There has been a lot of talk over the years about the failure of schools to teach our children to read. The latest initiative from the provincial government, Succeeding in Reading, has so far not been a resounding success but it is early days yet. However, I don't fault the schools or the government for low literacy scores. While they should be able to offer support I suggest that the foundation must be laid and maintained by parents.
What worked for us was based on a simple strategy of showing a love of reading. When Mitchell was an infant, and it was my turn to put to him to bed, I read chapter books to him as he lay in my arms. He became used to the idea of reading and it didn't matter what was read. Although I recall being shocked at the casual brutality of the original Pinocchio story. I don't remember Disney's boy puppet splattering Jiminy Cricket with a hammer!
Another book was George Lucas' adaptation of a little movie of his which made a few bucks over the years. This may explain Mitchell's extensive collection of books and action figures based on events in a galaxy far, far away. Later, Lydia would introduce Mitchell and Sylvia to a different universe, one filled with wizards and dementors.
As they got older we introduced them to classics new and old. Lydia went with Lemony Snicket, The Golden Compass and Eragon, while I opted for Sherlock Holmes, Day of the Triffids and Calvin & Hobbes. We found it necessary to keep a dictionary handy as we soon learned that knowing how to use a word and offering a satisfactory definition of it are two different things! Thanks to Beatrix Potter the word soporific was added to the family lexicon.
At some point they started fighting with me for the daily comics. Whoever got them first would tell the others to check out certain strips, offering their critical appraisal of the humour. From this sprang an ongoing tradition of checking The Family Circus and deciding if the joke was bad enough to go on the fridge's Hall of Lame.
The main thing we learned is that reading should never be seen as a chore and, for those children who show little interest, it may require some work to find the right material. As a kid, my brother was not a fan of reading until he stumbled across The Lord of the Rings. He read the massive trilogy over and over again, having finally found something that grabbed his attention.
Then again, there may be another way to improve literacy. When he heard I was writing this column, Mitchell suggested the Tarzan Approach.
"What's that?" I asked.
"In the Tarzan books he taught himself to read and write all by himself," Mitchell said. "He found children's picture books in a cabin and used them to learn."
Those familiar with Tarzan only through the movies may not realize that the literary Lord Greystoke was in fact quite a smart fellow, mastering several languages - including that of the apes. Unfortunately, I don't think many parents would want to shut their kids away in a cabin on a jungle beach to attain the same result. Then again, if the province's latest approach doesn't work, who knows what may follow?
Kevin Toal is a freelance writer who loves a good story.