Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why your kid won't get a perfect SAT verbal score, you lazy bum

I took a little break from blogging so I could do what I actually like to do - READ. Reading is fun, easy, and interesting. Writing is hard. But I love to share what I've read, and I hate getting halfway through a book before realizing that I've already read it, so I'm back to the blog.
But what's this about SAT scores, you wonder? My kids are years and years away from college worries, but I am already getting a little anxious about their academic progress, or lack thereof. I noticed a book at the library which claimed to explain how to make every child an avid reader, and who doesn't want their kid to be an avid reader? Or at least who in the self-selected group of people who scan the new books section at the library?
"The Read-Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease starts with the story of Christopher, who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT, one of only 58 students out of 400,000 to do so. He did not take any prep courses - but his parents read to him for 30 minutes a day, year after year, even after he was able to read for himself. The book is full of anecdotes about parents who read to their children and end up with valedictorians and scholarship winners and Pulitzer-prize winners. (No mention is made of whether Ted Kaczynski or John Hinkley Jr. were read to by their parents.) According to this book, children are home for many more hours than they are in school, so it is up to the parents to prepare their kids for reading, enforce reading at home if necessary, and to read to their children to encourage a love of reading.
How is this going to help me? My kids have a house full of books and other reading material (we get three newspapers a day, for Pete's sake) and heaven knows my husband and I model lots of reading behavior. I read to my kids every day, although I admit I didn't start until each was about a year old, instead of starting in the womb as the book recommends. So how did I end up with a daughter who hates to read? Did I just not read enough? Erin's mom read her seven books after breakfast and nine after lunch - now Erin is brilliant! It must be because Erin's mother cares enough to do everything right, unlike the pathetic mom that my poor daughter is stuck with. Three papers a day, and all I'm reading to her is the "Garfield" cartoon and one lousy chapter at bedtime.
It sounds like I hated this book, but once I got past the really, really annoying anecdotes, there were actually some useful ideas.
I will try to read to my kids for a longer time each day. In choosing books, I'll keep in mind that kids can understand material at a higher level than they could read for themselves. And I want to require my daughter to do some reading of her own every day. I tend not to make her read because she dislikes it. My excuse is that I'm already making her practice piano and spelling, so why make her even more miserable? But this book reminds me that improving her reading skills through practice is the best way to help her enjoy reading in the long run. And if we can improve her reading, maybe the rest of her academic work will become easier and more enjoyable.
Now I'm not sure I'll follow all of the advice in this book, for example to keep reading to your kids through middle school and high school. There is a wonderful photo of the author sitting at the kitchen table, reading aloud to his then seventh-grade son while his son washes the dishes. Oddly, the teenager doesn't look like he wants to kill his dad. I'll let you know in 6-9 years if my kids are still letting me read to them in seventh grade! Of course, if they still aren't reading themselves I guess I will have no choice...

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