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Children's Lit

Getting children to read is an important aspect of preparing them for success in school. While there are many different philosophies about how children learn language, most agree that exposure to diverse usage of language is an important part of the developmental process.  Children's literature is important because it enhances development of language skills and other critical thinking skills that provide the foundation of learning. 

Focusing only on literature's value in developing language skills, however, overlooks other contributions that reading adds to a child's development. Children read for fun, and in the process, develop better reading skills and abilities to enjoy more reading. Because reading children's literature stimulates a child's imagination, reading provides an important visual experience. 

Books provide "windows" into worlds that many would never be able to physically visit and see and encourage students to consider situations that would never have even occurred to them.

Reading to Children

Exposing these children to language is an important part of the primary school curriculum.  A great deal of research supports the correlation between language exposure and language development latter in life.  Children's literature provides other valuable experiences as well. 

Reading picture books to children introduces them to reading strategies that will be used develop and extend reading skills. In general, these books are carefully written so that most words can be sounded out. The pictures provide clues as to what the words mean.

Children enjoy making connections between pictures in the and the way those ideas were represented with words.  Getting children to enjoy stories is an important part of teaching them to read because once children come to enjoy stories, they are more motivated to pick up books and work their way through the words to enjoy the story.

In fact, "work their way through the words" is probably a poor choice of words here - children that enjoy stories get a great deal of intrinsic value out of being able to "discover" a story based on the words.

Children's Reading Abilities

A public library's children's librarian shared with me a story about a time a mother of a "prominent" family came and asked for help in finding a book for her child because the daughter was not reading. Trying to be helpful, she started the conversation by asking the child, "Do you like to read?"

The mother was furious - of course her child loved to read! The angry mother immediately went to the head librarian at Dwight Foster and registered a blistering complaint about the Youth Services Librarian. 

When the librarian finally got her chance to explain her side of the story to the head librarian, the situation was diffused. To this day, this librarian will not ask a child if they like to read.  Reading abilities can generate controversy. 

To those that are unfamiliar with children's literature, this may seem strange, but when one appreciates that children's literature is about much more than simply reading, one can more fully appreciate why people get touchy about their children's reading abilities.

It is probably best to let children choose their own reading levels. Enhancing reading skills means exposing young readers to additional words and concepts. While a variety of tests are used to assess reading abilities, children know what they are comfortable and uncomfortable with. 

A highly motivated reader will employ reading strategies and other resources to master text that is beyond what a test can measure. Likewise, a highly unmotivated reader might not extend the effort needed to complete a book that a test might indicate should be an easy read. Let children choose what to read. 

School Library Media Centers

A children's library so that books are grouped by reading levels and are readily available for students to "browse."  In an elementary school library, books might be arranged in the following sequence:

bulletLeveled Readers (categorized from lowest to highest)
bulletEasy (Not leveled)
bulletIntermediate - Beginning Chapter Books (include some illustrations, large fonts, and more white space on the page. These books provide a transition to the highest level)
bulletFiction (representing all other books, these books are further categorized by the fiction genres identified earlier)

In some school district, children in first grader are told to start with leveled books based on district assessment and work their way through the reading levels and then progress through the reading sequence. Others allow teachers to carefully watch students select books and use their choices to informally assess what students are ready to read.

Public Libraries

A public library might arranges books by reading level in the following sequence:

bulletPicture Books (up to approximately 2nd grade)
bulletChapter Books (approximately 3-4th)
bulletPlus (approximately 3-8th)
bulletNonfiction (all others)
bulletYoung Adult (sometimes actually shelved in Adult Fiction Room - not in children's collection. This classification is also used to remove controversial books from the children's room)

Helping Children Find Books

Do not asks children if they enjoy reading or at what level they read. Instead, show them 2 books - one representing the best guess as what that child's lowest potential reading level is and another representing the highest potential reading level.  Lets children look at books and decide for themselves.  Then, direct them to the section of the library containing the reading level that the child has indicated.

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