My last trip of the summer starts today and it’s taking me to London.  I’m super excited about this trip with some women from our church.  This trip will be super fun (of course, we’re in London), but it will also be full of us working with an organization there that spends their days ministering to people there and telling them about Jesus.  

Today my friend Grace is sharing with you.  I met Grace when she began dating our friend Philip.  Both of them love books and so this is a great post from her today!  Grace is one of the most beautiful women I know, inside and out, and her wedding might have been one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever been to.  Oh and the person that married them was super hot too!  (Of course it was Aaron, like I’d say that about another man!)

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Reading, more than anything else, strengthens childrens’ rudimentary cognitive skills: sustained attention, memory, auditory processing, logic and reasoning, among others. But, we’re always wanting to know, how do we make kids readers? I don’t have a statistically proven answer to this. I’m just a teacher, and hopefully one day a mother, with a few thoughts:

1. Keep reading to your children while they are young and as long as they will allow you to do so.
2. Here’s the kicker though, maybe we should try more chapter books than picture books within kids first years of learning to read/write.

Reading chapter books develops those cognitive skills to focus, process, and imagine the settings, faces, and scenes. We’ll be able to read your kids all kinds of books, books about superheros, castles, history (The Bible?), love, and magical places, helping them decide what genres they’ll like best later. If kids hear us read different voices for different characters, if they hear us embody the author’s tone, if they listen to our excitement, surprise, sorrow and remorse, if they become involved in the story we’ve read… Perhaps they will read this way one day in their head?

Let me explain my reasoning:
I teach high school English and in addition to body odor, awkward conversations, and catty high school girls, one of my greatest grievances is students, 16 and 17 years old, who complain so dramatically about hating reading you’d think they were allergic to books. “Reading is boring. It doesn’t make me feel good and No body writes about things I’m interested in.” (Yes, I’m sure you’ve looked through them all?). Even books we read as a class became hard to enjoy and such a chore for the students:

“But, Mrs. Edsel, how about you read to us; I understand it better.” “I find the book more interesting when you’re reading,” “I get a better idea of who the characters are and what they’re like when you read with different voices.” — Now, clearly, I’m a fantastic reader… but it’s possible he/she may have been blowing a little smoke. But I mean, it’s whatever -I was complimented so I took the bait and started reading to them more frequently.

What I noticed:
The more I read aloud to my students, the fewer eyes I saw sleepily droop as they read along. The more character voices I did, the more they started to understand tone. In general, kids were far more interested in, not only the story, but the complexities of the story. Classroom discussion went through the roof! And I’ll never forget, the one discussion day that really got to me.

It was the day we were discussing themes in Of Mice and Men; one of my quietest “I hate reading” students (I’ll call him Bo) nonchalantly says, “It seems the story is about the predatory nature of human existence”…………silence… is this a joke? After Bo explained further, with more profound thought, one of his classmates (and close friend) responded: “What tha (bleeped word), dude! Where has that been all year? We’d all have A’s in this class if you’d spoken up sooner. That’s good stuff.” (It couldn’t have been said it better)

Sweet Bo smiled and we all had a good laugh that continued our discussion.

After class, Bo stayed to explain something to me: “I think I’ve just gotten better at understanding books this year. I’m actually reading a book or two on my own… it’s weird.” So, I asked Bo why he thinks that is and he said, “I’ve never had someone read to me. And I realized, I haven’t been reading right, which kind of makes me mad…I think I’d be a better student or just smarter in all my classes had I liked books and read more when I was younger.” –You guys… I was fighting my chin quiver … this is why I teach.

This conversation got me thinking:
Several students don’t know that they are interested in reading because they don’t know what their reading interests are. Thus they don’t know how to enjoy reading. A child’s initial enjoyment creates a portal to a greater future in his/her education. Reading increases vocabulary, improves writing, and strengthens analytical thinking (It’s also been proven to reduce stress). These are survival skills the working world. With all its flashing technology and multitasking, this generation, and those that follow, need reading more than ever. Kids constantly bounce from one thing to another while computers, tablets, phones, and televisions tell their imagination what to see and think. If we’re reading to them, and we catch them while they’re young, they have to learn how to slow down, focus their attention, listen, process, and cognitively build the story as they imagine it.

Besides, we all know there’s this small part of us that knows we totally could have been the next Julia Roberts. Well, is this not the perfect acting chance?

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Grace Edsel is newly married and lives in Austin with her husband Philip Edsel. They do not have any kids but she loves her families to no end. Grace teaches English III and Pre-AP English II at McNeil High School (RRISD). She has a God-given passion for learning, teaching, and teenagers; while other loves include sports (participating or watching), traveling, reading, eating, and just about anything that involves activity.

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