I Love Books!

From the time I met my first book, I was in love. The weight of them, the smell of the crisp pages, and the look of them all drew me in. There is nothing that can compare to a beautifully illustrated picture book. I respected books, aside from the slight run-in we had when I was four, and my mom found a book with scribbling on the pages. She gave me a stern talking to, letting me know that we never write in books when we respect them. I would argue that I did respect books, even then. I had so much respect that I wanted to add to it. What my mother saw as scribble was really literary brilliance, a sort of Sitovo-alphabetic critique.

In many ways, I think parents can sometimes underestimate the importance of reading books. Of course, many parents read to their kids at bedtime, but that's not the only thing. Children also benefit greatly from seeing their parents enjoy books. Conveying how much you love the books you read to them as a means of lulling them to sleep is great. However, it's also essential for them to see you enjoy books of your own. It could be Stephen King, James Patterson, Toni Morrison, or Hallmark. Maybe you're into graphic novels. What you read is less important than the fact that you do. In doing so, you solve, for your children, the mystery of when they can stop reading. I'm sure there is shock and awe at what I just wrote, but, inevitably, schools will more than likely kill your child's love of reading. It's not intentional, and there are classrooms with gifted teachers who give out stars or lunchtime book club offers, and possibly whole schools that foster a love of reading. Yet, more likely, schools provide incentives for children to read, principals, offer to dunk themselves in tanks or suffer other indignities to entice their students to push through scores of books, and they do. However, incentives rarely cultivate lovers of reading. Instead, they develop dutiful students who await, longingly, the day when they no longer have to read.

When I became a teacher, one of my favorite parts of the day was introducing students to books I loved or books their peers loved. Sometimes, I found out quickly that tastes were vastly different in the same age groups from year to year. I'd love to tell you that I was a super teacher. The truth is that teaching, much like medicine, is better described as a practice. The longer we teach, the better we get. Does that mean that new teachers have nothing to offer? Of course not. In my more than 35 years of educating children, I have worked with some amazing new teachers. Many of them dreamt of teaching from their youth, and they approached it like their dream job. In all those years, I've come to appreciate how lucky students were when they were in classrooms with those teachers. A lot of teaching is trial and error if you do it right. If you're responsive to your students' needs, you'll test many approaches and theories to address their learning styles, but no matter how good you are, time will make you better.

Young or old great teachers have something in common, they love to share their passion for reading. So often, our lives are so busy that carving out time to read seems impossible. Since the pandemic, even more so. Parents found themselves as less than voluntary teacher's aides and sometimes teachers. The stress at having the added responsibility thrust upon them was palpable.

The teacher/parent dynamic has always been a partnership, and for those of us in relationships, we know that at times there's more give than take and vice versa. The pandemic strained one side of that relationship more than ever before, but maybe for the better. It can't be solely the teacher's job to instill a love of reading in our children because they only see them in school. For children's formative years, where the seed of love is planted, they will associate reading with "school" if that's the principal place they see people reading. If we are to grow book lovers, this has to be a family commitment. Grandma, grandpa, aunts, and uncles should gather with books in the ways they gather for football games and picnics. Planned reading time can even be 20 minutes after dinner with a dessert chaser. There are a lot of creative ways to build a reading community in your family. It's the best way to get your children to love books and for them not to think in terms of a terminal date for reading but an endless garden of reading materials that they'll love to read. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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