Parental Rights and Involvement in Students' Reading Lives

by Courtney Pentland

Article written by Project THRIVE partner Courtney Pentland (She/Her), American Association of School Librarians President 2023-24

A child’s education is greatly impacted by the level of involvement of their parents or guardians who are encouraged to attend events at the school, be present for parent teacher conferences, and to reach out to teachers and other school personnel with questions or to ask for support.

In most school districts, parental (or guardian) rights are already in place. If they want to see the textbooks their students are using, they can ask to view a copy. If they do not want their child to read a text that the class has been assigned, they can ask for an alternative option. If they do not want their child to check out specific books from the school library, they can ask for restrictions to be placed on their own children’s access. It should be noted that in recent years the amount of books that have been challenged and subsequently banned has risen dramatically, and there has been a distinct correlation made to content about and written by members of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. [1] [2]

The school library is where students can explore materials that support their learning needs and personal interests. It is also a place where parental rights are upheld, and where every family’s values and beliefs are respected. Restricting all students’ access to materials based on specific groups’ beliefs and values takes away the parental rights of others.

Any parents or guardians who would like to take a more active role in their children’s reading lives can become engaged with their readers in several positive ways.

1) Read books to your child. Reading aloud to children has been shown to have significant benefits for learning. Even after your child can read on their own, the magic of reading to your child can still help them grow as readers. [3] [4]

2) Listen to your child read a book aloud. Practicing reading books to a supportive audience can give young people not only additional time practicing but help them gain confidence in their abilities as well.

3) For older children, read books together. You could form your own mini book club by reading the same book either by reading the same copy together or by reading your own copies independently.

4) Share books with your children that you loved reading when you were young. This can be a wonderful bonding experience as you relive books that brought you joy and pass those happy memories and the gift of that story on to your readers.

5) Ask your school librarian for recommendations for new books to try out as a family. Sometimes children enjoy hearing the same story on repeat, which is not always as much fun for their grownups. School librarians are experts in their field at readers’ advisory and can give you a wide variety of books to choose from for your next family read.

6) Ask questions about what your child is reading. Questions should not feel like a test or investigation but rather a conversation about the book. Ask why your child was interested in reading the book. Ask about their favorite parts. Discuss the actions of the characters and if they agree or disagree with the choices. See if your reader is satisfied with the ending or if they wish something else had happened instead.

7) Read widely. Try different genres. Read a graphic novel. Listen to audiobooks. They feel more like a performance of the book and can be great for road trips. Read books that give insight into different cultures and experiences. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop pointed out, books can be mirrors, windows, and sliding doors offering young people the chance to see their own stories reflected as well as the opportunity to learn about others through the power of story. [5] And, studies have shown that reading fiction books actually helps children grow empathy for others. [6]

8) Acknowledge that it is ok to abandon a book. Books that are checked out from the school library are more likely than not for self-selected reading. This means that the child does not have to finish it if they don’t like it or it isn’t catching their interest. The beauty to there being so many books in the world is that if you don’t like what you’re reading, there are so many more waiting to take its place.

9) Be curious before being critical. Read a book before judging it by its cover or what you’ve heard others say about it. We don’t all like the same flavor of ice cream, so it stands to reason that we won’t all like the same kinds of books. And, see #8 – if you get into a book and decide it isn’t for you or your family, simply stop reading it and pick something else.

10) Read in front of your child. Not you reading to your child, but you reading on your own for enjoyment. Talk to them about what you are reading and share what you like about it. Show them that you value reading as a part of your life, and they may just follow suit. Finally, have fun! Reading should be something you enjoy and want to return to over and over. Hopefully some or all of the tips above will help you and your young readers grow your life-long habit of reading.

Finally, have fun! Reading should be something you enjoy and want to return to over and over. Hopefully some or all of the tips above will help you and your young readers grow your life-long habit of reading.

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