A new school year is just around the corner for millions of American youngsters. While reading is one of the major activities they'll be doing in class, educators say it should be more than just a school assignment. It should be an entertaining activity they enjoy in their free time, as well. One of the programs that helps teachers and parents encourage children to become better readers is Scholastic Book Clubs program.
Children's book author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin have been working together for over five years, producing engaging, entertaining and educational books for pre-school children. That's not an easy job because they're competing with television, DVDs, the Internet and computer games for kids' attention. That's why, they say, it's crucial that parents introduce their children to books at an early age.
"As parents, it's important when your children are very young, before they even know what the TV set is, they should know what a book is. Before they look at a DVD, they should be looking at word books with you and art with you," author Cronin says.
"That's the time to get to them, when they are young enough that you still have control over what they are doing and what they are looking at. Those are the pre-kindergarten to first and second grade readers," illustrator Lewin says.
In their latest children's book, Dooby Dooby Moo, Cronin and Lewin tell an illustrated story about a duck and his barnyard friends, who pool their considerable resources to win a local talent show.
"Young children love books about animals," Judy Newman says. "When children get a little bit older, though, they become more interested in books about people. In general, that seems to be true."
Judy Newman is president of Scholastic Book Clubs, a program that has been getting kids excited about books for 60 years. Selecting from the thousands of children's books published every year, Scholastic puts together catalogues of titles appropriate for different age groups. Most of the books are very affordable. Newman explains these catalogues or flyers are distributed through schoolteachers. "We have catalogues from preschool all the way through grade 9," she says. "Children take the flyers home and choose what they want. They bring the flyers back to the teacher with their selections and with the money. The teacher places the order, and now they can do that on line."
Second grade teacher, Laura Bush - not the First Lady, who's also named Laura Bush - has been ordering from the Scholastic Book Clubs for six years. She says, a few weeks after placing an order, when the books arrive in the classroom, the response is always the same. "When the kids see the books, they are so excited," she says. "They want them in their hands. They don't even want to wait till they get home. They want to read them right away."
While teachers are always happy to see their students reading, Scholastic Book Clubs' Judy Newman says the program also makes them happy in another way.
"Many people don't realize that teachers use a lot of their own money to outfit their classrooms, to get books and materials for the classrooms," she says. "So what Scholastic Book Clubs program enables them to do is for every order they get bonus points."
And with those bonus points, Laura Bush says, teachers can order books to read in class or other resources. "I have earned enough bonus points, a couple of years ago, to buy a TV set for my classroom, so I can show some educational videos and DVDs that I have," she says. "I've also gotten a little stereo that I use to play some of the books on tape and to listen to music during the day."
Bush says reading is one of the most important skills for young children to master. She says parents should provide their children with a wide variety of materials they can read for fun.
"I believe that anything a child reads is wonderful. If they want to read a cereal box, a comic book, a magazine," she says. "If you have boys, like I do, that are into sports, make sure that you have many things they would find interesting that they can read. Make sure they have a set time every day to read with you, so it's not just on their own."
Encouraging their children to become readers involves more than just buying books or even reading to their kids. According to Bush and other concerned educators, if parents watch TV and sit at the computer all the time, their children will do the same. Parents should lead by example, buying interesting books for themselves and reading for pleasure.