Celebrate Family Literacy Day: buy a Flashlight

Every parent knows how to start a child reading: read aloud every night, make sure there are lots of reading materials around the house, and turn off the TV so thereÔÇÖs time for reading to happen. The problem for most families isnÔÇÖt getting started–itÔÇÖs making sure that reading continues.

The real danger time for young readers seems to be around age ten when we may be losing as many as a third of the bright young kids who have mastered Franklin Fibs but donÔÇÖt want to make the jump to Harry Potter.

Why? First, the books suddenly get a lot harder: thereÔÇÖs much more print on every page, no colour pictures and often not even black-and-white illustrations. The books have grown from 30 pages to 120, and the vocabulary has zoomed from 3,000 easy words to more than 15,000 words your 10-year-old may never have heard before. Of course those words are easier if mom and dad are still reading aloud every night at home, but many parents think their job is done once Hop on Pop is mastered.

Is it any wonder that a large number of 10-year-olds feel frustrated? By high school, those kids who stop enjoying reading in grade four will be left struggling to read college-level texts with reading skills at the grade six level. ThatÔÇÖs when frustration turns to anger and dropping out.

There are ways to avoid this dismal scenario. The most basic is sometimes the hardest: keep reading with your child. Many parents manage to maintain some kind of reading aloud right into high school, even if itÔÇÖs reduced to the blurbs on the back cover of a book or the advice column from the daily paper.

For many boys, the trick is to switch to non-fiction. Dads can happily read the Canadian Tire catalogue to young boys. Older boys often enjoy magazines, books about sports, or the two books I always recommend for older adolescent reluctant readers: The Guinness Book of Records and the provincial DriverÔÇÖs License Examination Manual. Parents and teachers may think that these books arenÔÇÖt literature, but I would point out that both require quite serious reading.

In four hundred years of looking for some miracle to turn kids into readers, only one device has actually been proven to work: a flashlight. A child in middle school should still have some kind of reasonable bed time with some kind of lights-out rule. If thereÔÇÖs a flashlight in the bedroom (whose batteries, amazingly, are always fresh) and a book to read, then many children will give in to the lure of ÔÇ£forbiddenÔÇØ reading.

These days, both the school curriculum and most jobs out in the real world seem more dependent on print than ever. That print may be in this newspaper, on a computer screen, or on the pages of a book ÔÇô but all of these sources require literacy skills.

On January 27, Canadians will celebrate the fourth annual Family Literacy Day. This national initiative – created by ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and supported by Honda Canada – promotes the importance of reading and learning initiatives among families. In addition to participating in Family Literacy Day events in your community, you can help celebrate this special day by picking up a book and reading aloud to your children, your grandchildren or the kids next door. For more tips on how to engage in family literacy and learning in your home, visit the ABC CANADA Web site at www.abc-canada.org.


Award-winning author Paul Kropp, has written many books for young readers. His non-fiction book for parents How to Make your Child a Reader for Life is published in Canada by Random House.