Switch Kids On to Reading and Writing
by Brian Rock
Step out of routines
Make special times to read. Don’t save reading time for just before bedtime, or it can become another rote exercise like brushing teeth and washing up. Have a reading night where you turn off the TV and let everyone pick a favorite book to read for an hour or so. For younger readers, create special snuggle-read time on weekends or after school. Remember to take time after reading to discuss the book your child has read (or listened to someone else read.) Let them voice their opinions about what they liked best in a story. Even if they focus on illustrations, let them know that you value their insights about books. This discussion time is especially important because it lets even pre-readers feel like they’re part of the reading process.
Lights, camera, read!
Don’t just read a book, act it out. Without donning makeup and costume, you can bring characters to life with a little inflection. Is the character sad? Use your saddest, poutiest tone to convey that emotion. Is the character happy? Unless you’re in a library, let your child feel the character’s joy through your own exuberance and RAISED VOICE. Is there more than one main character? Use different voices for each character. Is your child already starting to read? Let them read the text for one character and you read the text for the other. Some great books for together reading are The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, Green Eggs and Ham, and You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You.
Make trips to the library or bookstore special occasions instead of errands. Let your kids see other children enjoying books. Let them linger, browse and choose their own books. It’s a special feeling when one book out of hundreds on the shelf “speaks to you.” Kids have so little autonomy in their lives, let them enjoy this one freedom of choosing their own book and it will make reading that much more special for them.
It’s hard enough to memorize historical dates and multiplication tables, but at least once you memorize them they don’t change. Creative writing is never the same twice, and for some kids that really takes them out of their comfort zone. So even before writing comes up in school, you can help develop your child’s creative skills with some pre-writing exercises. Start by telling them stories, let them see that it’s OK to make up something on your own. If you don’t feel comfortable in your own storytelling skills, borrow from the classics. Make a fractured fairy tale about Goldilocks and the three skunks or Snow White and the seven leprechauns. Just change one or two things from a story you know well to create your own story--some storytellers even get paid for doing this! Let your kids suggest some of the changes and they’ll be engaged and excited about the creative process that will one day become writing.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? A learning opportunity disguised as play. Who? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana? Huh? No matter how silly the joke, encourage kids to play with words. Tell knock knock jokes. Make up rhyming games (I saw a cat and he sat on a ____). Use puns and make sure your kids understand them. Get your kids used to the idea of playing with words. Then when they are given their first writing assignments, they’ll already have experience with the creative process.
When your kids finally begin to put pencil to paper, don’t worry about spelling mistakes or sentence fragments or even if the stories don’t make sense. For younger writers, encourage their efforts and let them enjoy the fun of the creative process. Take time to find something you like in everything they write. Compliment them on a specific character or event in their story and they’ll see that you care. They’ll get the joy that all writers feel when they connect with an audience. Then they’ll enjoy the process and want to write more. And as they write more, their writing skills will continue to improve naturally.
BIO: Brian Rock is a children’s author and former school teacher who lives in Chesterfield, VA with his wife, daughter and of course, his many imaginary friends.
He has enjoyed writing stories since he was old enough to hold a no. 2 pencil. Although he was once put out of class for writing too many stories, he went on to receive a master’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Along the way, Brian has performed as a stand-up comic, worked as a “McCountant,” and written award winning country songs. He also contributes to the Richmond Children's Writers blog.
His first children’s stories were published in the Roanoke based children’s newspaper, Kid’s World. His poems have been published in Highlights for Children and Poetry Train. He currently has four published picture books: DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD!, PIGGIES, WITH ALL MY HEART, and THE DEDUCTIVE DETECTIVE.