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.