Teaching your child

September 13, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

My 7-year-old has come to adore the writings of Eleanor Estes.

It started this summer with "Ginger Pye," Estes' book about a smart, adorable dog bought for $1 by Jerry Pye and his sister, Rachel. It's a mystery of sorts, complete with a dognapping.

I checked out a library copy of the book with plans to read it aloud to my children.

But my son saw it that day, picked it up and didn't put it down for a week. At bedtime he'd ask me to read a couple of pages. It was hard for me to follow the story line, reading a few pages here and - the next night - a few pages two chapters later.

But I didn't complain. It was so much fun to see how excited he was about the book, which won the Newbery Medal in 1952. (The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. For information, go to on the Web.)


Since finishing "Ginger Pye," we've checked out almost all of Estes' books. It seems my son wants to read nothing else ... except an occasional comic strip.

But Estes is a respected children's author, so I have no qualms about the lack of variety in my son's choice of reading material.

It makes me wonder, though, if this trend will continue as he grows older. He finds a book he likes, then he reads everything else by that author.

Studies show that people who are good readers as adults often enjoyed series books or books by the same author when they were young, says Jeffrey Wilhelm, an associate professor at the University of Maine.

"If they read a series book, that's a good thing," says Wilhelm, who co-authored "Reading Don't Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men" with Michael Smith of Rutgers University. "You start with what kids are interested in."

For their study, Wilhelm and Smith examined adolescent boys' favorite activities and their attitudes toward reading. The researchers connected what boys like to do and how their reading preferences correspond.

"There was a total disconnect between school and life," Wilhelm says. "Kids said over and over again that school had nothing to do with them."

Boys who weren't reading well in school often had rich literate lives outside of the classroom, Wilhelm says. They were reading about the things that interest them.

The researchers recommend that teachers view curriculum as inquiry, not content.

Every student doesn't have to do the exact same assignment. Assignments can be based on a general theme but geared toward individual students' interests - even in large classrooms - and still meet state curriculum guidelines, Wilhelm says.

Students, parents and teachers have to make connections between school and life, he says. Parents can help by encouraging students to find something in an assignment they can relate to other parts of their lives.

"Always make a connection to a kid's life, his world," Wilhelm says.

Here are some suggestions:

Are you taking a vacation next year? Start reading about your destination now.

What does your child care about? Find reading material on that subject and place it around your house.

Read about projects you plan to tackle together.

"They just need to involve kids fully in things they do as a family," Wilhelm says.

"Reading Don't Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men" is available at

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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