May 20, 2024
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May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Winter vacation is here! Or, at least, it’s here for those of us who are in schools who have “Yeshiva Week” break. It’s a time when we educators get to pat ourselves on the back for a first half of the year well done, then sit up and say “Wait, what?? The year is half over already?!” If your school is like mine, the conversation is all about vacation (or staycation) plans, who is doing what when, and whether you’re a cold-weather or warm-weather January vacationer.

I’ve spent years telling children that one of the things I look most forward to over vacation is having time to dive into a good book and just read. I talk about the pile of books waiting for me, and how nothing makes me happier than cozying up with a book. A comment like that elicits one of a few responses, and somehow the first is rarely “ME TOO!!” Mostly it’s something along the lines of “Why would you want to waste your vacation reading?” to which I reply, “Waste?? You call reading a wonderful book a waste??”

I love books. I was raised in a home where reading was a family activity. Trips to the public library or local bookstore were part of our regular weekly routine, and don’t get me started on the monthly Scholastic book orders. Bedtime stories, both read aloud and made up on the spot, were always my father’s domain; the sound of my father’s voice was how my sister and I fell asleep most nights when we were kids. It only ended when I started high school and some reshuffling of sleeping arrangements afforded me my own bedroom. Then there was my grandfather, my Bompa, who would whisk me away to the used book store where we would spend warm Miami evenings perusing the shelves, sharing the joy of a new book discovered together. To this day I’m not sure what I love more: the smell of a used book store or the satisfying creak of a brand-new book being cracked open for the very first time.

I suppose that is why I genuinely feel sadness when, in my conversations with children, I hear the comment “Reading—I hate reading!” When I probe and ask why, often I get “Reading is bo-ring.” You know the sound, like they’re singing out the syllables just for emphasis (or for a flair for the dramatic). My response to that comment is usually to look that child straight in the eye and quote the author James Patterson, “There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books.” Though it usually sounds more like, “Oh, that makes my heart hurt! You know what I think? I think you must be reading the wrong books!”—for I too can be a bit dramatic when the need arises.

I have had many conversations with parents, colleagues, family members and friends over the years as we debate what children mean when they say they hate to read. Some say technology is killing reading. Why should a child sit and flip pages of a book, or flick the screen of their Kindle, when playing video games or watching YouTube videos is so much more entertaining? I’ve had parents tell me that mandatory nightly reading for a prescribed amount of time followed by a reading response log is killing their children’s desire to read for pleasure. Still others have blamed the leveled reading system on the decline in reading for reading’s sake. And then there’s the issue of children who have not gotten good reading instruction, or who struggled to learn to read and therefore don’t find it a pleasurable experience.

So, what are we to do?

We can read aloud to children, or play an audiobook in the car. Never, ever underestimate the power of reading aloud—no matter what the age of the child. Some of my most avid read-aloud audiences have been middle schoolers. You know, the ones who should be able to read on their own. They can and they should, but reading to them creates so many awesome opportunities for conversation. And believe it or not, they love just listening to someone else read.

We can guide our reluctant readers in figuring out what they do like to read, then help them find those books. Spend time talking to children about their interests, their curiosities, and their talents. Those are always good places to start. Model for children the process you use for choosing a new book. Is there an author you like? Read everything written by him or her. Prefer non-fiction? No problem. Maybe you want a magazine instead of a book. OK.

We can talk to children about the books we love and loved as a child. There was this time when I happened to pop into a sixth grade class that was being covered by a sub. They were expected to choose a book for their next book report and it was not going well. I stepped in, casually pulled a few books off the shelves, then proceeded to gush and gush over how much I loved one or another of the books in my hands. Next thing I knew, the children were clamoring for the one or two copies of the books I had suggested. My excitement just fueled their excitement.

We can model good reading habits for children. As a teacher, when I would have DEAR Time (Drop Everything and Read), we all were reading. When my students read for pleasure, I read for pleasure. It wasn’t time to grade papers, organize the bookshelves or work on next week’s lesson plans. It was time to sit and read. Period.

We can make trips to the library, the book store, or the arrival of those beloved Scholastic Book order forms a family event. Make sure children have and use their own library card. Spend time perusing the titles and reading the short summaries. Then make sure everyone walks away with a book.

In our school, we are encouraging reading for pleasure by holding a school-wide read-a-thon. We had our kick-off event this past week when we had our winter book fair (shout out to Scholastic!), followed by our very first “Cuddle Up and Read” event. The children brought the books and blankets, the school supplied the hot chocolate and some really cool mugs. It was amazing. Now, the children will be reading for pleasure and logging their pages. Not journaling, not responding, not being assessed. Just keeping track of the number of pages they read between now and the first week in March. With winter break upon us, some newly purchased books and their winter break reading logs in their bags, I am optimistic that a good number of our children just might choose to read over vacation. I hope that yours do as well.

Happy Reading!

By Stacy Katzwer

 Stacy Katzwer is the elementary school principal at Tenafly Chabad Academy. Mrs. Katzwer has been in the field of education, both in the classroom and as an administrator, for over 20 years. Mrs. Katzwer has extensive experience and training in working with children with learning challenges, has presented at professional development workshops, and been involved in teacher training and mentoring of new teachers. She has a private practice in Teaneck, New Jersey, and can be reached at [email protected].

 

 

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