PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
I was passing through the children’s area of one of our libraries recently, and paused to observe a man who was comfortably seated in a chair with his laptop while his son browsed the area taking in all of the books, displays, and toys assembled for young readers.
The man was watching his son, and periodically the boy would bring a book to his father and show him as he collected a stack of books to check out and take home.
Dad would encourage his son’s exploration, and gently guide him to another book.
He was interested and supportive, but not demanding in what his son would select for checkout.
One of our librarians later told me that Dad was downloading eBooks on his laptop, and was trying some of the new interactive eBooks for children.
He also checked his e-mail, and perhaps did a little Internet searching at the same time.
As a parent or caregiver, starting the reading habit must begin early with reading to children within the first six months. Visual stimulation with a connection to words marks the beginning of what can be a lifetime of reading.
As the child progresses and advances to reading on their own, the question of encouraging reading becomes foremost to the parent or caregiver.
Do you suggest books? Do you let the child select books? My answer is something in between those two questions.
In my years of librarianship, I have watched countless times when an adult is handing books to children and saying, “Here I am sure you will like this!” The child gives a look of “Yuck” and goes the opposite direction in the hunt for “their perfect book.”
I have also witnessed an adult saying “No I don’t want you to have this book” which cements the desire of the child to read it, even if it is well beyond their abilities and interest.
In today’s society, children are bombarded with the graphic and written word every minute of every day in every format imaginable. The traditional book is a tiny part of the information structure of a child’s life.
I noticed the Dad in the library because it reminded me of my own childhood experiences in a public library.
My parents started me with a library habit early. I still have my 1962 library card proving that I was a card-carrying member at that early age. We went once-a-week and always left with a pile of books.
My mother would gently point me in the direction of books for my age level, and then stay in the area and discuss what I had chosen. My elementary school teacher worked at the public library in the evenings and she, too, did some gentle guiding.
At home I was encouraged to tell my parents about what I had read, and anything I didn’t understand. They were partners in my reading, but not interference to my reading.
I was encouraged to read other things that happened to be around the house, from junk mail to magazines that were sometimes beyond my age.
At the time, I didn’t realize nor did I understand what my mother was doing. Only later did I realize that she was gently pushing me into a lifetime reading habit.
Combine her efforts with all those school teachers prodding and pushing reading and that teacher of mine who worked at the public library in the evenings and the result was understandable.
After my mother died in 1981, I was attending a family reunion and a distant cousin from Alabama commented to me that my mother must have been proud of me since she had wanted to be a librarian, but couldn’t afford college in the Depression.
My aunt was standing next to us, and looked shocked at the statement, and commented “His mother didn’t want him to know that in case he changed his mind about being a librarian. But I guess it is okay now.”
By then, I was a few years into being a librarian and I planned to stay.
So, are you guiding a child into a reading habit?