Happy Reading
 

  An Interview with Dr. Michele Cooley-Strickland

Dr. Michele Cooley-Strickland is a licensed psychologist and an associate research psychologist at UCLA.  She is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School.  Her area of specialty is mental hygiene and she has worked extensively to understand the effects of community violence on the long-term well-being of urban youngsters.  Dr. Cooley-Strickland lives in California with her husband and their two, young daughters.

HAPPY: How important to you is reading as a parent of young children?

Cooley-Strickland: My husband and I believe that reading to and for our daughters is a critical component of being good parents. Our goal is to teach them to be confident readers who LOVE to read independently. Doing so would open up a lifetime opportunities for them.

HAPPY: Have your feelings, attitudes and actions regarding books grown out of your own exposure in your childhood home? Explain in what ways it did or did not.

Cooley-Strickland: Yes, in large part but not completely. I recall loving to read as a child. Once I discovered authors who resonated with me, I felt understood and able to escape to my own world. My family traveled a lot and we spent TONS of hours driving in the car. Time would speed by while reading my favorite authors' books. I can recall being disappointed once the books would end. Then I discovered that I could search for the authors' prior publications and read those books too. My love of reading as a child while in the car is part of the reason I dissuade my daughters from using electronics in the car today.

My husband and my experiences with higher education are another contributor to our commitment to facilitate our daughters' growth as independent and passionate readers.

HAPPY: What types of books bring the greatest delight to you and your children? Do you have favorite titles, authors or genres?

Cooley-Strickland: Our older daughter is a gifted visual artist. She loves books that have illustrations and prose, Greek mythology, and poetry. Right now she is into Monster High by Lisi Harrison and the Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams. Our younger daughter likes the Fly Guy books by Tedd Arnold, Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant, and Dr. Seuss books.

HAPPY: Do you look for ways to extend the learning beyond the books with activities, field trips, discussions, media or other endeavors?

Cooley-Strickland: Well, we go to our local library at least twice per week. I ask the girls if they have any special books they want to look for or authors they want to search. We do a lot of cultural activities (museums mostly), but the types of books they are into aren't really those that lend themselves to too much depth of exploration aside from the Greek mythology. We have seen related movies. I also buy books on tape to play in the car to follow up some of the more substantive films that we have seen (e.g., Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis).

HAPPY: What are the greatest obstacles to spending time together with books? How do you handle those challenges and/or how might you suggest others do so now? Is this an area where you would welcome advice?

Cooley-Strickland: Electronic media is the biggest obstacle to children's quality time reading, in my opinion. Our daughters would rather watch TV or play their DSi's or Smart Phones than read books. That's why we severely limit their screen time. However, we try to do it in a manner that gives them a great deal of control. For example, our household rules include: No TV until after ALL your homework is complete, including Kumon; electronics are confiscated at bedtime (to prevent late night usage) and returned in the morning after they are ready for school; no TV before school; no electronics in the car (unless we are on an excessively long car trip); and no electronics during dinner or meals at restaurants. Our goal is to promote healthy social interactions and a lack of dependency on electronic stimulation.

HAPPY: As you go through the day with your children, can you see the influence of books you share? Do your children mention the stories or certain character

Cooley-Strickland: The bible is our family's core book. The girls each have their own (my older daughter has the Action Bible which is fully illustrated; my younger daughter has a couple of children's bibles) and mine is more conventional (in addition to an iPhone app by LifeChurch.tv that helps make the bible very accessible). We rely on the bible to guide the decisions we make and influence our lives. Because we don't permit the TV on during dinner, we will sometimes have a book that we'll take turns reading during dinner. Reading at bedtime is ideal, but homework assignments have started getting excessively demanding so there's not too much extra time when we are trying to get the girls to bed on school nights.

HAPPY: Are there times when your children seem to be applying lessons learned from books in your daily lives? Do you notice them making connections between books and real world experiences?

Cooley-Strickland: The books that my children select have a lot to do with fantasy, but we also read books with great lessons (like the bible) but also classics like Stregna Nona and The Little Red Hen. The girls know that if you don't help, you may not eat! Both my girls love to tell me about the books they read; my younger one loves to read aloud to me -- and will pretend her classmates are listening if I'm not attentive enough.

HAPPY: How important is the public library in your family literacy practices? How valuable do you believe public libraries are today?

Cooley-Strickland: As I mentioned, we go to our local library at least twice per week. I believe they are critical to maintaining and advancing culture and literacy in America.

HAPPY: Reading is, of course, one component of effective literacy. How do you believe parents most effectively guide children towards greater confidence and skill in reading, writing, speaking and listening? How important is the parent’s example in all of these areas?

Cooley-Strickland: Parental modeling, regardless of your child's age, is critical. Meeting our children where they are is important. Supporting them in the types of genres and authors that they like requires us to surrender a bit of control, but conveys respect for their personal choices. I've learned that it isn't actually WHAT they read, but just that our children read. From a position of enjoyment (not criticism), they will read more and, eventually, varied and more challenging content and authors. Reading opens the door to better writing and speaking... and listening.

HAPPY: Please share any remaining thoughts in a personal summary. Include, if you can, a comment or two about the connection between family literacy and love.

Cooley-Strickland: Family literacy is a beautiful process because everybody benefits. No matter how advanced or delayed a family member's reading skills, they can always learn from and enjoy the favorite books of others. Taking the time to teach your children to read, to listen to them reading, or to read to them is a conveyance of respect, sacrifice, and -- of course -- love.

 

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