Anyone who has ever watched a national spelling bee competition knows it can be as challenging and suspenseful as any physical sport played on a field of grass or a wooden court.
Like football or basketball, competitors must be prepared before they step out on the field of play.
Preparation is the key word.
As I was watching a recent Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Washington, D.C. - where middle school-aged children face the super bowl of spelling bees - I was struck by some of the impromptu comments exclaimed by participants during the competition.
One of the younger finalists, an 11-year-old boy, stood anxiously by the microphone waiting for his word. After it was read aloud, a grin immediately spread across his face and he impulsively shouted, "Yes, I know this one." After realizing he had interrupted the normal rhythm of a national finals round, he apologized and said he had just read the presented word. He spelled the difficult word correctly and fairly leaped back to his seat to await the next round.
Another finalist, a 14-year-old girl, also recognized a very difficult word and, after spelling it correctly, turned to her mother in the audience and said, "Thank you, Mom." Clearly her mother had played a part in her success.
These children are often given questionnaires asking how they became such good spellers.
Almost every competitor will respond with something like, "I read all the time," or "I love to read."
What quickly becomes clear -- and this is no surprise for teachers -- is that good readers become good spellers. And good spellers have an edge in a very competitive world filled with job and scholarship applications, business memos, sales presentations, and let's not forget the value of a well-written love note or poem as we compete for lasting relationships.
Unfortunately, technology such as spell-check and grammar-check may actually be hindering more than helping. I am concerned about the influence of e-mail, text messaging, worthless Internet sites, podcasting and other forms of information that ultimately reduce the amount of time our children could be reading good books.
Parents and grandparents hold the golden key. It's something that I see as a secret to success that happens naturally when the example is set.
Children who see their parents reading are more likely to accept it as something important, enjoyable and meaningful. These children start to read more themselves -- not just required school assignments, but other things that open up a world of possibilities.
Read to your children and grandchildren. Provide them with good books, magazines and other material. Help them find authors they enjoy.
Louis Pasteur once said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."
There is no better way to prepare our children to be successful students and adults than helping them discover the joy of reading.