I remember clearly the day my grandmother handed me The Secret of the Old Clock, the first in the Nancy Drew series. I was immediately hooked. I loved the concept of Nancy Drew — such a smart, self-directed young woman who got to travel all over the world! Little did my grandmother know that by placing that first book in my hand, she gave me two gifts that day — a lifetime love of reading and an admirable role model. Who knew a literary character could inspire a girl so much?
In my line of work, I am often asked for advice as to how to get children to read more. One of my favorite questions was delivered by a frustrated mother of an eight-year-old boy who said, “I think my son literally only reads the back of the cereal boxes in the morning. What can I do to encourage him to read?” My answer was simple — and to some experts in the field of childhood reading, rather unexpected: “Place more cereal boxes in front of him when he eats. You never know what will grab his interest.”
You see, there is a lot of debate about the importance of structuring children’s reading choices to include only books that are instructional in some way, or serve as a challenge to the students to supposedly become better readers in the process. In education, we all agree that reading is crucial to success in all areas of academics. However, the debate rages on about whether parents and educators should always be the ones to choose what students read.
As recently as January of this year, a Washington Post article noted this reading dilemma by describing how two different educational professionals look at reading. One felt strongly that children’s book choices should be directed. The other believed that when children are allowed to make some reading choices based on their own interests, they learn to enjoy reading, which encourages them to continue reading. As the theory goes, we tend to do more of what we enjoy, so why not allow children to make their own decisions when it comes to pleasurable reading?
Reading in general increases our memory capabilities, helps to create imagery in our brain, and teaches our brains to think sequentially. It does not matter what you read, but the act of reading itself stimulates the mind. Results from a six-month reading program study from Carnegie Mellon show that the volume of white matter in the brain increased with daily reading, indicating that the brain structure can actually be improved by reading — and that means reading anything.
My advice always has been and will continue to be this: if your child is reading something, be it cereal boxes, silly joke books, or the Harry Potter series, and he enjoys what he’s reading and expresses interest in reading more things like it, then support him! This will turn reading into a positive experience.
You may still be wondering what the back of a cereal box has to offer to a child’s developing literacy skills. Well, in my house, we love Cocoa Krispies, and on the back of the box are a word search puzzle, character narratives, a maze, a “find the spoons” game, and a recipe. All these activities are not only fun, but also educational. What a great way for your child to start the morning… and it’s worth reading.