According to Mem Fox in Reading Magic, kids need to hear 1000 books before they’re ready to begin learning to read. I have no idea where she got this figure, but I like a good round number, so I’m going with it. My son, the one who struggles to read, also likes a good round number, and so we’ve set 1000 books as our reading goal for this summer.
That averages out to a little over 10 books per day. I am defining a book as a picture book (32 pages), so chapter books will count for more than one book. I think picture books will help him learn more about reading by himself, but we also want to read chapter books. He’d like to read the last couple of Captain Underpants books and catch up on the Big Nate series (SIGH) and Katie Kazoo books he hasn’t read yet, and I’d like to try Ivy & Bean and Marty Maguire and introduce my kids to Clementine and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Since the most important aspect of our un-reading program is to be stress-free, I can’t let the 10-book-a-day goal turn reading into something stressful. I am trying to fit extra reading in where I can naturally. We already have a routine of evening story time, so we’re stretching that out a bit. No complaints there, since he likes to put off going upstairs to bed as long as he possibly can. I am reading books over breakfast and lunch and during snacktime as well—times when he’s already captive without anything else to draw his attention. No outside play time or video game time has to be skipped in favor of books—unless he specifically asks. And every couple of days, he has been specifically asking for me to read to him while he draws or relaxes for a few minutes in between other activities. I am happy to oblige.
Mem Fox suggests that parents read 1 favorite, 1 familiar, and 1 new book to their children each day. My son has been all about the new. He has some favorite authors and even favorite books, but that doesn’t mean he wants to revisit an already-read story. But I am trying to read something to him every day that he’s already read before. This is going to be a challenge for him, because my son doesn’t believe in seeing movies twice or reading books twice. Once he knows what’s going to happen, he thinks the pleasure is over. Given his background (years spent focused exclusively on survival), this is understandable. A survival mindset doesn’t really lend itself to doing the same activity twice just for fun. But rereading is a huge source of reading pleasure—and, Fox suggests, a prerequisite for reading readiness.
When I think back to my own reading history, this makes sense. My mother read and reread the same favorites to me again and again. Hearing the books repeatedly helped me memorize them, I think, and then I was able to “read” them on my own. There were parts I could begin to pick out for myself even before I was really reading. I also had the structure and language of those favorite books deeply ingrained.
Which supports another point made by Fox—quality books only. Kids need lots of exposure to terrific books to build language skills and imagination. There is no point in reading bad books. I had been trying to check out a lot of beginning readers from the library, books my son ought to be able to read for himself, in the hopes that he would recognize some words, maybe join in the reading aloud or be motivated to pick up the books and look at them on his own. But the use of language in these books is usually poor, the plots pointless, and the characters undeveloped.
Fox also talks about the importance of reading fairy tales, poetry, and other books that rhyme and repeat. I confess that I hate children’s books that rhyme and tend to avoid them. I also avoid repetitive stories (cumulative stories, for instance) because they bore me. So my kids have heard very few rhyming or cumulative stories read aloud.
But now I’m all about the rhyme and repetition. And it’s interesting to see quick results from that. My son has never seemed to notice rhyming, repetition, or any kind of language patterns in books before, but he has begun pointing out rhyming stories or noting, “They keep saying that on every page.” Great! He’s building his knowledge of how story language works.
Finally, Fox talks about reading aloud expressively, dramatically. I’ve always been rather proud of my reading-aloud voice, but I am really trying to exaggerate it this summer. I am trying to make each book I read aloud sound like the most exciting story that has ever been written. I’m trying out many of the techniques Fox describes in her book and definitely noticing that the more expressive I am (even if I sound ridiculous to my own ears), the more engaged my son is in listening to the story.
What will the results of our 1000-book summer be? I think we both secretly hope for some sort of magic. I will read 1000 books aloud to him, and voila! On the last day of summer, he will pick up a book and read it on his own. Without making stress face. With joy in his heart and fluency on his tongue. I will be able to confidently march to the school and refuse services because it’s-a-miracle!-He-can-read!
Maybe something like that will happen. I know that would make him happy—if reading could suddenly somehow be easy and natural and automatic for him.
But I will be happy if we can have a summer of wonderful reading without the need for a single stress face.