Friday, July 27, 2018

A Few Thoughts on Summer Reading (and after)

I grew up hating exercise.

I knew that it was good for me. I knew that it was something I should do. I just didn't like to do it.

When I was little, I was always exercising, but nobody called it that. Back then it went by the scientific term of "playing outside." It was fun, I was active, I was healthy.

Then in school, exercise changed. It was something we were forced to do in PE. I didn't understand the rules, and I wasn't very good at things other kids seemed to do effortlessly. On my very first grade card (yes, in Kinder), I got an "unsatisfactory" on my grade card for PE. (My crime: I couldn't skip. I could climb a tree and swim across our pond, but I couldn't skip.)

PE, of course, was mandatory through 10th grade, and none of it (with the possible exception of that one week we played on scooters in first grade) made me like exercise any more. In fact, it just continually reinforced that this was something I wasn't good at, something that was unpleasant, something that was a "have to", not a "want to". Once I finished the last required PE class, I washed my hands of it. It never occurred to me to seek out opportunities to exercise on my own. I didn't HAVE to any more, so why on earth would I choose to?

Then in college, there were the dreaded two PE credits. Most of those classes interfered with the student teaching schedule, so many education majors, including myself, ended up in a January term class called Body Conditioning. Yeah, not my first choice, but it was a "have-to".

The other half of the class was made up of body builders who spent their whole day in the weight room anyway, so they figured they might as well get a credit out of it anyway. The very first Friday, our teacher (the head of the entire athletic department, did I mention that?) announced that we were going to play volleyball. Everybody can play volleyball, right?

This was college, you don't pick teams, we just shuffled to a side. You can guess what happened: all the body builders gravitated to one side of the net, all the ed majors on the other.

I hate to stereotype, but the fact is, we were behind by twenty points before the first serve. It was a slaughter. The body builders were showing off, and we were miserable - but not surprised. Most of us grew up hating PE. It was just an hour to live through.

The teacher decided to help us out. First he encouraged us to move up to serve. Maybe a little more.

Then he started cheating. "That's a do-over, there was a breeze."
Body Builder: "Coach, we're inside the building!"
Coach: "Want to do laps?"
BB: "Huge breeze, Coach. Definite do-over."

We were still losing. But it was starting to be funny. And then. Then.

The head of the athletic department. Who was dressed in a jacket and tie for an important meeting later. Tossed his jacket aside and joined our team. 

He was cheating. He was trash-talking the guys and encouraging us. We were...giggling? It

We still lost. But I talked to the others afterward, and none of them could remember the last time PE - any sort of exercise - had been fun. We wanted to...get it again.

What does this have to do with reading? Many kids - and adults - see reading the same way I did exercise. They don't like it. They aren't good at it. It's something you HAVE to do, like cleaning your room or paying your taxes. They are never going to do it a second more than they have to...unless it can become fun again.

I will never be a gym rat. But if you make exercise fun, if I'm doing it with someone - well, then, I'm there! Riding a stationary bike? Nah. Hiking with the kids to check out a waterfall? Heck, yeah! Push-ups in my living room? Not happening. Rock climbing or rafting with my friends? Let's make a weekend of it! 

Adults and kids alike are far more likely to do things that are fun, and that we do with somebody. We have tried to make reading - or just coming to the library - fun over the summer. That's why we switched to the READO boards a couple years ago, to make it more of a game than a "have to," required number of books or minutes. We gathered kids together in groups at the library to just have fun, and encouraged reading with someone else in some of our READO tasks.

As school gets under way, it's easy to get back into that have-to mode. There's just so much that does have to be done, and so little time to do it in! But forcing me to exercise did not make me want to exercise. It made me resist it even more. Forcing kids to read will not make them want to read. It will just make them resist it more. Yes, I said it. And many recent studies back this up: check out this article, or this.

Yes, the more you read, the better reader you will be - just as, the more you run, the better runner you will be. But if you can't get someone to open a book or lace up those shoes to begin with...see what I'm saying? We want our kids to be good readers, yes, but we want them to CHOOSE to read - or any gains they make now will be lost the second they aren't forced to any longer.

So we would like to encourage you (and ourselves) to try to hang onto that sense of fun you hopefully found this summer. Give each other some silly reading challenges. Let the kids pick out books that interest them. Most important, read WITH them. Read a chapter book out loud at dinner each night (pick a funny one!) Let them see you curled up with something YOU want to read, and let them see that you enjoy it.

We want you to have fun, too! Come by the library any time this year, and let us know what you are looking for - or not looking for. Notice that when a child is brought to us because "he needs a book for school," we will never ever ever begin by asking him what his 'reading level' is. We will ask: "What kinds of things do you like to read? What do you like to do in your spare time? What's the last book you read that you kind of liked?" or even, "What is your favorite movie?" (We're Marvel girls here, but we have DC books, too!), or "What is the book you liked the LEAST?" We want them to leave with a book they aren't dreading sitting down with - and we want you to leave with one you are excited about, too!

If you aren't local, we guarantee your area librarians feel the same way. Try them! And then let us know what you are reading, because we want in on the fun, too!

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