At the beginning of the summer, my oldest son and I embarked on a special summer un-reading program based on the work of Mem Fox and designed to improve his attitude about reading, which he had begun to hate thanks to the reading interventions he was experiencing at school.
We set our sights high: 1000 books.
I wasn’t really sure what the end result would be. Sure, I had dreams that by the end of the summer, he would independently pick up books and begin reading them. Last year, he was able to test consistently at school at a Level H (though we never saw that at home; at home, he struggled to read even Level A books he’d never seen before), so clearly he has some foundation.
But mostly, I wanted him to experience the wonder of books and reading, a wonder which had been drilled out of him at school.
We didn’t quite reach the goal of 1000 books. We’re at about 900 now. For awhile, the number itself was a motivator for him. Like me, he enjoyed watching the pages fill with the titles of books we had read. But it’s been six weeks or more since he has even asked what number we’re on. And I think that’s because he has learned what is actually valuable about books.
Here are my observations after 900+ books:
His reading stamina has greatly increased. He can now listen to and focus on chapter books without illustrations to support the reading experience. He can easily sit still for 45 minutes while I’m reading to him.
He now expects to have story time at least two times each day: at breakfast and before bedtime. I have rearranged my work schedule so that I go to the office about an hour later; now, I can sit with him at breakfast and read books to him while he eats.
He gets excited when a box of books arrives from Amazon; he wants to go through and organize the books in the order he wants me to read them.
He has plenty of new favorite authors, and he can easily recognize work by particular illustrators. He likes to make connections between books. He has a greater tolerance now for rereading books and has even asked me to get certain books a second time (Make Way for Ducklings was a recent surprise request for multiple readings).
He has developed a strong interest in African-American history. At his request, we have been reading all the picture books we can find about slavery and Civil Rights. I am trying to supplement those books with stories about African-Americans who aren’t slaves or fighting for Civil Rights, because I would like for him to realize that African-American history is rich with all kinds of stories. Being a slave isn’t the only way you’re going to have a book written about you if you’re black.
When he gets a new interest, he asks for books about it. He went through a Jackie Robinson phase earlier in the summer, so we read several picture books and biographies.
When he goes to the library now, he looks for books for himself. Just this week he was really enthusiastic as he showed me his pile: a couple of books by Andrew Clement (he loved Frindle), a biography of Muhammed Ali, and some Star Wars books. He didn’t seem even remotely reluctant as he scanned the shelves for what he wanted.
Is he reading independently yet? Not at all. “Reading” for him still means glancing at the pictures and trying to figure out the story from the images alone. Even when I put books in his room that I know he can read, he doesn’t try to make sense of the text, although he will look at the books. I wonder if that’s just habitual for him now: letting his eyes skim over text without trying to decipher it. Trying to use every other cue for meaning that he can.
But does he like books now? Does he feel relaxed and happy when I say we’re going to read? Yes. And that’s a huge improvement over last year.