The old adage goes “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same is true of reading and writing. Give a child a book and they might be entertained for a few hours, especially if that child had the chance to choose their own book. But introduce them to an inspiring author or storyteller, give their school, public library, after-school program or summer camp a whole library of books to choose from and fun reading and writing activities to excite their curiosity, and let them pick out books of their own to keep, and you’ve created a life-long reader and a life-long learner.
Here at CLiF, our mission isn’t just to give low-income, at-risk, and rural kids in New Hampshire and Vermont the tools to develop strong literacy skills; it’s to nurture a love of reading and writing. CLiF’s staff, volunteers, presenters, donors, and partners are life-long readers and writers, and we want to share the joy these passions bring us with young readers and writers.
90% of kids surveyed in this Scholastic report said “I am more likely to finish a book that I picked out myself.” That’s what self-directed learning is all about: kids who read about what interests them, instead of just what’s assigned, are more likely to read more, develop stronger literacy and communication skills, and become life-long readers. Take a look at CLiF Founder and Executive Director Duncan McDougall’s VTDigger article on the importance of kids choosing their own books.
At CLiF, we strive to motivate kids to read for fun, not just for homework. Personally, I’m at a cross-roads between the two in my own reading life. As a life-long reader and writer who recently returned to school to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts in Fiction, I am thrilled to be assigned to read again, though a large part of the fun is getting to choose my own books. The Bennington Writing Seminars requires students to read twenty-five-to-thirty books in their chosen genre each semester. For some, that’s an increase in their standard reading habits. For me, it’s pretty on par at an average of five books a month, though the real gift has been the excuse to make reading my priority, to be able to say “Sorry, I can’t do the dishes/cook dinner/run those errands; I have to read for school.”
Because I developed a love of reading – and writing – long ago, I’ve always read, often several books at a time, and now cherish the requirement to make reading and writing a priority when so much else in life can distract from the things I love to do most. So how do we get kids to LOVE reading and writing, and choose to do it in their free time?
That’s what CLiF’s programs are all about. We often hear that kids are excited to read after CLiF brings one of our amazing presenters to share the joy of books and lets kids pick their own from hundreds of popular titles. That’s why we work hard to reach every corner of Vermont and New Hampshire to spread the joy and fun of reading just to read (See above photo of Belmont Elementary School students showing off the new books they choose as part of their Year of the Book).
It’s not so much what your kids are reading that’s important, but that they are reading, and that they’re engaging with the material, which is more likely to happen if they’re interested in it. Some fun initiatives to encourage kids of all ages to read are coming up: March is National Reading Month (here are some great tips on how to celebrate with pre-readers), which is kicked off with Read Across America Day on March 2nd (Dr. Seuss’ birthday). The reading fun doesn’t stop March 31st, though – April is both Drop Everything And Read Month AND National Poetry Month! Many schools, libraries, and other programs host community and school-wide events to celebrate each of these initiatives. But you don’t need to wait for any of that to enjoy reading.