I found it really interesting – and frustrating at times (especially when I was in my bookstore working with customers of children) – when parents would look at me beseechingly to find their child a book that would open up the child’s world to reading.
My daughter is not a big-time reader. She’s 10 and she reads. She reads what’s required for school (sort of reads it I should say) and she reads books about gymnastics (right now she’s reading the Nadia Comenici book). But she wouldn’t be what I’d call a voracious reader. She tends to prefer graphic novels (hi I’m talking to you Raina!) if given a choice even over the gymnastics books.
Now, Luke, my little guy I think he just might be my reader. First of all, he’s off the charts as far as reading levels go for his age and it seemed to just suddenly happen as naturally as waking up or going to sleep, it was like when the clutch and the gas suddenly click and you go, “Ahhh, so that’s it.” (Yes, remember when we drove stick shift cars? Also known as manuals?) He’s mentioned to Kevin and me that he wants “to be a writer” when he “grows up.” Don’t tell his buddies, but he kind of idolizes John Boy from The Waltons (if you don’t know it – it’s a TV show from the 1970s that I have recorded over 100 episodes of and that the kids and I watch a few times a week, yep, ‘gnight John Boy’).
I’ve worked as a volunteer in our school library (actually, with my friend Alissa, I founded the school library at my kids’ school). We have kids at school that can’t stop reading and kids that are just, well, just too busy to read it seems. And I know, I know parents want their kids to be readers and to be “well read”…they think it makes a big difference for their kids – intellectually speaking. From my own literary background (librarian, bookseller, insane voracious freakish reader, writer, parent) I’d have to say I disagree. Yes, me, a lover of all things literary and book-related – I don’t think forcing a kid to enjoy reading or to even read and not enjoy reading is helpful for the kid. Here’s why.
First of all, I’ll go right out and say it, I LOVE to see children engrossed in a book. In my own bookstore, when I’d walk by our bean bags in our kids’ section and a couple of kids were lounging there totally absorbed in a book I’d just burst. But then there are also parents who drag their child into the bookstore and beg me to find something for their kid to read. “Well, what do you like to read?” I’d say to the kid. And he’d shrug his shoulders. “I like books about hockey maybe? Or bugs?”
Mom would quickly interject, “I really think it’s time he reads something better than that, don’t you?”
There is a difference between learning to read for the sake of just getting on in the world (like every kid needs to KNOW how to read so they can function in society) and enjoying reading books. My husband tries to get me to watch TV with him every single flippin night after the kids are in bed. I hate TV (except for The Waltons). I can’t sit and watch TV for very long. And given a choice, I absolutely choose reading a book over watching a TV show. It’s not even a question.
However, not everyone (kid or adult) likes to sit and read a book. I was recently re-reading Sarah Dodds Big Book of Un-Schooling because I like some (NOT all) of her thoughts on raising kids. I came upon one page in particular that I’d highlighted years ago when I wanted to know a bit more about un-schooling. I’d put a big question mark on the page because being the holier than thou literary guru I took myself to be at the time, I was shaken a bit by Dodd’s section, “Book Worship,” Here she says:
“More and more, I’m thinking our culture puts too much glory in books.”
Um, oh no you didn’t…oh no you didn’t just say that!
Well, yes, yes she did. She went on to say
“In many people’s minds, intelligence and wisdom and books are all wadded up in a confusing mess they seem unable to think about clearly.”
Hmmm…well, that’s certainly a different perspective.
Then the humdinger…
It’s another reason that for purposes of deschooling with the hope of unschooling it’s good to forget about ‘intelligence’ and not worry about ‘books.’
Okay, okay. I see where she’s coming from. I probed further into her website (which, if you’re wanting to un-school is just a treasure trove of information, helpful advice, insights, guides, and I highly recommend it) and loved that her book led me to question my own book worship, specifically when it comes to children reading. Here is one more quote from a parent that wrote into her:
I have two boys, one’s a reader, and one isn’t, by society’s standards. My reader loves books, his room is a maze of stacks of books and magazines, they are literally everywhere. My non-reader loves TV and movies, and spends a lot of time on the net. He reads, and reads well, he just doesn’t like books.
The non-reader has a better vocabulary than his older brother the reader. He understands things immediately, where his older brother is more of a “sit down and think about it” sort of person. The non-reader’s mind is very fast paced and wants to be in the middle of the action, where his older brother is more comfortable sitting on the sidelines and observing.
Both are very happy boys. Both have found their place in their world.
If your child is reading but just doesn’t enjoy reading books all that often or perhaps ever maybe you might have to just accept it. And for goodness sake, don’t turn it into a chore: “Honey, if you read a chapter of your book, then you can watch a TV show” – you’re turning it into a detested task rather than an enjoyable pastime. However, if you absolutely feel your kiddo needs to read (and I get it!) here are a couple tips:
- One of the best things you can do for your child is to sit with them before bed and read. I started doing this when my kids were babies. We read a book (or two or three) a night before they were even crawling and we still do it except now we lay side by side and I read my book, the kids read their books – it’s a good routine to start with children at a young age. Even though Maddie doesn’t love to sit around and read in her free time (unless she finds a good comic book), she relishes that cozy quiet time at night and that is when she tunes up her reading muscle.
- Help them find books that they like. Some kids respond well to graphic novels and while a lot of parents don’t see that as “serious reading” it is reading and it is engaging and it will keep that reading muscle in tune. There are actually some very well done graphic novels being written. If you’d like a list of recommendations based on what your kid enjoys or is “into” (wrestling, gymnastics, motocross, etc. etc.), leave a comment and I’ll give you some ideas :)!
*Update: Just saw a book that might have some helpful info on this topic. How To Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure. Will do a review soon 🙂