Tuesday, October 25, 2011


A few weeks ago I was talking to a group of Korean parents about the education system in America. The topic started to stray, as things tend to do, towards books and reading. I asked how many parents read to their children. No hands were raised.

I began pushing them harder on the importance of reading to the youngest children as often as possible. No one seemed very interested in my point of view. One father started explaining how he used WII games to relate to his children and encouraged them to explore their curiosity. He mentioned how he played guitar hero with his two children and now one of them was taking guitar lessons. Nice, but not really my point.

Fast forward a few weeks later. Someone brought in a Korean newspaper that listed the top 200 colleges in the world according to said paper. They were very intrigued that my daughter is currently attending their so-called number eight. “I would like advice on how my children can attend such a prestigious university,” the guitar hero-loving Dad said to me. “How can I prepare them for admission to this university?” he asked.

Hmm. We’ve already been over this, I thought to myself, smiling ever so politely. Didn’t I mention the importance of reading to your kids? What kinds of reading passages will you find on the all required standardized test including the SATs? Mostly nonfiction. What is the most important piece of writing a student will do before college? A 500 word non fiction piece about themselves commonly called the college essay.

Korean students have even more pressure to perform well because the entrance exam is the sole determining factor for college acceptance. There are too many students for too few spots and the competition can cause parents to push their children to start preparing for the exam in after school classes as early as elementary school. With a secure career totally dependent upon the kind of college a student attends, prestige takes a surprisingly prominent role in early childhood development.

There are plenty of practical reasons for children to read, especially nonfiction, if prestige is your ultimate goal. But phooey on prestige. What kind of goal is that for your children’s ultimate well being? Reading a vast assortment of books to your kids encourages in them a love of reading, gathering and synthesizing information, and exploring fantasy worlds and far away planets. They will then read about things that intrigue them and things they knew nothing about. In other words, reading early and often will encourage their own intellectual curiosity. They don’t have rankings for that, but if they did, that would be a list worth aiming for.

Update: Last week I connived a way to fit a favorite children's book into my lesson plan. One student asked if she could borrow it for a few days. Today she returned it, smiling, and said her son had really enjoyed it. Slow but sure, one convert at a time. I'll take it!


Melissa Stewart said...

Great post, Linda. One convert at a time.

Annalisa said...

Before children – “I’ll read to my children every night.”

After the firstborn – ““I’ll read tomorrow, I’m too busy and tired tonight.”

After the third one – “I’ve wasted all these years not reading…let’s start now!”

So, I found a 50c copy of the illustrated “Wizard of Oz” and surprised how much we ALL enjoyed it.

Now, we read every night (tired or not). Now, it’s the best part of our evening. Now, the children LOVE reading on their own too.

We’re reading “Charlotte’s Web” now.

We’ll be reading a non-fiction book next (thank you for this post).

Steve Sheinkin said...

So true, Linda. It really helps to keep that lesson in mind - one reader at a time!

Ilima Loomis said...

I was astonished by this. Why do you think Korean parents seemed more reluctant to read to their children? Is this a cultural thing? Are there other cultures where reading to children is unusual?

April Pulley Sayre said...

And yet, most of my nonfiction books have sold Korean rights. Sometimes for repeated printings. I was told that in Korea, traveling salesfolk sell GOBS of children's books to parents...?

Linda Salzman said...

I think it's a universal problem. Did you see the article in the NY Times this past Tuesday? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/us/screen-time-higher-than-ever-for-children-study-finds.html

A high percentage of parents tend to put a TV in their child's room and hand them their ipad to keep them entertained rather than sit down and read to them.