Alexandria Column: What To Do To Create Lifelong Readers

Alexandria Column: What To Do To Create Lifelong Readers

Commentary–Reading Connection

March is National Reading Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to review what we can do to best assure that our kids will become lifelong readers. We know kids need these four things to become strong readers:

  • access to books at home and school,

  • opportunities to own books,

  • opportunities to be read to from an early age and to associate books with fun and

  • caring adults who read to them and make reading a part of the family routine.

We want all kids to have access to these conditions, to acquire the reading skills essential to succeeding in school and meeting life’s challenges. Even parents in the most comfortable circumstances are often distracted by screens and phones; for other families, time, resources and language can be limiting factors. Right here in Alexandria, 60 percent of children in public school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches — an indicator of childhood poverty. (Kids Count; Alexandria Public Schools, School Nutrition Services)

Here are some ways to ensure we support reading for all kids.

  • Provide access to books at home, school and after-school and childcare settings. Visit the library, ask for books for birthday presents, comb yard sales and second hand stores for books. Have a book swap with friends and family members. Visit your child’s school library or classroom and borrow books that interest your child. Kids need access to books in all the places they spend time, but low-income children often live in “book deserts,” with only one book per 300 children. (Neuman & Celano, 2001). One of The Reading Connection’s (TRC) primary goals is to provide new, free books to at-risk kids.

  • While borrowing library books is important, owning books provides a different experience for children. Owning books means that they never have to be returned and can be read again and again. But books are expensive and kids outgrow them and wear them out. Children whose families have no children’s books miss out on crucial literacy-building opportunities. Last year, The Reading Connection provided more than 13,000 free, new, high-interest books to at-risk kids in metro Washington.

  • One of the best ways parents can bond with babies, even before they are born, is to read to them. If you can set aside just 15 minutes each day to read with your child, your child will not only gain vocabulary and knowledge, she will gain the memory of a positive experience with books and her parents. Parents who are in housing crisis or at-risk in other ways may not have the time to read with their kids. The Reading Connection’s Read-Aloud program in Alexandria at Carpenter’s Shelter, Alive! House and The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority provides volunteers who read aloud weekly with at-risk kids. TRC’s Reading Families Play Groups teach parents how to share books with their children through the Center for Alexandria’s Children and Healthy Families Alexandria.

  • One of the ways we can show our kids we value reading is by embedding reading throughout the family’s daily routines. This can be challenging with busy schedules and screens and phones competing for attention, especially for single parents or parents working more than one job. Let your child see you reading for fun and a purpose — reading the sports page, checking the paper for sales, reading signs or cooking. Add reading a book to your bedtime or morning ritual. That one book a day will build vocabulary, comprehension and special time with your child. The Reading Connection’s Book Club and Reading Families Workshops and Play Groups help families make reading part of their routine by providing books for them keep and showing parents how to include reading in other daily tasks. Last year, 96 percent of parents reported that the Book Club has helped them make reading a part of their family’s daily routine.

These strategies can help every kid become a lifelong reader. Celebrate National Reading Awareness Month by giving them a try.