Lately I’ve been on a crusade to convince parents of the old librarian adage: reading is reading. This task is harder than it sounds.
Information era parenting is hard
Parents are sent so many messages constantly about how to raise their children–do this, don’t do that, let them do certain things (or don’t let them, at all costs!). Many of the messages they receive are conflicting, which can be confusing, at best. Other messages are vague and can leave parents to draw their own conclusions, whether those conclusions are backed by research or not. In the information era, as librarians well know, the battle has become helping people navigate an environment of too much information instead of too little. We all need help sometimes sifting through everything that’s out there, and every parent is just doing the best they can with the information they’ve been given.
We see this a lot when it comes to leveled reading programs for younger students. These programs can be a powerful tool for teachers to measure the progress in their students’ reading skills and reading comprehension. But when parents are given progress reports that list their children’s current reading levels, they may become anxious that their children are not making enough progress, or they may think that their children must read books that are at their current level. Sometimes they begin to think that their child should be reading books at a higher level, and other times they don’t want their child to attempt a book “too advanced” for them. Captain Underpants is too juvenile; Rainbow Magic books are all the same (trust me, I know). All of these motivations come from a place of love, of wanting to provide their child with the structure and support they need to grow in their abilities as readers. There is an opportunity here for us as librarians, experts in all things books and reading, to help parents understand what research-based methods are out there that can help their children along this journey.
Bringing the message to them–meet them where they are
As a part of my community engagement work, I try to regularly visit PTO meetings for each of the 8 buildings in our local school district. If I can make it to each PTO group once a school year, I call it a win. Partly, my goal is to hear about the projects that parents in our community are working on and what concerns they may have about their children. My other goal is to introduce myself to parents and get to know them, so they know the library is available to support them in the work they do to raise their families. This school year, I’ve also started using my time at these meetings to spread the good word about intrinsic reading motivation, in hopes it will add some important tools to their parenting toolbox.
The research into reading all agrees that when kids read from intrinsic motivation, a knowledge that reading is a fun and enjoyable activity in its own right, as opposed to extrinsic–reading for prizes, or reading to avoid punishment–their outcomes are better across the board. They are more excited to read, their comprehension deepens, and they develop their reading skills more readily. Likewise, if children perceive themselves as strong readers or if they have books that they are excited to read, they are more likely to have stronger intrinsic motivation to read and continue developing those skills.
Practical ideas can make the greatest impact
Another strong indicator for high intrinsic reading motivation is that the child has a supportive family reading environment at home. This is the part of my talk with parents that I like to open up for discussion, so folks have the opportunity to share some ways they’re already supporting their kids’ love of reading. It’s a wonderful opportunity to validate parents in the knowledge that they’re already doing some things right, and it also allows them to share ideas with one another and connect to each other in the shared goal of supporting their kids. If they’re stumped, here’s some ideas I share with them to get the conversation moving:
- Let your kids see you reading: children are always looking to their parents for examples of what a successful adult looks like. Any opportunity for parents to show their kids that they think reading is a valuable use of time will make a difference.
- Let your kids pick their own pleasure reading books: they’ll be more excited to read and more likely to read more often! I know, Captain Underpants for the 500th time is exhausting. But it’s such a gift when they have a book they actually want to read.
- Talk about books with your child. Did they like it? What was it about? Do you want to read it too so you can discuss it together?
- Read with your child. No one is too old to be read to–even if they’re reading on their own, taking the time to read together builds a special bond and fondness for the shared time and activity.
There’s so many other great ways to build a supportive family reading environment at home; these are just some ideas to get you and your community talking and thinking together.
Any good librarian cites her sources. To learn more about intrinsic reading motivation, check out the articles below. If you’re interested in my much more detailed notes and references on the topic, contact us!
Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 109-132.
Froiland, J. M., Peterson, A., & Davison, M. L. (2013). The long-term effects of early parent involvement and parent expectation in the USA. School Psychology International, 34(1), 33-50.
Katzir, T., Lesaux, N. K., & Kim, Y. S. (2009). The role of reading self-concept and home literacy practices in fourth grade reading comprehension. Reading and Writing, 22(3), 261-276.
Schaffner, E., Schiefele, U., & Ulferts, H. (2013). Reading amount as a mediator of the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(4), 369-385.