Thursday, February 11, 2010

BTT - Reading Encouragement

Oh - another good Booking through Thursday question!
How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teenager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn't work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book, Gifted Hands, by the brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother's requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don't need to "turn their lives around" but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, "I just don't like to read."
This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart - although I am not sure that I have any definitive answers. As an English teacher, I do require my students (all teenagers) to read certain books. I try to select books that I think are worthy of study (both from a literary and a writing standpoint), as well as suited for the target audience. Do they all read these books? I am not naive enough to think that they do, but that does not modify my expectations.

As a parent, I require my children to fulfill all schoolwork responsibilities, so they definitely read (or at least to the best of my knowledge) the books that they are assigned in their classes. Of my three children, one truly dislikes reading, one reads on occasion (more now than when she was in school), and one loves reading as much as I do. I guess a .333 batting average isn't too bad.

Now that I am nearly in the empty-nest phase of life, I suppose I have the luxury of looking back with perspective. There are some things that I think I did "right" - some things that I definitely did "wrong" - and ultimately, I think the love of reading is a very individual choice. I think we can try to expose our children to the vast array of reading genres out there; we can teach them to read critically and apply what they have read in a fictional story to real life situations; but ultimately we need to learn to accept our children for who they are; and if they are not readers, that is ok.

Case in point: I read to all three of my children from the time they were about 3 months old. I kid you not! This was a way to keep my own mind active, and they enjoyed teething on the covers. I probably read to them a total of one hour or more throughout the day. When they were toddlers we ended every single night with story time - consisting of at least one Bearenstein Bears book and perhaps a fairy tale story. This continued until they were first grade. This is the part of their childhood that I think I did "right"

Once they entered first grade and learned to read on their own, I encouraged them to read to me during out bedtime routine. It began as a 50/50 split: they read a story and then I read one to them - but by the time they entered 2nd grade, I felt as though they should be reading on their own. After all, when I was in 2nd grade I wanted to read on my own. I was fiercely independent and I thought it was rather "baby-ish" if I still had my parents read to me. I just assumed that my own children would feel the same way (and you know what they say about assuming...)

At this point it became a battle of the wills. My older children still wanted to be read to --- I was viewing this as they were just lazy and didn't want to read themselves so I refused --- and a war ensued. This is the part of their childhood that I definitely did "wrong" In hindsight - they were not being lazy, they just enjoyed the story time. They would often come in and listen while I read to their younger sister. Why did I not see this?! It is a regret that I will always have. I missed out on some wonderful memories - and caused senseless battles. Hopefully they are not scarred for life.

Jump to my son's junior hear in high school. At this point we discovered that he needed glasses, and I was convinced that he had a reading "problem" I would bring this up at every teacher conference, but was always told that his reading comprehension was excellent. Yes - he comprehended everything he read -but it took him forever to read it!! I am NOT a reading specialist, but in an effort to try to help my child I noticed that his eyes would move across the line of words faster than his brain could retain. He read each line - on average - 3 times! No wonder he hated to read.

We also discovered that he was an auditory learner -- BIG time! I remember driving in the car and he was listening to a baseball game. All of a sudden he shouted, "Did you see that?!" He was talking about a play that the announcer had described. Not only did I not "see" it, this highly visual learner could not comprehend a thing the announcer was saying (and I like baseball!) At that point I started investigating audio books. What a God-send! My son would often listen to a book on tape, or at times, I would actually sit down and read to him (this is how I read The Scarlet Letter for the first time). It was a way for us to spend time together, and a way for my son to be exposed to some wonderful classics in a style that he could grasp.

So at what point do you stop pushing your child to read? I guess I would say that through elementary school we have a responsibility to help our children learn all the basics - of which reading is a large part. The book fairs are a wonderful way to elicit excitement for reading. Save your money and purchase the books on your child's wish list. This may be a great incentive for them to try new genres and find one that truly resonates with them. Through secondary school children need to learn that they have a responsibility as students. Whether they like a subject or not, they must do the work in order to pass. The books selected are intended to give students a well-rounded foundation (or at least that is my philosophy when selecting books). If I child does not like a book - help them to voice what specifically they do not like. Foster discussion - help them to dig deeper into their initial reaction and support it with details.

In the end, if your child truly does not love reading - accept it. Discover what they do love and embrace it. My son loves movies --- going to movies and making movies. Movies are, quite literally, moving narratives (as opposed to books which would be stationary narratives) -- they have plot, setting, character, and conflict. He can see the movie, I can read the book, and we can compare notes. It is a great way for us to relate to one another and still maintain our individual preferences.


  1. Great answer, thank you for sharing your stories with us! I am sure your children are not scarred for life just because you wouldn't continue story time!!! :)

    I posted a Valentines book-related question at The Crowded Leaf if you're interested!

  2. Knowing that you were an English teacher, I was looking forward to your opinion on this matter to see if I did the right thing as a parent. I guess I did!! I do wish, however, that my boys enjoyed books as adults like they did when they were younger, to be able to share in the "enjoyment" of reading.

  3. Thank you for that honest answer. Why is it looking back things are so obvious, but not at the time we are doing it?

    I had to deal with this with my oldest child.
    Here's my response.

  4. NIce answer. Hindsight is alwasy 20/20 so don't worry about it.

    Here is mine

  5. Neither of my children enjoy reading and I have just had to accept it. I have tried so many different ways, but I have to remember they are not me. We love different things.

  6. Molly, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject. I have a daughter that is just like your son. When she was in nursing school or about to enter it, she was tested to determine her learning style so that the teachers and school could help her with whatever she needed (great idea I think). Anyway, we found that she was almost entirely an auditory learner. I should have known that because she is a very slow reader and had a hard time with keeping up in high school and especially in college. Like your son, she read the same thing over and over. I used to ask her how she managed in her classes and she would always say that she listened really well. I say I should have known her style because I read to her up into high school. She loved to have me read to her and she loves audiobooks. She was our only kiddo, so I never minded reading to her. It was hard for me to accept that she didn't like to read on her own but I came to be OK with it. She also loves all things movie and you never want to bet against her knowledge of that subject in Trivial Pursuit.

  7. This was a great answer. Thank you for sharing your perspective on all this. My daughter reads more than me. It is SO rewarding to see. My son, on the other hand, hates it. He has to read classics in school, but that is about all he wants. So what we have done is attack the issue on two fronts. I read to him (sometimes my daughter listens as well). And we listen to audio books in the car. We talk about the book, we cheer, we cry, we gasp, all together and it is great. I think that is as good as it is going to get for my little man.

  8. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. My oldest son is in the third grade and very independent - always wants to read on his own, and would rather read by himself because it's faster than listening to an audio book. My husband and I take turns reading to the boys at bedtime (just a quick story).

    My younger son wants so much to read on his own like his big brother, but I can tell that he is probably going to have a harder time of it. My oldest started reading when he was four, and my youngest is five and a half and still trying to figure out letter sounds. I think that he'll do just fine as long as I can keep him from getting frustrated. He's more into pretend and playtime anyway, and hates to stop for me to read to him. :) I think he's going to do great in kindergarten next year though.

  9. Excellent post, Molly. I think I'll play BTT today, too! Your son sounds like my daughter - her love is also watching movies and making movies, and she, too, is an auditory learner. When she was young, we'd go to the movies and then on the way home she'd entertain us by repeating lines straight from the movie, which she'd only watched once.

  10. Well said! I have finally accepted that my almost 16 year old son is not a reader. He's a wonderful writer, reads what he has to for school, but would never pick up a book for "fun". I hope he will discover reading later in his life but if he doesn't the world won't come to and end! I read to him, provided books for him to read, and did everything I could think of to nurture a love of reading so I just have to be at peace with that!

  11. Terrific answer, Molly (much better than mine will be)!

    I started reading aloud to my son when he was about a year old, every night. At first I just had him looking at picture books with me, then we moved on to simple stories. Eventually he had his favorites almost memorized, and was reading by himself at four. We kept up bedtime reading into first grade, but like me (and you, but not your kids), he was less interested in being read to as he became more capable of reading on his own.

    I also feel that this was one thing I did "right" as a parent.

  12. I remember my parents reading to me all the time as a child and it was very special

  13. Molly, your story really touched me and has made me question some of my own practices to help encourage my kids to read. Thank you for sharing!

  14. I enjoy reading your sharing of your kids. My parents never read to me. I think after all it's really pure chance and battle of wills whether a child (or any person) would take up reading. Your son is a great example that we don't all learn and acquire information in the same way. Some of us are visual learners and others would fare better with audio.

  15. Very thoughtful post ... I learned a lot from it and that was great as I'm early in my own child-rearing career. My son is starting to read but doesn't want to do it that much and I'm trying not to push him to read when he doesn't want to. And I agree: you have to let them be who they are, and it might not be a reader. Thanks!


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