Being a teacher is hard work, but the two things I love most about my job are teaching kids to read and talking about what we’ve read. I’m a huge believer in loving what you read and developing children’s oral language by discussing what you’ve read. So at the end of each year I gift my students with a book to read during summer.
One thing I witness in my class year in year out are kids who are what some term ‘reluctant readers’. This can include reasons like students find reading hard, they can’t concentrate for very long, they don’t know what to read and more.
When I was a kid, I found reading hard. Thankfully I had a mother who constantly encouraged my reading, despite the fact I didn’t enjoy it for the above reason. She diligently took me the mobile library to borrow books every week and the school library, read homework books with me, helped me with school projects, bought book club at times, surrounded me with books, gave books for gifts and didn’t give up on my love of reading. Unfortunately, my love of reading came late in life when at university I got sick of reading textbooks and I turned to fiction for some welcome relief. I discovered a whole new world and I haven’t turned back, a fully converted book lover, especially of children’s books. Now as a teacher, I want my kids to love what they read from a young age.
Yesterday, I found this same sentiment reiterated in a fantastic article called ‘Game Changer for Kids’ in the U on Sunday section of the Sunday Mail (20 December 2015). Here’s its sub-heading:
“In a children’s publishing boom, reluctant young readers are being lured to the exciting world of books with the help of their sport heroes.”
It really got me here:
“I was always wanting to be out there playing sport and not in the classroom,” [Billy Slater] the NRL star says. This is a common scenario in many classrooms around Queensland.
I know this all too well. After teaching the middle grades for several years, I have taught many students who are sports crazy, dream of being a pro-athlete, line up quick smart for their weekly Physical Education lesson with their hat (why not mine? :) and live for the lunch breaks playing any game on the oval until they’re red in the face. I often wished they showed similar enthusiasm for the classroom! Some do, but not all.
I’d love to spend more afternoons playing sport with them. Unfortunately due to an overly-packed curriculum, it makes it hard to get out and play these games more often, although I dedicate one afternoon a week to this. This is an important side issue.
So this article absolutely grabbed my attention for these kids! Where was it earlier in the year? I would’ve used it.
The article features Billy Slater and the Billy Slater series about rugby league, Israel Folau and the Izzy Folau series about rugby union, David Warner and the Kaboom Kid series about cricket and Tim Cahill and the Tiny Timmy series about soccer. Each have worked with different authors to bring these series to life.
These are the main takeaway points I got for all kids:
- Find books on topics that interest your kids and get them hooked on reading.
- The main focus is they enjoy what they read.
- It shouldn’t be a chore or feel like homework.
- They need to practice to be confident readers.
- Reading should be a shared experience between parents and their children together. Talk to your kids about what they are reading and what they like or don’t like about the book.
- My personal one: Be a good role model and read books. Talk about the books you are reading and why you like them.
These are my favourite quotes from the athletes with my anecdotes included:
"If sports heroes can help hook the kids into reading, that’s a great thing.” [Dr Sue Thomson, director of the Australian Council for Educational Research] Well said!
He was thinking outside the box because there was no point getting me read a novel I didn’t really care about.”
I love how Billy Slater’s grandfather got him interested in reading. I say to my students I don’t mind what you read, as long as you enjoy it!
"Reading is like kicking a football, the more you do it, the better you get.
That’s what I say to my little girl who puts herself down with her reading.
It’s about building up their confidence and making them interested in what they are doing.” So true!
Books for me in primary school usually meant homework and assignments.” My worst nightmare!
"As a kid, I was never a reader and now I’m still not a reader, and that’s one thing I wish I could do. I wish I could go back and read a lot of books. I hope kids feel a connection with me as a kid and not mimic me, but learn from it because I regret not paying attention at school.
I always found reading hard. I would read one page and then go to the next page and forget what I had read.” No! Don’t let this happen – please!
I understand as a parent the pressure kids face with sport and school.” They can love both!
“I say to my wife that as long as the kids are reading something that’s all that counts. For sure.
As a kid I wasn’t a massive reader, but I loved books with pictures and cartoon characters such as animation.” Have you heard about graphic novels?
And if you have lasted to end of my very long blog post, well done! This is an important issue to me as a person, educator and writer. One day, I hope a book I publish connects with a child and inspires them to keep reading just like these athletes have. All I can say to these athletes, authors, publishers and other people who’ve gotten involved in these series of books is THANK YOU! I'll keep encouraging my students to be readers. I hope you will as well.