I was sitting back reading this weekend while my daughter was goofing around in the yard in the way that 5 year olds are prone to do. It was a relaxing afternoon – a shining sun, a glass of lemonade, a red-breasted robin occasionally chirping its joy as I enjoyed a pipeful of tobacco and a swaying breeze (I’m trying to go all Norman Rockwell for ya… is it working?) – when I suddenly realized I had to stop and explain to my daughter that I was reading a book.
Why would I have to explain something so obvious? Because I was reading on my kindle and it dawned on me that one of the most important ways to raise a reader is to model the act of being a reader… but did she know I was reading since I only had an electronic slab in my hand of digital text.
For sure it was a book. An almost 1,000 page book. (I am currently reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts). And when parents read thick, meaty texts of fiction simply for the joy of reading it’s, well… a top-shelf literacy strategy. Modeling can move mountains. Yet, if she wasn’t keenly aware that I was reading a book of fiction simply for pleasure – a critical component – due to the “device factor” of reading on a kindle then I could be submarining my educational aims for her unwittingly. Being a model without her realizing I was modeling is not the greatest type of role modeling, now is it?
Of course, it’s not like I was “teaching a lesson” to my daughter; I was simply reading in the back yard. However, actions speak louder than words and there was a moment (right after the red-breasted robin melodiously let fly with a lullaby for her napping chicks) that I became all-too-aware that my kid might not have any idea what I was doing. We are the first generation to face this as parents. After all, who knows what is really going on on anybody else’s screen. (Trust me, I taught college classes for a few years and seeing students with their laptops open during class could mean diligent note-taking or Facebook photo surfing and as a professor, you have NO idea).
It was a big take-a-way for me. The more we read on screens, the more unknowable it is what we are reading. As the reader, that’s fine. It’s my screen, my eyes, my brain, my choice. But as a role model who wants to raise a lifelong reader, there are new challenges and I am convinced it would have been a mistake to assume that my 5 year old knew what I was doing just because it might have seemed so obvious to me.