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An Echo Press Editorial: Find time to read away from school

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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Students will be hitting the books again in less than a week. Alexandria School District 206’s 2022-2023 school year begins on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Hopefully, students found the time to read this summer, which makes the transition go a lot smoother. Here’s another way for students to excel in academics: independent reading.

Simply put, independent reading is out-of-school reading time for children, on their own, with minimal to no assistance from adults.

Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature at the University of Minnesota, addressed the topic in a “Talking with the U of M” newsletter. For young students just learning to read, Von Drasek said independent reading is an ideal time to practice the reading skills they learned in school like sight words, rhyming words or a handful of phonemic awareness words — like the short “a” in cat, hat and bat.

“The best thing students can do when it comes to independent reading is practice, practice, practice,” she said. “To make this happen, embrace reading habits that your child will actually enjoy. There are beneficial and fun activities that go beyond struggling alone with a worksheet, sounding out the words in a leveled reader, or slogging through that very, very sad book where the dog dies because it won an award a trillion years ago.”

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Here are some other highlights from the newsletter interview:

Question: How can families support independent reading?

Von Drasek: Choose joy! Read aloud. Often we hear about the importance of reading aloud for 20 minutes a day. Put down the stopwatch. Think sprints rather than a marathon. Poems are the perfect way to reinforce sounds and repetitions.

My best recommendation for raising readers is to be mindful of opportunities. Schedule weekly trips to the public library, even if there is a school library. Limited resources often mean that the school librarians are focused on supporting the curriculum. The public library may have more free reading high-interest choices like magazines and mass-market series books, comics and how-to titles.

Also, get into the habit of leaving high-interest materials around the house. Sign up for access to free books for the home with organizations like Reading is Fundamental and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Model reading. Listening to an audiobook while preparing dinner or driving to soccer practice brings language and story to life.

Question: Why are back-to-school storylines helpful?Von Drasek: Anyone who recalls their school years as unrelenting sweetness and light is suffering from amnesia. Children and young adults can happily anticipate the new school year and at the same time have feelings of anxiety and fear. Books can help. If nothing else, the giving of a book on back-to-school topics communicates to these students that they aren’t alone in having these seemingly oppositional emotions.

Von Drasek’s recommendations: Grades K-1 – “The Day You Begin” by Jacqueline Woodson, and “We Don't Eat Our Classmates” by Ryan Higgins. Grades 2-3 – A Fine Fine School” by Sharon Creech. Grades 4-6 – “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” by Tom Angleberger, and “El Deafo” by Cece Bell.

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Here are some featured selections for kids on the Douglas County Library’s website:

  • “We Love Fishing” by Ariel Bernstein. Squirrel joins his friends on a fishing trip, but spends the day disagreeing with them on everything from whether fishing is fun to how to reach their boat.
  • “Winterborne Home for Mayhem and Mystery” by Ally Carter. April and her friends will have to solve a decades-old mystery in order to hang on to the most important thing in the world: each other.
  • “Turtle in Paradise, The Graphic Novel” by Jennifer L. Holm. In 1935, when her mother gets a job housekeeping for a woman who does not like children, 11-year-old Turtle is sent to stay with relatives she has never met in far away Key West, Florida.
  • “Sunshine” by Marion Dane Bauer. For most of Ben’s life, he has been a kid without a mom. He has his dad, who knows Ben doesn’t like oatmeal and always hugs Ben before bed. And he has Sunshine, his loyal little dog, who is never far from his side.

So, parents and children, make the time to put away the screens and open more books. It will not only inspire a child’s imagination but improve their ability to excel in school.

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