twin sister are almost 4 and far from being readers, but good habits must start early. And our oldest is 6 1/2 and loves to read, but could always use a little nudge to keep her going.
My main question for Dr. Hebert was this: how do you motivate kids to read without resorting to nagging? Like most parents I know, our house has many books, we read to our kids every day (sometimes only for about 30 seconds, it seems!) and we visit the library often and let them choose their own books. But that still doesn’t seem like enough sometimes. How many of you have wonderful, unread library books sitting forgotten on the shelf for various reasons, like because the kids would rather watch TV… guilty confession. Maybe it’s just us…
Dr. Hebert had a great answer to my question, and maybe you’ve heard the answer before, but when she explained it sounded like a revelation — have each child create a Book Box of his or her own. “With young children and elderly people,” Dr. Hebert said, “what do they want? They want choices. They need to feel they are in control.” So have your child create a Book Box. “It can be a Tide box with a handle,” she said, “or some strong cereal box, or big plastic tubs.” Basically, any deep container will work.
Then you and your child both fill it up with many different types of reading materials, in addition to books that the child enjoys reading. These might include maps, cookbooks, menus, phone books, dictionaries, catalogs, newspapers, magazines, comic books, or AAA tour books. For pre-readers, especially kids with special needs who are often strong visual learners, wordless picture books are a great choice to help with vocabulary development and word retrieval. You can make your own wordless books, or find them with a quick Internet search. Dr. Hebert likes wordless books by Mercer Meyer, Alexandra Day and David Wiesner.
Parents choose some things for the box and the child chooses some things — the control freak in me likes that I can choose too! (Someone has to make sure the puppy book they begged for at the library actually gets read).
Here’s how it works:
Set Aside a Quiet Time: In teacher parlance, it is called “DEAR” time — which stands for Drop Everything And Read. Apparently, you have to set aside an actual time for this every day and make it sound really cool. Oops! I usually make the kids sit down and read when they are getting on my nerves. Is that wrong?
Your Child Can Sit Wherever She Wants: In the kitchen, on the floor, at a table, or better yet, under the table! Try outside in a playhouse or in a big appliance box that’s been converted into a hiding place. “Now it becomes fun,” said Dr. Hebert.
Fill the Box With More Than Story Books: This was the revelation part to me. Book Boxes can and should include brochures from the car repair shop, restaurant menus, catalogs, comic books, maps, a kids’ magazine or section of the newspaper. Even, said Dr. Hebert, “recipe books you don’t use anymore, phone books and of course books or novels from the library that are easy and motivating for kids to practice reading with.” With all the story-type texts they are given to read, “kids begin to think reading is only for reading books,” said Dr. Hebert, “but the majority of things we read are informational: a map, or a brochure, for instance.” If your child gets too focused on reading catalogs and brochures, she advised, set aside a day once a week where they have to read a book first for a few minutes. If your child comes home with a leveled reader from school, put a special sticker on it indicating that it needs to be read first during DEAR time before moving on to other things, Dr. Hebert said.
Keep It Fresh: Also about once a week, work together with your child to trade out a few items and add new ones. Some children may want to clean out the entire thing, Dr. Hebert said, and some may want to hold onto things for a long time — whatever works for your child is fine.
It’s Great for Almost Any Age: Think about how much fun 2-year-olds have putting things into containers and chewing on magazines! Now you can call it literacy time and beam with pride when your husband comes through the door and you still smell like mashed peas
Unleash Your Child’s Creativity: Since it is your child’s Book Box, encourage him to decorate it as he wishes, or cover it, or put stickers on it. Old wads of gum are not as good, but since this is my house, I’m guessing my girls might include a piece or two.
Encourage Writing Too: Dr. Hebert says she likes to put a journal in the box too so that kids of all ages can write or scribble about the book, draw pictures of it, change the cover into their own creation, or write new words they’ve learned. “Never separate reading from writing,” she said. Part of being successful at reading is “feeling like a reader and writer,” she said.
Aim High: If he’s in kindergarten and wants to put a Harry Potter book in there, great, said Dr. Hebert. “Let him page through it, see the chapters, read the Table of Contents and find the pages, look at the front cover, the back cover.” He has the freedom to put whatever book he wants in there, even if it is well beyond his comprehension.
You’d Better DEAR Too: Motivate your child by doing some reading of your own — modeling is the best way to teach. Set a timer for 20 minutes, for instance, though even a few minutes is great to start. You can have your own Book Box. “I become the child,” Dr. Hebert said, “and I go through my own box and talk about all the great things I’m going to read.” For instance: “Oh, I’m having people over on Sunday, I think I’ll take out this recipe book and figure out what I’m going to make,” Dr. Hebert said. Always talk about what you are going to read and why you’re going to read it.
This sounded like so much fun I couldn’t wait to try it. My kids liked the idea right away. We used a big Tupperware-type box with a lid and some plastic storage bins from Ikea that are quite cheap and easy to replace. My oldest girl, age 6 ½ and going into first grade, wanted to decorate it before she started reading, while her younger sister, who as I said is almost 4, filled the whole thing to the tippy top and then started paging through all the books. Her twin brother, who has Down syndrome, joined us later, as he was still napping while all this was going on.
Soon, the oldest was finished decorating. She had adorned hers with stickers, including some letters spelling her name. In glitter glue, she wrote the word “Read,” and then in letter stickers next to it, she spelled out “Books.” Above that, she affixed a little sign saying, “Read it Lern It.”
The miracles didn’t stop there. Her little sister found a few books that had tables of contents with little pictures next to the titles, and she was looking up different chapters by page number. This is the stubborn girl who knows her entire alphabet but says “B” when you show her the letter K because she absolutely does not want us to figure out that she knows anything, lest we start asking too many questions while she’s playing.
For nearly two hours it went on like this. That’s right, I said two hours.
When our son woke up from his nap, he was not too impressed with his own Book Box. He seemed miffed that I was going to sit and read my own book rather than read to him, but soon he was sharing a book with his twin and cackling hysterically and all was right with the world again. Another day, he read through the books on his own, talking himself through the pictures. Mind you, I have no problem reading to the little ones at DEAR time for a few minutes, but I want to teach them independence – and I want to read too! For the first time in months, I finished an entire magazine article while the kids read in my vicinity. That’s right, an entire article! Of more than 3 pages too – I could not believe it. We are not able to work in DEAR time every day, but you can bet that’s what I’m aiming for.
You can read more tips in Dr. Hebert’s books “Catch a Falling Reader” and “Catch a Falling Writer,” published by Corwin Press corwinpress.com Her books include timeless principles for catching struggling readers and writers in grades K – 4.
Check out her posting on how to recognize and correct 6 common habits of struggling readers, along with other useful tips on her blog: http://drconniehebert.wordpress.com/
A big thank you to Dr. Hebert for sharing her knowledge. Please check out her Web site: http://www.conniehebert.com. There is useful information for elementary kids of all developmental types.