I learned to read at a very young age. I taught myself to read, by first memorizing the books that my mother read to me, then learning to read the print that went along with the words, and then making the leap to other words in other books. I don’t recall any of this, of course, but that’s how my mother tells it. (Hi mom!) In my memory, I’ve been reading my whole life.
I can’t stop myself from reading. As a kid, I used to read the back of cereal boxes and milk cartons if that’s all that was available. My parents used to joke that I should “put down that book and watch some TV, like a normal kid!” Reading seems like part of my DNA.
But not so for my kids.
Somehow I’ve managed to raise two kids who are not all that interested in reading. I have no idea how that happened. Though it is tempting, I can’t in good conscience blame their father. His taste in books is different from mine, but he reads quite a bit and always has several books in his pile.
When I’ve looked for advice about “fostering a reading environment” (that’s the official term for it), the suggestions seem simple enough:
- Model the behavior. Let your kids see you reading, regularly, all different types of things.
- Read to your child. Set this routine at a young age, so the kids expect reading as part of their day.
- Remove distractions. Don’t allow your children to spend too much time in front of the screen (TV, handheld, computer, etc.). Make sure they have time in their day for reading.
But here’s the thing: if it was that easy, my kids would both be great readers. They see all the adults in their lives read, we read to them when they were little (and we still read out loud sometimes as a family activity), and both kids have plenty of time for reading.
Finally, I simply made a rule — 30 minutes of reading every day. Each child has to find a way to fit it in, and if they miss a day, they have to make it up the next day. Since I noticed that one child tended to discard books without giving them much of a chance, I also made a rule that they have to read at least 5 chapters of a book before they can decide they don’t want to read the rest.
I know it’s radical, and many people have told me that I run the risk of turning reading into something they have to rather than something they might want to do.
But I couldn’t come up with a better solution. The kids have to read. Reading takes practice. Part of the reason my kids didn’t like to read is because they did not find reading easy. And since they didn’t read much, they weren’t getting better at it. I had to find a way to stop this vicious cycle.
So far, it’s been a qualified success. Monkey (as my daughter is known around here) will rarely choose to read, but once she starts on her required 30 minutes she sometimes reads for longer. My son, Pumpkin, is a tougher cookie, and with a few exceptions only reads the required amount. He has found a few books such as The Hunger Games, which engaged him in such a way that he desperately wanted to know what happened next, and kept him reading much longer than usual. However, although he read the first two books in that series, he lost interest and never read the third one.
But at least they are reading. And their reading skills are improving. For right now, that’s plenty good enough for me.
What about you? Do your kids read? What are your strategies for encouraging reading? Please let me know in the comments below.
This post was prompted by an essay I just read by Joanne Kraft called Too busy to read? which gives advice very similar to the typical suggestions for “fostering a reading environment.” (She also suggests having kids “read in the car” — but just thinking about it makes me nauseous. For me, the advantage of not having kids vomit in the car trumps any potential benefit.)
You can also read a review of Kraft’s new book Just Too Busy: Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical and enter to win a copy at 5 Minutes for Mom.
In all Honesty, I have no idea how we managed it, but my kids read. When they were younger, Ed was always taking books with him on the train, and I read through the Harry Potters, multiple times as any school child, as I did with the Eragon series. Both still do read, and I’ve even gotten Eddie beyond HP…Three Muskateers…hopefully hel’ll get through it.
Although the school mandated the 30 minutes of reading, their teachers always allowed comic books and magazine reading too…In all honesty, I’ve never taken away their electronics time …although there is a limitation on t.v….the’ve both been better with the reading come bed \time..
.I do have to say that one day last week…Eddie spent every spare minute, reading HP 7. ( even as a small child( 2-4 ) he was extraordinarily intrigued by books…Grandma would get a lapful to read. I find, when a child is given more lattitude to make their own decisions, they are more apt to comply.
MindyJeanne, Do your kids watch the HP movies, too? We are definitely looking forward to HP7part2 next month!
Hi. I am stopping by from The Nonconsumer Advocate’s page. I, too, am an avid reader and did all of the necessary things to raise readers. My eldest (now 19) has always loved to hold books, but not to read. She didn’t read anything by choice until she was in the ninth grade. Her English teacher that year had a cart of her own books she would loan to the kids. My daughter was intrigued by the choices and has been reading for pleasure ever since. I am still waiting for Middlest (now 16) to start reading for pleasure. I think taking honors and AP classes, along with marching in a national champion band, takes up too much of her time. I am still hopeful that someday it will all kick in. Youngest started reading this year at age five. She seems to have magically inherited my love of reading. Bottom line is this: Don’t sweat it. You are doing all of the right things to raise readers and they ought to come around eventually.
Hi Amy, thanks for stopping by. I know that a big part of it is that reading didn’t come easily for them. Doing something that’s really hard has to have a big payoff. But if they don’t read, they won’t get better at it. Arrrgh! I hope you are right, I hope they come around eventually.
Hi there. Thank you so much for that advice.
I’m so glad it’s not just me having this problem. My daughter does not like to read. She is very smart, but she has ADHD and reading for fun is not on her list. Somehow, she has managed to grasp good spelling and good grammer, but her vocabulary is limited. It’s heartbreaking for me, but now I know I’m not the only one. I’m going to push her too read at least 10 minutes a day as a start. It’s worth a shot.
Good luck, Sandra. So far this summer we are having pretty good luck with the “you must read 30 minutes a day” practice. They both found books they like, and though they do complain, it gets easier every day. But we’re not dealing with ADHD, and I don’t claim to know anything about that. I hope it goes well for you and for your daughter.
For what it’s worth, the only boy was going to have none of the reading bit, though. Between first and second grade, I cured the inability to read, understand, stay on the line, and read with expression. We sat close so he could feel my body. I thought that this excruciating task would be better if we were close, like holding the child when an injection was imminent. He jumped three grade levels in one summer.
When he was seven and I was pregnant with the third child, I tried a new approach. I told him that my friend loaned me JAWS, and I was soooo busy that I needed him to read it to me while I cooked dinner. He rebelled. I pleaded. Finally, he gave in. As he started to read the first page, he became interested. Have you ever seen a pregnant woman try to take a book from a child who is very fluently (NOW) reading about two people running on the beach to the ocean as they strip?
I finally had to give the book back since he found it whereever I hid it.
He quit reading.
The next year, I had him read Call of the Wild. He would not be allowed to go swimming during the summer if he did not read. He grumbled, whined, grouched. But, he went to his room to read. He stayed up in his room so long, I figured he must not be reading. He came downstairs, breathless, telling me what happened in the book.
From that day on he was an avid reader. I chose the books at first. Then, he did. The books the teacher assigned were horrible books. He rose from a poorly performing but very bright child to one of the stars of his class. He was given the first book report assignment in his class. He won the fourth grade spelling bee.
Now, he teaches hs English. He did teach at the university level. He tutors children. In his spare time…lol…he coaches at several high schools. He does not want to be called coach. He is a teacher first.
I know this party is over, but I hoped to help.
Oh my gosh, that image of pregnant you chasing your son trying to retrieve the book has made my day!
I have also been trying to help my kids choose interesting books. I never thought of Call of the Wild — great idea! I absolutely agree that giving them books that are engaging is a great strategy.
Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences. Who knows? Hopefully one of these strategies (or rather, all of them together) will help my kids too…
I loved “The Monster at the End of this Book,” too. Unfortunately, my son has autism and is still working to read even the easiest words. But he is interested enough to look at books and to pretend to read.
My sister “makes” her kids read 1/2 hour per day, too. That is their favorite assignment, and they often read longer. They are very skilled readers now. Keep at it. I think you’re doing the right thing.