Giving books to kids does no good
(Unless you also do this)
My very first day teaching in public elementary school, Jimmy looked up at me and said, “Mr. Talley, I just can’t hardly read. And it makes every subject in school so hard because I can’t.”
For Jimmy knew, as does every teacher, that American public schools are hard as the devil if you can’t read well. It doesn’t matter how “smart” a kid is - if they don’t read well, much of public school learning is going to be neither easy nor a lot of fun.
So I began sending books home with Jimmy. As many as I could. As often as I could. He truly wanted to read better and more. But I found out that he rarely read any of the books I sent home with him.
In my forthcoming home visits as a career teacher, I eventually discovered that there is one extremely integral (but often overlooked) factor in getting younger children to read at home; the fact is they must have at least one significant caretaker at home who sees their need to read and provides them with a safe and quiet place - AND (and this is a big AND) - someone who will read along with them. I found this fact out early in my career, too.
Yes, there are incentives at school for reading at home. And every school librarian I ever knew does their darndest to enhance this.
But I discovered (in real time in real life) that just handing out books to kids to read at home can often be much like handing out cash to the poor; the waste can be phenomenal. Yes, I should know. I speak from experience on both. I’ve seen free books sent home that were almost immediately cast into the trash. And perhaps most often - I’ve seen them sold at a local yard sale. Remember, these families are often economically hard up - and food always comes before books on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
However, I once had a great idea while teaching inmates at the Bristol Jail. (It’s entirely possible I had more than one great idea in my 25 years teaching there, but I am so certain of this one that I will share it.)
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