March 8, 2012

Print Motivation: Make Reading FUN!

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This past weekend I taught a workshop called “Read to Me: Hands on Tips for Enriching Your Story Times” at the PCPO Conference. During the program I summarized the six key skills recommended by the National Research Council for preparing children to become readers when they enter school, and I shared practical examples for incorporating these elements when reading the books in my Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children.  These six skills are routinely emphasized by the American Library Association and their member libraries. 

The parents and teachers of preschool and early elementary school-aged children that participated seemed to get a lot out of the session (thanks for the positive feedback, folks!), so I thought I’d share some of the key learning points here.  Today I will discuss one of the Six Key Skills for preparing children to become readers when they enter school, Print Motivation, and provide some examples of how to incorporate this element when you read the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes books with your children. 

Print Motivation is Being Excited About and Interested in BOOKS!

How do you develop Print Motivation? First and foremost, model enjoyment!  Read for your own pleasure.  Make books and reading fun when you read with children.  Read in character and find ways to make story time special. Add “extras” when you read, such as songs, sign language, and props.  Read books you especially love, and indulge your child’s interest in repetition (it’s easier to read a book over and over again and STILL have fun if you’re reading a book you personally enjoy!).  One of my favorite websites for more ideas is here.

During the workshop, one participant pointed out that most of their family reading time takes place at bedtime.  This participant realized that as a result, they were less likely to “make reading fun” with silly antics and add-ons. This parent made a personal plan to start adding mid-day reading time for her family so she could let loose and yak it up.  Great idea!! 

In my experience, Print Motivation is one area that needs ongoing attention, even as children get older and have already started reading independently.  During the workshop I discussed some cautionary “Fun Grabbers” to be aware of:

*Requiring students to track and log their reading time as part of their homework.  Lots of schools do this.  On the surface, it seems like a fine idea, because it’s aimed at making sure each child reads at home for a minimum number of minutes each day (i.e. 20 minutes per day).  The downside is that the chore of timing and logging reading time runs the risk of turning this pleasurable activity into a perceived task.  That’s how both of my kids felt when they were asked to log their reading time starting in kindergarten.  This was a bummer, because up until then, they were both highly motivated readers.  To avoid the negative associations with reading, I offered to complete the reading logs for both of my kids (it’s the ONLY homework I’ve ever offered to do for them). The only hitch was that they needed to continue to feed their strong appetite for books. Happily, they are both still motivated readers (and gradually, they both took on the task of logging their own reading…but they still find it annoying!)

*Putting reading homework on the family chore list.  Again, this runs the risk (a BIG risk, in my opinion) of positioning reading as an unappealing chore.  If you have a reluctant reader in your family, I recognize it might be tempting to put reading time on the chore list so it’s more likely to get done, but I would encourage you to dig deeper into the situation to figure out why reading is not enjoyable for your child.  For example, if it's because reading is hard, sadly, making it a required event will not make it any easier. I encourage you to invest in finding ways to make reading more fun so your child WANTS to read more often.  The more they read (and the more you read to them), the easier reading will become. 

*Pushing kids to read more advanced books than they are ready for and/or interested in.  I’ve observed parents categorizing picture books as "baby books" once their child gets to a certain age (that “certain age” varies by parent).  I know we’re excited to see our children advance and mature, but picture books are magical, and "reading the pictures" is one of the first literacies in which our children develop fluency.  Children are using their reading (or pre-reading) skills when they read the pictures in a book. If a child wants to bring home a stack of picture books (even though they might be capable of reading an early chapter book), I encourage you to celebrate their interest in books.  

*Discouraging kids from re-reading favorite books.  We, as grown-ups, don’t typically have time or interest in “repeating” things.  For children, repetition is an important and developmentally appropriate experience.  If YOU are bored with the repetition of the same material over and over again, I encourage you to find ways to enrich the experience, to make it new, fresh and more interesting for YOU. In the process, you will enrich the experience for your child! If your child is re-reading a book, it’s likely because they enjoyed it enough to spend more time with it.  That’s Print Motivation!  Yay!

Here are some examples of how I incorporate Print Motivation when I read books from the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children:

The Big Blue Bowl:  I open by singing and signing, “If You’re Hungry and You Know It Ask for ____” to introduce the signs for several of the food items that go into The Big Blue Bowl during the story; I teach children a silly, over-exaggerated way to sign for "corn" and "eat/slurp," and I encourage them to sign the silly way every time they hear those words repeated in the story; I encourage children to sign and chant along to a repeating phrase in the story: "'Fill it up, fill it up, fill it up, I say' and my friends fill it up with me.”

The Nest Where I Like to Rest: I wear my Crazy Chicken Hat when I read this story (even though my mother is slightly horrified that I persist in wearing that hat out in public!); I read in the voice of the Mama Hen character; I invite kids to sign and chant along with the story, which is especially fun with cumulative tales (this story follows a format similar to “This is the House that Jack Built.”)

So Many Feelings: I demonstrate the “feelings” signs and very theatrically act out the feelings before reading the story (kids seem to especially love my impressions of “scary,” “excited,” “grumpy,” and “sad”).  I “sing” this story to the tune of “On Top of Spaghetti” and ask kids to make the signs for the emotions they know when they hear them in the story.

See the Colors: I sing this story to the tune of “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine.” See a video of me demonstrating this here.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to run with to incorporate the element of FUN into your own story time. If you want more ideas, visit your local public library with your child and make note of what the youth librarian does to bring FUN into each story he or she reads. Librarians are experts when it comes to incorporating the National Research Council’s Six Key Skills for preparing children to become readers when they enter school. And...I’d love to hear YOUR ideas for building Print Motivation and bringing FUN into your own story time.


  1. Great blog, thanks! It recalled for me how parents might pressure kids with music, too. Once a student gets to a certain level, it gets to be fun, but that learning curve can cause so much frustration and discouragement. I never thought about that with reading.

    1. Thanks, Robin. I agree. I think it can be that way with sports, too...