Summer is almost over and school is right around the corner. Are your kids ready?
Hal W. Lanse, Ph. D. is a single parent and a teacher trainer who says, “I’m an ardent advocate of those who dedicate their lives to the intellectual growth of children. My entire working life has been devoted to parents as well as teachers who want to help children become better readers.”
We interviewed Dr. Lanse to find out just what we as parents can do to help our child become better readers.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Dr. Lanse. As a book promoter, I find it really sad that not too many adults find time to pick up a good book. How do you think this affects children of these parents?
A: Actually, the problem doesn’t begin with parents; it begins with schools and school districts. Years ago, we didn’t have quality research on how to build good reading habits. So most adults never had the training they needed to develop into lifelong readers. Today, we have good research, but most schools and districts fail to reorganize based on that research.
Parents who don’t read often don’t do the things that will help their children grow as readers. They don’t read aloud to their youngest children. They don’t spend lots of time in the library or bookstore with their kids. Parents who are poor readers have lower vocabularies and their children begin school with weak vocabularies. This puts their children at a disadvantage right out of the gate.
Q: Can you tell us ways we can help our children to become better readers despite the fact that their parents haven’t opened up a book in years?
A: The good news is parents who have poor reading habits can still help their children. The most important thing to do is to read aloud to your child and make a game of asking questions about the book. “What do you think the character’s going to do next?” “How do you think the character feels?” “How would you handle the problem if you were this character?” It’s important to make sure as you’re selecting books that your child finds the topic of interest. The more the pleasure centers of the brain are stimulated the faster your child’s concentration skills will grow. Make sure your child has at least an hour every day to read. Not enough time is given in school so you MUST take up the slack. If an hour is too long for your child, start with ten minutes and gradually build up the time over several months or even a year.
Q: Do you believe that parents who read often encourage children to do the same or does it even matter?
A: Children are more likely to become readers if reading is a family tradition. But seeing Daddy in the living room with a scotch in one hand and the NY Times in then other isn’t enough. Parents must read to their children and must have conversations about books, even with high school aged children. I recommend a family reading hour two or three times a week where all the electronics are turned off and everyone READS. At the end of the hour, spend five to ten minutes having everyone share something they just read. Here’s another alternative: if you have pre-teens or teens, then read the same books they’re reading and discuss the books together. These days, young adult novels are edgy and sophisticated and very well written. Parents will enjoy them as much as their children will.
Q: Your book, Read Well, Think Well: Build Your Child’s Reading, Comprehension, and Critical Thinking Skills, contains easy-to-follow strategies that can boost any child’s reading and critical thinking skills. Can you name one of those strategies for us?
A: Summarizing is one of the most powerful skills. Whenever your child reads a chapter or finishes a book, have him summarize the main plot points by counting them off on four or five fingers. If he’s counting off on more than five fingers, he’s probably focusing on minor details. Don’t grill him if he’s weak at this skill. It’s better for you to demonstrate how YOU do it using the same book. You may have to practice this skill with your child for a very long time, but the practice will pay off in the long run, so don’t get frustrated.
Q: What kind of workshops do you teach?
A: I teach literacy and behavior management workshops for teachers and family literacy workshops for parents. I also design workshops based on the specific needs of schools, families, churches and synagogues, etc.
Q: Can you tell us where we can pick up a copy of your book?
A: The best place to get it is through my Web site because parents and teachers can also sign up for my free, monthly education newsletter. You can also get the book through Amazon or at any Barnes and Noble or any of the major online or chain stores.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Dr. Lanse. Any final words?
A: Actually, my last words are in the form of a request. I’m now considering topics for my next book and I’d really appreciate parents letting me know the issues they’d like to learn more about. There’s a contact page on my Web site and I’d love to hear from your readers.