My husband always tells me that I need a hobby. (At least he used to tell me this before I started working full-time again!) He is a hunter and a fisherman – both “real” hobbies according to him. I always told him my hobby is reading—yet because my hobby doesn’t involve doing anything physical or producing something visual, he has never considered it an authentic “hobby." I, on the other hand, (especially as an educator), believe that reading is not only a worthwhile hobby, but one that I wish more people partook in. I am currently teaching the course “Emerging Literacy" through the Rasmussen College School of Education degree-seeking students and one of its fairly lofty objectives is to “promote a love of reading and develop an appreciation of all literature among children.” While I am passionate about reading, I am somewhat daunted by the prospect of conveying that objective to my students: Teaching my students how to encourage children to love reading and literature.
First, I need to impart the important role books and literature play in a child’s development. According to Growing Up With Literature, by Walter E. Sawyer (2009), reading is defined as, “the acquisition of meaning from a written text.” With the focus on meaning, Sawyer (2009) believes that children “begin the process of learning to read from the moment of birth. They are engaged in learning to read when they first begin to listen for the voice of a parent, the rhythm of a story, or the soothing sounds of a lullaby.” (Sawyer, 2009) In other words, even very young children can derive meaning from the words they hear and eventually, they will be able to derive meaning from the words they see.
Introducing children to literature long before they can read it solo helps them develop crucial literacy skills which they will build on to become tomorrow’s readers. Sawyer (2009) goes on to say that, “language, reading, and writing are not subjects to be studied, but rather tools for thinking about and making sense of the environment and of life.” Therefore, we must view literacy as a necessary life skill, not simply because knowing how to read is essential for schooling and career advancement, but because it can help us actually understand the world around us.
I have been in the field of early childhood education for more than 15 years now, and I have shared my love of reading with every young child I have encountered, including my own children. I remember reading to my daughter when she was an infant, and taking her clenched baby fists and uncurling them so she could feel all of the different textures on a touch-and-feel book. As she grew, I read to her every day and let her see me read for pleasure, and provided her with every opportunity to build literacy skills so that one day she would love reading as much as me.
To my disappointment, I found out she enjoyed anything but reading--including singing, creating, playacting, and enjoying the outdoors. Though I was saddened that she lacked the “bookworm gene”, I soon thereafter had an epiphany of sorts. As we were reading bedtime stories, I realized that even though she doesn’t love to read, she does appreciate books and literature and the role they play in bringing meaning to life. While she may not sit down and devour a novel, she still loves to hear books read to her. Plus,she will occasionally read simple books to her brother. She uses books to look up information to incorporate into her plays. Even though she hasn’t yet developed a love of reading books on her own (I am still hoping this will happen), she respects my “hobby” and loves reading in her own way– if we consider reading as “the acquisition of meaning from a written text” (Sawyer, 2009).
I plan to share this realization with my Rasmussen College- School of Education students so that we can do our best to promote love and appreciation for reading. Early childhood educators not only should learn how to foster emerging literacy skills, but also that when teaching young children, we first need to metaphorically “meet them” where they are cognitively. This can happen through beginning with a story and guiding children to find the meaning. Read to a child every day. Provide them with multiple ways of engaging in stories and exploring language.
Also, understand that each child has different interest. Children will grow-up to have lots of different hobbies. Perhaps they will engage in activities my husband deems worthwhile, or maybe they will embrace the love for reading.
Sawyer, Walter E. (2009). Growing Up With Literature. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar, Cengage Learning