Helping Children Develop a Love of Reading

Personal Narrative of Early Reading Experiences

I did not grow up in a household with parents who read constantly. Both of my parents worked full time and my father went to school at night. My childhood was a happy one and although I do not remember being read to, I do remember having a large variety of books, children’s magazines (such as Highlights, Cricket, and Jack and Jill), and a host of other things to read (like riddle books, puzzle books, and Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom animal cards). I remember having a book shelf with Dr. Seuss stories, a yellow children’s bible, a set of children’s encyclopedias, and many other books. Looking back, I now know that my parents must have valued reading enough to provide me so many books and opportunities to read.
When I think of my early experiences with learning to read, I must admit that I am surprised that I love reading as much as I do. My earliest recollections of formal reading instruction are filled with frightening memories of short vowel sounds, long vowel sounds, consonant blends, workbooks, boring stories about Dick and Jane, and strange marks over top of letters. It was like I was trying to comprehend what I felt was like a foreign language. Although I loved to read and write, I remember struggling early on with the mechanics of reading.
I don’t remember when or how but I was able to overcome those negative feelings, but somewhere along the line I fell more in love with books, reading, and writing. I always had a book with me as a child. I remember carrying Charlotte’s Web around and reading it over and over again; I would read or write every chance that could. As a young child I was quiet and relatively shy so books provided a comforting escape into another world. As a teenager, and even now as an adult, I still have an inexplicable love for both reading and writing.
Growing up, my parents placed a great deal of emphasis on academic excellence and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend private schools. I was afforded the opportunity to obtain a high quality education while being surrounded by others who enjoyed learning as much as I did. I was also fortunate to have friends who grew up like I did and whose parents had similar values as those of my parents. So, it was never considered “uncool” to read, write, and be successful in school. I also had a middle school English Teacher who encouraged my abilities; he nominated a poem I wrote to be published in an anthology and he encouraged me to become a part of the yearbook and school magazine clubs. He was one of the first adults in my life who took an interest in what I was writing. It gave me a sense of competence to know that what I was writing mattered and that other people would want to read it. My love of writing only enhanced my interest in reading. Frequent visits to the local library, saving my money for a new Judy Blume book, writing in my journal, and creating stories of my own were normal activities in my childhood.
Looking back I think my early exposure to books, my parents’ academic expectations, my educational opportunities, and my personality are all factors that worked together and played a significant role in how I learned to read and write. It also played a significant role in what kind of teacher I became. When I taught kindergarten I knew that I did not want my students’ memories to be filled with dittos, worksheets and abstract concepts. In my classroom we carved pumpkins, made play dough, and ate pudding when we learned about the letter P. When children were first learning to write a letter I would encourage them to write it in sand or in shaving cream so that there was no fear of mistakes. I wanted to ensure that my students captured the skills they needed without fear or failure and I wanted to foster joy and a love of learning.
Learning to read is not a process that happens in isolation. Family experiences, personality traits, economic and social environments, educational opportunities, and peer influences are just a few factors that clearly influenced the ease, the pace and the pleasure I found and still find – in reading.