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Education Matters: Are children allowed to read for pleasure anymore?

By By Amy Barnhill
May 10, 2014 at 12:10 a.m.


In this era of high-stakes testing, it seems we have lost sight of the incredible benefits of reading for pleasure. Almost everything kids read in school is aimed at preparing them for a test.

If children are not interested in the reading, what are they learning? Think back to when you were a student. When you had to read something you did not enjoy, how much learning actually took place?

Students are learning to jump through hoops to get a good grade on a test. While that might be a worthwhile endeavor for some, the purpose for educating is to develop a love of learning. If a student loves to learn, he or she will do it for the rest of his or her life. And if he or she loves to read, he or she will do so for years to come.

How do we develop this love of learning and reading? Learn about topics that interest students and read books that they want to read. This does not mean chaos. It means teachers are listening to their students and then building their curriculum around students' needs and desires. Here is where reading for pleasure comes into the picture.

The first step to doing this is giving children access to lots of books. Make frequent trips to the library with your child. If you are a teacher, develop a good classroom library that has books of all topics and reading levels. Parents can give teachers books to add to their classroom libraries.

The second step is to allow children to pick their own books. It's OK if the book isn't exactly on the child's reading level. Sometimes, it's fun to read a book that is too easy. Children learn how to relax with a book. And sometimes, it is fun to read a book that is too hard, especially if the child is interested in the topic.

Third, provide time for kids to read these books. At home, model reading for pleasure and taking time to read. Or read before bed while at the pool or on vacation. Invite your child to read with you. You could read a book together or read side by side. Talk about the books you read.

Yes, talk about adult-level chapter books, magazines you pick up or websites you just browsed. Your child will see the many purposes of reading. Tell your child why you picked that book, magazine or website. Share interesting parts of the book or articles. Even talk about books you didn't like because we don't like all books all the time. Let your child see and hear how reading is fun and how you learn from your own reading.

At school, request that their teachers provide time for sustained silent reading. Let the children pick their own books to read. While the students are reading, encourage the teacher to read as well. This sends a powerful message to the students - books are important, and reading is fun.

Many times, it isn't what we say that kids emulate but what we do. This summer, read for pleasure. Go to the library, garage sales or budget bookstores. Give your child lots of books to choose for reading. Then, read for fun.

Amy Barnhill is an associate professor of literacy studies at the University of Houston-Victoria as well as the coordinator of the Teacher Education Program. Steve Trowbridge is a faculty member in the UHV School of Education and Human Development.

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