Getting kids to read.

I know too many people who let their children decide what they are going to read or if they are going to read. This is the same as letting them decide what they are going to eat. No child is going to make good choices. They are going to go for the comic books and the candy. That is why you are their parent. You are there to direct and guide them.

Just like a potter with a lump of clay, the potter shapes it and molds it until it is tall enough and strong enough that it will be useful. It has to be shaped in such a way that it can endure the heat of the kiln and the wear and tear of use.

Children have to be shaped so that they can be strong too. They need to be shaped so that that are good people and helpful and kind. They need to be shaped so that they can survive out in the world and not crack.

So in the same way that you wouldn’t let a child pick out all of his food when he is only going to go for cake and chips, you can’t let him pick out his books when he is only picking out what is essentially junk food for the mind.

Now we all need a little junk food reading every now and then. It is important to let kids have some control over what they select. They need to learn that reading is a pleasure and not a punishment. They need to feel that it is fun and not work. But a solid diet of junk food results in a sick body. A solid diet of junk food reading results in a sick mind.

If you let children have total control that is the same as the potter letting the clay have control. They will be an unformed lump at best. They will be spread all over the place at worst.

Don’t know what to recommend to your child? Go to your local library and ask a librarian. They are there to help. You don’t have to do this on your own, but you do have to do this. The mind you save will be your child’s. The world you will save will be your own.

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Kindergarten 1-29-14

Today I was working on J’s superpowers. But first I had to get him to work.

I skipped last week. We were behind at the library. Too many bins to check in and not enough people. It is a privilege to get to tutor. The only way I get to keep this privilege is to make sure things are covered at work.

Work was the last thing on the minds of V and J today. I asked V if she wanted to work and she said no. That is fine with me. I’m extra. I’m not ever going to insist on them working with me. It is all optional. If one doesn’t want to work, then that leaves more time for another who does. That’s simple enough.

However, I am going to insist that if they are with me, they are going to work. I had to spell that out to J today. We did fine for a little while, but then he started to get wild. I can adapt a little. Adapting is part of tutoring kids at different levels. But at some point there isn’t a way to make whatever the child has decided to do with the assignment into actually learning. At some point it is more noise than signal. At some point I have to redirect.

Sometimes I have to redirect at several points.

J was drawing “fireballs” before we went to the tutoring area today. I asked him about them and found out that the fireballs are not from a dragon, they are from him. He is a very active child. Active is a nice way of saying violent. This child throws, pushes and hits everything. Half the time I’m with him I’m trying to get him to calm down long enough to work on the lesson. Five year olds have a lot of energy but he has more than most. I worry about him.

He told me today that reading isn’t fun. I told him that is just because he doesn’t know how to do it yet. I told him that reading is an awesome superpower, trying to tie into the fireballs he was working on earlier. I’m trying to get him to see reading as a real superpower, one that is even better than throwing imaginary fireballs. I pulled out the instruction sheet I got from the teacher today and pointed out that because of reading I know what the teacher wants me to work on today. I pointed out it is like having a super secret spy language.

He isn’t buying it, but I’ll try again. I feel this might work.

Kindergarten 11-13-13. Baby steps and baby birds.

I’m behind on my tutoring stories. Turns out if I don’t write about it that day, I don’t really make time to write about it because there are other things going on.

Last week I had the same three children. I took them in a different order than on the list and I need to remember to not do that again. I need to take V first and J last. If J had his way he’d monopolize my time and I wouldn’t get to the other two.

I’m only there for an hour. It is all the time I’m allowed. There is a great cut off at the end of my time. They all line up for recess. This is useful because it isn’t as if I’m just leaving, or cutting them off. They are going outside and that is important to them.

It makes me think that we adults need to have recess scheduled into our workdays.

J still uses the alphabet list as a crutch. It is like he uses it as a cheat sheet. If the alphabet is in front of him and I ask him where the N is for example, he starts at the beginning and goes all the way through to the end, missing the requested letter every time. This time he was at least aware that he missed it. This is becoming very frustrating for me. There is no way he can get any further if he does not learn his letters soon. Having to start at the beginning every time is going to take forever. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it worked, but it doesn’t.

I decided to try something different. I have letter flash cards to use, and randomly pulled out a card. I asked him to name a letter. He nailed it. I tried another one. Again, success. So in the context of all the letters in order, he is lost. Perhaps it is overwhelming. Perhaps it is too much choice.

It is kind of like teaching colors to a child who is colorblind but doesn’t know it. He can’t tell me what is wrong because he doesn’t have a sense of what is right.

We played the Dora alphabet game and he also could find the letters when they were randomly in the box, but could not tell me what letter he had landed on the board. It was a little tricky to even get him to play the game because he decided it is girl’s game. It may be, but it is a great game to teach the alphabet, colors, numbers, and how to play a game, and these are all things he needs desperately.

At some point he mentioned that he had a bath last night but not today. Five year olds are masters of random statements. I thought about it. His hair is always a little wild. I thought it was just his style, but then realized that five year olds don’t have style. Things are done to them and for them, and I’m getting the impression that he’s not getting enough care at home, like he is an afterthought.

I worked with S and he was a delight at usual. He is very easy going and is doing well on his letters. I don’t think he needs my help, but the teacher keeps putting him on my list. She seems to have really concentrated my job this year. In the past I would work with a random assortment of up to eight different kids. This year I’m getting the same three.

Then I worked with V. Life is hard for her at home. We didn’t work on much for school. What I worked on was building up her spirit. She is so sad and reserved these days. Her work, which was already behind the average, has gotten worse. So I played the Dora game with her and exclaimed about how much I look forward to playing this game with her, and that I really appreciate that she plays it with me. I mean every bit of it. I am desperate for her to stay in school, because school is the only way out of a terrible home life.

Being able to read makes the difference between depression and delight. It makes the difference between poverty and prosperity. It turns ignorance into intelligence.

Reading is the way out.

If I can encourage her to stay in school and learn how to read, she has a chance. But she has to do the work. That’s always the way. I remember my reaction with my first group of students from three years ago. One just was having the hardest time with everything, and he just didn’t seem to care. A blasé kindergartner isn’t the greatest. It is pretty sad, even. But it wasn’t up to me. I brought my energy and my enthusiasm and my skills, and he had to do the rest. If he wanted to just drift through, barely making it, that was his choice.

It is like they are all baby birds. I want them all to fly high, but there will always be some that never have the confidence or strength to leave the nest on their own.

Get thee to a library…

There is something interesting that I’ve noticed. Guys rarely come to the library.

I’ve notice that guys who come into the library before they retire mostly read only nonfiction. They will get books on how to improve their golf game or their business or their finances. If they read fiction at all it is science fiction.

Guys who are retired will get different things. They will take the time to get fiction. They will read Tom Clancy or other books with a lot of action. Or they will read westerns. Or mysteries. They are very predictable.

I never thought about how segregated books are until I saw an older man reading a Nora Roberts book. I thought it was odd, but then I thought good for him. At least he is reading what he wants to read instead of what society expects him to read.

Older women tend to read books in pastel covers. There is a couple on the cover and they are fully clothed, neck to ankles. The story is the same over and over. It is predicable, and the guy always gets the girl, but any action is just hinted at.

I read science fiction because I like to be surprised. The space ship and the aliens are just an excuse for really imaginative writing. I don’t want to read the same story over and over. I know it already. I want something new.

Girls who read science fiction are rare in our society. Black girls who read science fiction are really rare. Black girls who read science fiction are my kind of people. They are really not interested in the roles that society tries to give them. They think for themselves. They are different and aren’t afraid of being different. They often don’t relax their hair because that too is a social construct. They like being themselves, as they are.

Is it that certain types of people read certain books because they honestly like these books or because they don’t know what else to read? Or is it because they are afraid to step outside the lines? Are they afraid to do what they want to do, which may mean violating society’s expectations of them?

Reading can be an act of rebellion.

I think there is a lot of power in reading. I think that if you can read, and you like to read, that you can go anywhere and do anything. I think that encouraging children to read by taking them to the library is essential. Sure, let them get fun books so they equate reading with enjoyment. But also have them get educational books. They need to see books as a source for learning. They need to fill up on real nutrition rather than junk food. Let them read comic books, sure, but not a steady diet of it.

Children need to see their parents read too. Don’t just get books for them – get books for yourself. They have to see you reading to learn that reading is something that is part of being an adult. It isn’t just something you do for a class. It isn’t a chore. Reading is for fun, and it is for life.

I want kids to look forward to reading, and not think that they “have to” read this book, but that they “get to” read this book. There is a huge difference.

Change the world for the better. Go to the library. Get some books. Read. Repeat.

The mind you save will be your own.