There are so many "positive" ways in which we label our readers: fast, proficient, the best - the list goes on and on. There is one label, however, that matters most: thoughtful.
Contrary to what's easiest to believe, it is not speed that matters, nor is it the ability to decode words - even very hard words - at a very early age. Instead, readers should walk away from the books they read transformed in some way. Perhaps a reader is a bit more knowledgeable, maybe he is kinder, or more curious or engaged. He is, in some way - large or small - transformed.
It's the child who reads Harry Potter and then moves on to mythology, the child who's building a Lego village and begins to read about bridge construction, the child who reads about the Holocaust and is moved to take action against social injustice - these are the readers who excite me. They may not be the fastest readers but they will be consistently happy readers, readers who are always on the lookout for great books and great reading experiences.
The question is, of course, how do parents foster this kind of engagement? What can we do to encourage children to read with a critical eye, to think and wonder as they read?
1) Model thinking aloud for children. As you read to your child, regardless of their age, share your thoughts with him. When you realize that a scene in a book reminds you of something else, perhaps a piece of art or a passage from another book, maybe a scene from a movie or even something that you've experienced, let your child in on your thoughts. If you have questions about why something has happened in a book, why a character behaves in a certain way or how a scientific phenomenon works, ask that question out loud. And when you realize that you have lost track of the meaning of a story, that you have gotten lost in the words, admit it. Show your child that it is okay to re-read and to miss something...as long as you fix this when you realize it has occurred.
2) Consider what it means to read critically. Does the author have an agenda? What are the underlying messages in the book? This does impact a reading experience. Compare books and articles on the same subject - global warming, for example - and weigh the different facts, opinions and ideas against one another. Is one more accurate or inclusive than the other? Does one author ask for support in some way, where the other simply lays out facts?
3) Share a real passion for reading with your children. Show them what you love to read, whether it's the sports section of your local paper, long novels, or current events articles online. Help them see why you love to read what you love to read and how that makes you a reader.
As parents, we can help our children read mindfully. It's not something that comes automatically when our kids are working only to be "the best" or "the fastest" reader - but it is what matters most.