Head of the Class

Laurie MacGillivray is an associate professor at USC's Rossier School of Education and a principal investigator with the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement

When there are cookies in my house I eat them, especially if they are chocolate chip. If they are within reach, they disappear even faster.

Books are like cookies. If they are in reach, children are likely to devour them. We spend a lot of time talking about what to read to children, and why, but the issue of where to read is often ignored.

There are some key considerations when thinking about creating environments that can promote literacy.

One issue is availability. Like cookies, books must be present to be enjoyed. We must have books in homes and classrooms that are for children. Teachers and parents often have a corner or bookshelf that holds all the children's books. This helps a child have a sense of ownership and acknowledges the importance of reading. But there is also an advantage in scattering books in other places around a classroom or house.

Studies of school reading patterns show that the closer books are to students, the more likely students are to read. When I taught first grade, in addition to having a bookcase of books for the students I had plastic baskets of books on each cluster of desks. This encouraged reading throughout the day. After studying my own house and those of my friends, I noticed magazines and books were all around. Some were located by the sofa, on desks, in bookshelves, on night stands, on kitchen counters, stacked on the floor and even in the bathroom.

Comfort is another consideration. Many teachers and parents are becoming aware of the role of physical comfort in reading. Many teachers create cozy corners in their classrooms with pillows and sofas. But we don't have to be that fancy. Having a little carpeted place or designating reading spots invites independent reading.

Finally and above all, we need to remember desirability. Reading needs to be an activity that children want to do, that they value. Seeing adults read is very motivating. Students notice when their teacher sits with a personal novel during silent reading time, rather than grading papers. Children also are more likely to read if their parents are readers. Taking children to the library, visiting bookstores, reading by yourself and with them--all of these acts establish books as being pivotal in your children's lives.

Being near special people, even if they are doing something else, makes reading desirable. When I was little, my dad had a tiny office in our attic. You had to go up ladder-like stairs to get to it and the air conditioner was noisy, but I loved reading in there when my dad was working. He was busy working, but I enjoyed being close to him and I felt even more connected when I was also doing something important like reading. I think I would have given up chocolate chip cookies to read next to my dad in his tiny office in the top of the house.


* Today in West Hollywood: Storytelling for children at 1 p.m. at Borders, 330 S. La Cienega Blvd. (310) 659-4045.

* Tuesday in Panorama City: Performance and storytelling at 3:30 p.m. at the Panorama City Library, 14345 Roscoe Blvd. (818) 894-4071.

* Tuesday in Irvine: Story time for children at 9:30 a.m. at the Heritage Park Regional Library, 14361 Yale Ave. (949) 551-7151.

* Wednesday in Burbank: Story time for children at 11:30 a.m. at Barnes & Noble, 731 N. San Fernando Blvd. (818) 558-1383.

* Saturday in West Los Angeles: Story time for children with professional storyteller Hope Smith at 10:30 a.m. at Children's Book World, 10580 1/2 Pico Blvd. (310)559-2665.

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