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Kids’ Free Time Is All Booked Up : At Crescent Primary School in Anaheim Hills, the Electronic Bookshelf computer program encourages children to choose reading.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Instead of watching TV, 8-year-old Nathan Tanner says he’d rather curl up with a good book.

If you don’t believe him, ask his second-grade teacher, Dianna Shafer. Last year in Shafer’s class, Nathan read 160 books in 27 weeks and became a legend of sorts at Crescent Primary School in Anaheim Hills.

“My goal was 150,” Nathan says.

He hasn’t yet set his third-grade reading goal and admits it will be hard to top his second-grade record. But Nathan says he’ll keep reading “because I like to read a lot.”

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Getting children like Nathan to read is the goal of the Electronic Bookshelf, a computerized reading program that Shafer has been using in her classes for three years. Last year, Shafer’s pupils read more than 1,300 books, and the year before the class total was 1,600.

“This is the most effective reading enhancement program I have ever used,” says Shafer, who has been a teacher for 26 years.

The program works by encouraging children to read by offering them rewards. At the beginning of the year the kids are given a list of more than 500 books on the Electronic Bookshelf list.

Children pick a title, go to the library, check out the book and read it. Later they log onto the class computer and take a simple 10-question test about the content of the book. If they pass the test, the book counts as a point earned. The computer keeps a record of each child’s progress, and as the child accumulates points during the year, that child earns rewards ranging from bookmarks and pencils to a free lunch with the teacher at Carl’s Jr.

“The children love it,” Shafer says. “I’ve had children checking out 10 and 15 books at the public library. Children were coming early, staying late and even giving up recess time and lunchtime and dropping by on vacation to take the quizzes. I often would see them taking the books out at recess.”

In Shafer’s class, parent volunteers help run the Electronic Bookshelf. On during a recent school day, Carol Barnes, who has been helping with the program for the past three years, sat at a computer with 8-year-old Michelle Lytton, who was being tested on a book called “Happy Birthday, Moon.”

“One of the things I really like about the program,” Barnes says, “is it teaches test-taking and reasoning skills in a non-threatening way. Lots of kids don’t even know what ‘all of the above’ or ‘none of the above’ mean when they first start.”

Lynne Miller, another program volunteer, says: “It’s also a real fun way for the kids to learn. It appeals to their competitive nature, and they get real incentives. At 50 points they get to go to lunch with the teacher, and that’s big-time to the kids.”

Miller’s son, Nathan, 7, and Barnes’ daughter, Laura, 8, are participating in the Electronic Bookshelf. Both women say the program has gotten their children more interested in reading.

“It encourages them to read and have fun while doing it. My son says, ‘Mom, let’s go to the library,’ ” Miller says.

Another benefit of the program, according to Miller, is that it teaches children to use a computer. “We don’t have a computer at home,” she says, “and this helps them learn to use a keyboard.”

Books on the Electronic Bookshelf list range in reading level from first to fourth grade and include everything from 10-page primers to 300-page chapter books, such as “On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Titles include fiction and nonfiction. Children usually start out with an easy selection, according to Crescent School librarian Carolyn Whitehead, and then work their way up to more difficult ones.

“Word about which books are best spreads fast among the kids,” Whitehead says. “One of the most popular ones right now is ‘If You Give A Mouse a Cookie’ by Laura Numeroff. It’s a real simple book that any second-grader could start with.”

Alexis DeBruyn, 8, who has read 35 books from the Electronic Bookshelf, says her favorite so far is “Amelia Bedelia,” which is about the adventures of an incompetent maid. “She doesn’t know what everything really means,” Alexis says. “Like trimming the Christmas tree, she cuts it instead.”

Alexis, who says she hopes to read 100 books this year, admits that she liked to read before she started the Electronic Bookshelf program but says: “I would never want to stop this because it’s so fun. When you have nothing to do, you can do it and you get points and prizes.”

She pauses to catch her breath, then adds, “I barely watch any television now because I read so many books.”

At Crescent Primary School, which includes kindergarten through third grade, the Electronic Bookshelf is open to all classes, and teachers use it on a voluntary basis. The program was developed by Rosalie Carter, a former elementary schoolteacher, and Jerry Carter, a former college instructor, in Frankfort, Ida.

When Shafer began using the program three years ago, it was an option for her pupils, but since then she has made it a regular part of her curriculum.

“It helps reinforce their reading skills, and although the interest level is different for each child, the kids get very excited about it,” she says. “I encourage them to read a book a week, but they can read as many as they want.”

Few children read as many books as Nathan Tanner, who says he spent a lot of time at the library last year. And when he finished reading all 160 books, he says, “My parents were surprised.”

This year Nathan, who says he wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up, has some doubts about how many books he’ll be able to finish because baseball is taking up a lot of his time.

Will he top his 160-book record?

“Probably not,” he says.


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