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Literacy Library Bulletin

What Does Reading Mean to You?

by Tim O'Keefe

January 2023

Ask yourself the question, “What does reading mean to you?” You might remember how you were taught to read. Cherished memories of sitting in a loved one’s lap being read to might come to mind. Perhaps you remember the first book you could read on your own. You might remember the phonics lessons of your early years in school.

If you consider reading in your life today, you might think of instruction manuals, text messages, social media, memos, recipes—and if you’re lucky—reading what you choose for fun and information.

This may seem like a simple question, although many books have been written on the subject. If you asked a hundred people, you would likely get a hundred different answers. A group of third graders was asked, “What does reading mean to you?” Their answers might surprise you.

Tamika: Well, let’s say you’re reading a book about horses. Reading is kind of like understanding and feeling you are in the book. If you’re reading a book about horses, you are one. You are the one riding the horse, and not falling off the horse, and your hair is blowing in the wind.

Charles: Mine kind of goes with Tamika. You have to be in the book if you’re enjoying the book.

Tyler: Reading to me is like… I’m Fireheart in Warriors and it’s like I’m in the woods and talking to Cloud.

Mai: Reading can make you smart. It can make you love people. Reading is power.

Did the children’s responses to the question match up with yours? These children had a wide range of skills and abilities. But they have a basic understanding that reading isn’t merely a mechanical process of sounding out words or reading smaller words then moving on to bigger words. They grasp that understanding is central to what reading is—without meaning there is no reading.

The children in this class read for meaning and pleasure, for understanding and information. Our goals when teaching our young readers go beyond merely understanding words on a page. We want to encourage children to love reading for its own sake.

How can parents help children embrace reading?
  • Read to your child. Lap reading, bedtime stories, picture books, chapter books, comics, any and everything.
  • Read with your child. Take turns reading in a book, switch off chapters, pages, or paragraphs. Have grand conversations about what you are reading.
  • Ask your child to read to you. Coach gently and always towards meaning.
  • Demonstrate your own love of reading. Read in front of your child, share your favorite books as a child, give books as special gifts, read instead of watching TV, talk about the books you’re reading, have books available, visit the library and bookstore together.

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