If you're a regular reader of this column, you know I'm intensely interested in the behavior known as reading. And for the past several months I've been trying to formulate an idea about beginning readers and the growth of this ability and what we can do to make it easier for the non-reader to develop it. This issue's piece is about an idea I'd like for you to think about.
For the sake of discussion, consider that there are stages to becoming a reader. These are my stages and don't necessarily reflect the thinking of others who have written on this subject. Consider:
Stages in Reading
- Realization that some marks on a printed page stand for words (phonemic awareness)
- Learning the code to translate the marks to sounds (emerging reader)
- Using the code to extract ideas from printed material (able reader)
- Reading assigned material-but perhaps reluctantly (able, but not a willing reader)
- Reading assigned material without reluctance (willing reader)
- Seeking out written material in order to learn something (avid reader)
- Neglecting other-perhaps pleasurable-activities in order to read (voracious reader)
How I Became a Voracious Reader
As I've been thinking about this reading column, I've been mentally reconstructing my own childhood experience. I'm a voracious, reader. And I can recall when and how the transition took place that turned me into a voracious reader. It was aviation, kites, balloons, and model airplanes.
It happened sometime around 1937 in Southern California. Aviation was in the news. Aviation was a popular topic of conversation among my peers. There was sky-writing over Los Angeles. A public event I remember vividly was a balloon ascension and a parachute jump; The L.A. county museum had full-sized airplanes on display with written material about them. One was the Douglas around-the-world Cruiser.
I began to read everything I could get my hands on about anything that flew. The hottest model planes of that day were the S.E. 5a, a British fighter of WW-I vintage, and the Fokker D-VII, its German counterpart. There were 5-cent and 10-cent model kits on the market. Both were stick-and-tissue biplanes, and if built carefully, would fly reasonably well. I built both. I even made solid models of them. But along with the building, I was reading constantly about flying and flight.
What Turned My Friends on to Reading
I've been telling my story about becoming a voracious reader to several folks I know and some of them have related similar experiences they can remember.
Ron Barch, a fly-fishing buddy, told me how he became a voracious reader when he was old enough to walk to the library by himself and discovered a section in the public library that had a collection of biographies about early scouts, explorers, and pioneers during the American Westward Expansion. Ron read every book in the collection- and became a voracious reader.
Rich Johnson, a close personal friend and Manager of the Denver Rockler Woodworking and Hardware store, told me he became interested in the human body, thought he might like to be a doctor, and in middle school read everything he could find about biology, anatomy, physiology, and medicine. His older brother, high-school age, even plagiarized a paper he (Rich) had written about medicine and got an "A" on the paper! (Not that I approve of plagiarism; the point is that Rich had learned a lot by just reading about his field of interest.) Rich was nicknamed "Doc" by that older brother.
Use Their Interests
The stories that Ron and Rich told me happened when they were at elementary or middle school age. Wouldn't it be great if some youngsters at elementary-school level could become voracious readers?
I think so. That's why I designed a model airplane for fourth-grade classrooms. Let me tell you about it, and how you can adapt this idea to homeschooling.
For about six or seven years, I have been teaching classes in kites and model airplanes at the Expo Center for the Aurora Parks and Recreation Department here in Colorado. In these classes we can't use toxic or noxious glues, so I've developed a special child-safe glue for those classes. We can't use sharp blades or pins either, so I pre-cut balsa sticks to approximate length and the builders sand them to size with an emery board. I've been on-hand as an instructor in class during the building process, so I could show and tell how to do each step.
Now, for you homeschoolers. I'm thinking that if a youngster had complete written instructions, he could build a model plane and experience the value of reading and at the same time, the joy of seeing something he constructed fly.
It doesn't matter if the youngster's interests run more to another activity, such as baking, raising prize rabbits, or Boy Scouts. The point is to interest him in an activity that has written instructions and can be performed safely with minimal adult supervision. Then give him the instructions (recipe book, rabbit-raising booklet, Boy Scout manual), and let him puzzle out the words as best he can. Once a real interest takes hold, feed it with books and magazines.
Today's kids may feel more inclined to watch DVDs and TV than to read books for entertainment. Sidestep that trap by getting them started on reading for information, as early as possible. Then someday they may be the ones writing the magazine columns we all read!