My View: Building a nation of readers begins at home
"Cat in the Hat"-styled kids listened during a Read Across America event on Dr. Seuss' birthday last year.
March 2nd, 2012
06:05 AM ET

My View: Building a nation of readers begins at home

Courtesy NEABy Dennis Van Roekel, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dennis Van Roekel taught high school math in Phoenix for 23 years. A longtime activist for children and public education, he is president of the National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million public school employees.

On March 2, 45 million people are expected to take part in the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day, the nationwide program that helps children discover the joy of reading.

As a teacher, I emphasized to my students the value of reading. But I am also a parent, and as a parent, one of my favorite things to do was read to my children. We’d pick out favorite books, and I’d read them over and over at their request. We opened up doors to imagination and wonder.

I’ll never forget the excitement in their eyes as we moved through story after story, adventure after adventure. At the same time, I knew they were learning new words, new sentences and new stories. And as they learned to read on their own, my children discovered new books, new worlds and new skills. Books were their gateway to learning, and my ongoing mission was to keep the excitement and the learning going.

Today the landscape of parenting and reading has changed. We’re in the age of social media and digital technology, including digital books and apps. Parenting children and teens in the current environment brings an additional challenge - holding their attention. Parents are constantly asking: “How can I nurture in my child a love of reading? How can I prepare my child for success in school?” The 2010 Scholastic Family Reading Report says parents and families continue to value reading for fun but are increasingly distracted by smartphones and social media.

Despite the challenges, educators know that it is important for parents to begin to instill a love of reading early in a child’s life. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, reading aloud to your child for 30 minutes a day has a significant impact. If you start while your child is an infant, your child will have heard 900 hours of stories by the age of 5. This critical investment of time translates into academic success later.

Gotta Watch: Dr. Seuss turns 108

Encourage your children to love books by reading aloud to them; the earlier you start the better. Even a baby a few months old can see pictures, hear your voice and turn cardboard pages. Let children and even teens see you reading. By reading newspapers, magazines, books, even digital readers, you help your children understand that reading is a gateway to exploration.

Use technology to your advantage by exploring digital books at home or at the library. Digital books often include additional resources for home and the classroom. Explore reading applications together. Dr. Seuss book apps, for example, include activities and games to enhance the reading experience. There are many more books with digital extensions that make reading magical. If you’re away from home, Skype and read with your child or make an audiotape or recording with your phone so your child can follow along.

For struggling readers, find the hook. For boys, look to www.guysread.com and for teens, check out the books on www.adlit.org. The NEA has customized book lists for students that are categorized by interest. According to Scholastic’s Family Reading Report, students are most likely to finish a book they chose themselves.

Most important of all - read. Read and share. That’s the true meaning and reason for Read Across America - sharing the love of reading, in every form, in every way on March 2 and every day.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dennis Van Roekel.

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Filed under: At Home • Practice • Reading • Resources • Voices
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. OLD GREYWOLF

    A FEW TIDBITS OF INFORMATION ON READING. SOME PEOPLE READ EVERY SOUND, SOME READ EVERY WORD, SOME SKIP ALL THE LITTLE WORDS AND THEN THERE ARE THOSE THAT READ THE FIRST SENTENCE IN A PARAGRAPH THEN THE LAST SENTENCE AND IF IT MAKES SENSE CONTINUES ON. READING. IF YOU ARE GOING TO SKIM AN ARTICLE STAND UP TO DO IT...GOES FASTER. SOME CHILFREN SHOULD NEVER BE TAUGHT PHONETICS BUT THE WHOLE WORD. THESE VISUAL CHILDREN THAT SEE THE WHOLE BEFORE THE PARTS SHOULD BE SHOWN THE BOOK AND ASKED WHAT HE/SHE THINKS IT IS ABOUT. THEN ASK WHAT KIND OF WORDS DO YOU THINK YOU YOU WOULD FIND . DO THIS ON CHAPTER BY CHAPTER AND YOU WILL BE SUPRISED AT THE AMOUNT OF KNOWLEDGE THEY ALREADY HAVE ON THE SUBJECT. IF THEY FIND A WORD THEY DO NOT KNOW SKIP IT AND CONTINUE READING TO THE END OF THE PARAGRAPH. GO BACK AND SEE IF YOU KNOW THE WORD...IF NOT GO ASK SOMEBODY TO SAY IT AND TELL YOU WHAT IT MEAN OR GO TO THE DICTIONARY. LEAVE COPIES OF THE NEW YORK TIMES OR WORLD STREET JOURNAL IN THE BATHROOM BY THE TOILET.! ALL OF THE ABOVE HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THE EDUCATION POWERS TO BE...EXCEPT IT WORKS.

    March 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  2. marivic

    reading is very good especially to the young children,,the more u read them as early of their age, they are very good reader..reading requires understanding...

    March 8, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  3. gotacomment

    Both my parents (dad quit school after 8th grade, normal for his time; mom a non-baccalaureate nursing school grad) read to me from the time I was born. Both, however, read with expression and clarity because they both were taught to read phonetically, a priceless gem they passed to me. I was four levels ahead of my class in reading when I started school. I spent six miserable years listening to other kids stumble over one-syllable words reading in a monotone with obviously no idea of the meaning of the words they were droning–victims of the iniquitous look-and-say and whole-word nonmethods. The children and grandchildren of thes badly taught unfortunates are now "reading" to thier children. I hope they're doing better than their predecessors.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  4. kate

    Like most children, my first child loved being read to, but my second child hated it. She hated to sit still and listen and would never let me read anything at all to her. She scarcely touched a book until she was around age 5 and discovered the Calvin and Hobbes books. She taught herself to read, plowed through those books, and now (age 9) reads chapter books to herself daily. Some kids are just more visual than auditory, I guess. In any case, my point is that there is no one prescription – sometimes kids have to come to it in their own way. I think it is important to make books available to children, to read to them if they request it, and to model reading as an activity by actually doing it yourself. I think a lot of people forget that last one – if your child sees you reading on a regular basis, it makes a huge impression.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  5. JOSE0311USMC

    ONE WAY TO HELP KIDS READ IS TO HAVE A CARTOON LIKE BUGS BUNNY CD TAPE TO THE T.V. I BELIEVE THAT KIDS WOULD BE MORE WELLING TO READ...DID I GIVE AWAY A TRADE MARK $$$$$$$$ ???

    March 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  6. JOSE0311USMC

    TALKING ABOUT READING... HAVE YOU SEEN THE T.V. SHOW ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5TH GRADER ??? WELL WE SHOULD USE SOMETHING LIKE TO TEACH IN THE SCHOOLS...AND AT HOME....I'M 57 YEARS OLD, I LEARN A LOT FROM WATCHING THAT SHOW....LET ME GIVE YOU ONE QUESTION THAT I LEANED BY WATCHING THE SHOW.--ONLY ONE U.S. PRESIDENT DID NOT GET MARRIED, KNOW THE ANSWER ?? 2. WHICH SOUTH AMERICAN COUNTRY EXTEND FURTHER TO THE EAST ?? I KNOW THE ANSWERS, DO YOU ??

    March 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  7. Sandiva

    I read to my kids every night and yet my oldest would rather have his teeth pulled than read a book. Well, that is until he discovered manga. He does love manga and is almost through the library's entire Naruto series. (he is 10) He has the foundation, he just got to a place where he didn't want to use it anymore. Does it break my heart? Yes. But he is creative and smart and funny so it does not make me feel like a failure.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  8. AmericanDirt

    I could not agree with this more, my wife and I have read to my 7 and 5 year old since the beginning of their young lives. And now EVERY NIGHT they pick their favorite books and read to us. By the time they started pre-school they walk into class already with a reading foundation. I believe the failure of our children starts with the failure of the (PARENT/PARENTS).

    March 4, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  9. aurelius

    Absolutely correct. True knowledge comes from reading. All the rest is entertainment.

    March 4, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  10. noblepa

    When my son was little (he's now 31), I read to him virtually every night. When he got a little older, we would talk about science. Not only did he learn to love reading, he learned to think for himself and to not blindly accept whatever ideas were presented to him; not even from me.

    On top of it all, those were among the most enjoyable times of my life. I think he feels the same way about those times.

    Teach a child that reading is FUN, not a chore, and he/she will learn for the rest of his/her life. Almost everything you will ever need to learn is written down somehwere. If your child loves to read, there is nothing he/she can not learn.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  11. joeyespinosa

    I'm currently reading "The Read Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease. A lot of the same thoughts you present here. So glad we are a family of readers!

    March 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm |