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Don’t Read These Words!

Don't Read These Words!Roy said something funny not long ago. He came up to me with a pained look on his little face and moaned, “Daddy, I can’t stop reading!” He then proceeded to explain that he can’t help but read the English words that happen to fall under his gaze as he moves about the house.

I gave a sympathetic smirk, as a good father should, but you can be sure that ever since then I’ve been secretly making his plight even worse…

A special stage of reading

The fact is, at the age of five, Roy has reached a special (if irritating at times, as he’s already discovered) stage of reading proficiency, one that every literate adult is familiar with: the inability to not read something when the words are within our field of vision. As I explain in What Is Captive Reading and How Will It Help My Bilingual Child?, this persistent tendency can be put to our crafty advantage once a child has begun to read independently. With my kids, the best example of this is the material—the short stories—that I post regularly in the bathroom (an ideal “captive reading” location). The use of these stories has had a significant impact on their exposure to reading material, with both Roy and Lulu “automatically” reading the text to themselves, over and over, until I post the next one.

Meanwhile, after Roy’s complaint, I’ve been quietly pursuing another tactic to spark even more of this “automatic reading.”

Making books more available

When Roy is lying on the floor after school, playing with his toys, I’ll wander over to the bookshelves nearby and pluck half-a-dozen picture books that I think might interest him. Then, without saying a word, I’ll set the stack of books down by his head and leave the room. When I peek back a few minutes later, I often find him reading. And once he gets going, it isn’t unusual for him to spend upwards of an hour reading book after book.

What’s happening, of course, is that the covers of the books, with their titles, are now readily available to his gaze. And once he takes in the cover, and instinctively reads the title, his interest is piqued and the impulse to continue reading now kicks in.

Although Roy will often take down books from the shelves on his own, it’s clear that I can encourage his inclination to read by being a bit more proactive. And this simply means making the books available within his field of vision to prompt that initial “automatic reading” response.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m hounding the poor kid with underhanded tricks while he’s innocently playing with his Spider-Man action figure. If he won’t “take the bait,” that’s fine. And I don’t pounce with picture books every time he’s playing there peacefully on the floor, either. But as another strategy for increasing a child’s exposure to reading material, I’m finding it pretty effective.

Leisurely weekend mornings

At the same time, it’s true that I’m having more success at this with Roy than I am with Lulu. As you may recall, Lulu isn’t the same sort of budding bookworm as her younger brother—she would much rather be leaping about than curled up with a book—but I’ve still been pleased to see that this strategy of making our library more accessible is nudging her to read more, too.

On weekend mornings, when the children can rise at a more leisurely pace, lately they’ve been waking to small piles of picture books nearby. (It must be the Book Fairy. :mrgreen: ) And, sure enough, their eyes soon drift to the books and “automatically” read the first title…and then the next 20 minutes are spent reading quietly before breakfast.

The takeaway today? To increase the amount of time your kids are reading, take advantage of that “automatic reading” response and strategically make books and other reading materials available in their environment, particularly in “captive reading” locations. (Another spot I plan to try is on the ceiling right above their beds! I bet they’ll read whatever I put up there!)

How about you? In what ways do you make books and other reading materials readily available to your children’s eyes?
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4 Responses

  1. Hi Adam,
    When did you start the captive reading technique? It is so funny of you and your little boy’s automatic reaction from your hidden agenda, which I think is a very very good tactic! There is no poor kid who reads a lot!

    1. Raira, I started using “captive reading” from the time my kids were small, around 2 or 3. They couldn’t really read then, of course, but I began by putting a whiteboard in the bathroom (see Why You Must Put a Whiteboard in the Bathroom) and writing letters and short words on it. At the same time, I put little messages in their lunches at school (see Today’s Appetizer: Daddy—How to Boost Literacy (and Love) at Lunchtime) with the same kinds of letters and words.

      That was the start, and I’ve been using captive reading, at progressively higher levels, ever since!

  2. Well, this is a brilliant idea!

    I have been reading to Anna in Greek since she was in my belly and this includes books from other langUAges (it just so happens that I also speak French and Spanish). I have recently been considering options for improving the recognition of the majority language and we have started with the Greek alphabet and I must say that she can say at least 10 letters really clearly and in a good order! So not only am I very proud of her, I am now going to be introducing little cards of items like animals or household stuff that we will be spreading all over the house and this way I hope to help my husband learn more Greek too. This is so much fun at the moment and I do hope that when the day comes when Anna refuses to speak Greek because it won’t be very cool at school, it’ll be too late because she will already know it! 😉

    If you don’t mind I will post an update on how we’re getting on with the reading soon!

    1. Anna’s mummy, I’m glad this idea is useful to you! It sounds like you’re making strong, playful efforts with Anna, and I expect you’ll succeed well at your goal of making it “too late” for her to refuse speaking the minority language because you’ll have already nurtured that active ability within her.

      This sort of “strategy” is exactly what I discuss in What Frustrates Me About Raising Bilingual Children. If you haven’t already seen this post, and the idea of “preventive medicine,” please take a peek!

      All the best with Anna’s growing literacy! Yes, keep it fun!

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the widely-read book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for over 20 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 16 and 13. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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