Angela Martin Walker: Help children fall in love with reading

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 3:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 3:56 p.m.

During Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!, the Department of Education (DOE) highlighted the importance of literacy throughout the Sunshine State. On the heels of such an important message, it is empowering and important for parents to be reminded that they have the ability to help a new generation fall in love with reading, increase literacy rates and encourage life-long reading habits.

While measurements such as the DOE’s numerical ranking of public and charter schools released this week help gauge schools’ progress, we must help children experience joy in reading rather than seeing it as a hurdle to pass on standardized tests. Too many students miss out on making reading a pleasure, and it is no wonder; the overwhelming demands on today’s teachers allow little or no time for reading books aloud for the sake of fun.

Reading experts tell us that when children enjoy reading, they are more likely to do more of it, leading to improvement. Once reading skills are mastered, children enjoy the activity that much more. Most importantly, children who fall in love with books eventually grow up to be adults who continue their love affair with reading, enhancing their quality of life. The reduced time available to read for pleasure during school hours these days makes it more important than ever that parents read to children at home.

Parents can start by having reading material of high-interest to children available in the home; make it a fun family activity by taking children to the library and letting them choose books that appeal to them. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 20 minutes of daily reading beyond their regular reading program significantly increases student reading achievement. Parents can make it a routine, eliminating distractions and focusing on enjoying the shared experience. Children also learn a lot from observing adults who model what effective readers do. I encourage parents to take turns reading with kids; adults in turn gain opportunities to provide coaching and encouragement when listening to their children read aloud. In addition, talking before, during and after reading sessions helps children make meaningful connections with the words authors write.

It is Children’s Week at the Florida Capitol, and exhibits, activities and children’s artwork can be seen throughout the halls of our state’s government headquarters. In the homes of families throughout Florida, every week is Children’s Week, and I encourage parents to follow these simple tips to give this generation more opportunities to read for pleasure instead of just school requirements.

Dr. Angela Martin Walker is director of creative development for Workshops-in-a-Box, LLC. She has been an educator for more than 20 years and has developed educational workshops for the Florida Department of Education, including Families Building Better Readers.

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