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. ) 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!)