Thursday, January 2, 2014

Are You Living in a Reading Desert or Oasis?

Last week, I finished reading Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley's latest book, Reading in the Wild.  Largely, the book's audience is teachers and it delivers invaluable strategies, resources, and lesson plans designed to help students develop lifelong reading habits.  There are takeaways for others, too.  In particular, Miller and Kelley dedicate a chapter to finding time to read, and their advice should be heeded by us all.  

I love to read.  In fact, when I think of nouns that describe me, reader is one that comes to mind.  As an avid reader, I have set aside a time and a place for reading - every night before I fall asleep.  This has become habit for me and is as much a part of my nightly routine as brushing my teeth.  No matter how busy my day has been or how late it is, I never go to bed without reading.  Some nights, I make it five minutes before I can no longer keep my eyelids open.  Other nights, I have to put down the book and turn out the light, or I will read until the alarm goes off.  I would love to be able to read at other times, but it seems that life gets in the way.  Playing with the kids, running errands, and general house upkeep whittle away at my free time.  And, to be honest, when I do have a minute, I am on that confounded iPad!  There are messages and emails, status updates on Facebook, and 50,000 new tweets that all require my immediate attention.  Finally, after the kids are in bed, I just want to unwind on the couch with the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory.  

Interestingly, as much as I beg, plead, and implore my students to read outside of school, some just can’t find the time.  Like me, their lives get in the way.  From gymnastics on Mondays and Wednesdays, piano lessons on Tuesdays, basketball practices on Thursdays and Fridays, to games on Saturdays, there seems to be no room for reading.  Plus, there is all of that homework!  For better or worse, when kids get a moment, they do what I do - check their devices or watch TV.  Unlike me, however, few students have established a daily reading habit, and enjoying a good book only happens inconsistently at school.  

Miller and Kelley argue that there is plenty of time left for reading in both the kids’ schedules and in mine.  We need to do two things: take advantage of edge time and prepare for reading emergencies.  According to the authors, edge time is the wasted time between our commitments.  It’s the time that we use to check Instagram or like another cat video on Facebook.  Reading emergencies, on the other hand, occur when we get stuck somewhere waiting longer than we had planned.  In order to take advantage of these missed opportunities, the kids and I need to take inventory of our time.  Is there edge time on the bus on the way to school?  How about at the end of the day in the car circle? Do we sit at our appointments and fiddle mindlessly with our smartphones?  What happens during the time before Mom comes home and asks about tonight’s homework?  Is it necessary to check the Biebs’s Twitter feed right now?  Is it crucial to watch the computer while it downloads that game?   

With the new year comes new opportunity.  I am going to challenge myself to carry a book with me in case of a reading emergency.  Likewise, I plan to be more aware of my edge time and evaluate how I spend it.  For me, it’s time to develop a new, healthy habit.  I challenge you and your children to do the same.  I would venture to say that most of us are surrounded by, or have access to, many, many books.  The question is, are we flourishing in a reading oasis or starving ourselves in a reading desert?                                                                                                                                               

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