I cannot imagine my life without books any more than I can imagine life without breathing
~Terry BrooksI don't just love reading, I consider it to be an essential survival skill. It gives me immeasurable joy to share my passion for books, especially with my own children. In fact, when I found out that I was expecting my daughter I did not go out and buy booties, a stuffed animal, blankets, or any other cutesy baby stuff. My first purchases for my unborn child were The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. My two oldest children have definitely followed my example (or succumbed to my will) and become voracious readers. This is not the case with my sweet, social, and hilarious youngest son, though. Zane is a tiny, two-legged tornado of constant motion and endless energy who would rather go to the dentist than sit down and read a book. In professional educator speak, Zane is a "reluctant reader".
So, is it really a big deal that some kids just do not enjoy reading? The short answer: YES!
Kids that read for pleasure (i.e. read books that they choose for fun in and out of school) have greater academic success . The National Literacy Trust in the U.K. has also issued a report, Reading for Pleasure, that expounds on the many positive effects of voluntary reading.
The benefits of reading for pleasure do not stop at graduation, either. As Harry S. Truman stated: "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." The National Endowment of the Arts released To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence in 2007 that took into account a multitude of research studies on reading and the lifelong benefits of reading (especially voluntary reading) are numerous and consistent across the board. The Harvard Business Review and the New York Times have both published articles proclaiming that reading makes you smarter, more successful, andmore empathetic.
*If you want more research (and who doesn't) I recommend Stephen Krashen's book The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research.
Of Course, I am not a stat person. I am a totally emotional, touchy-feely, books are my life type of person. It is great that reading leads to success but this short video sums up the more important reasons that we need to take the remote or computer mouse out of our children's hands and replace it with a book.
Ok, let's get back to the whole point of this blog which is: My child hates to read and what can I do to change it?
First off, the point is frequently made that reluctant readers are not struggling or slow readers. Well, in my opinion this is true and not true at the same time.
No matter how long students spend engaged in direct reading instruction, without time to apply what they learn in the context of real reading events, students will never build capacity as readers. Without spending increasingly longer periods of time reading, they won't build endurance as readers, either. Students need time to read and time to be readers.~Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer
In other words, reading in school is not enough. Kids need to read just for the sake of reading outside of the classroom in order to become fluent readers. So how do you get them to do this without forcing them. I have struggled with this with Zane. I know that he needs to read at home, but I am scared that if I force him to do it he will just hate it more.
The first step is to let your child choose what they want to read, where they want to read, and how they want to read. Remember that your kids are already told what to read at school. If you want them to enjoy reading you need to give them the reigns and, trust me, I understand how difficult this can be for all of us control freak parents.
Let me break down a few of these Reader's Rights.
1. The Right Not to Read
This probably seems counterintuitive. Isn't the whole point to get your kids to read? Well, think of it more as the right to stop and go do something else and come back later. Right now, Zane's nightly homework is to read for 20 minutes. For kids that do not like reading, though, 20 minutes can seem like an eternity. Break it up into more manageable chunks until your non-reader builds up some stamina. At our house, we have a mini indoor trampoline and Zane will read for 5-10 minutes and then go bounce for a few minutes.
2.3.8. The Right to Skip, Not Finish, or Dip In
These all kind of go together for me. Some books have boring parts or start out interesting, but dry up. Think about the bible. Does anyone read the verses with all of the "begats"? Or if you have ever read The Lord of the Rings trilogy you know that Tolkien can go off on some long tangents (like pages and pages of Elvish songs). Don't force your child to keep reading if it is boring. You are just going to make them feel like they are sitting in school reading a text book.
4. The Right to Read it Again
When my kids were little they each had their favorite books that they would listen to over and over and over and over. Zoe could recite The Giving Tree and I read James and the Giant Peach to her four times before she was six (Zoe had a freakish attention span and would listen to chapter books as a toddler). My oldest son, Zander, loved The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. The only two picture books that I could get Zane to listen to were Hop on Pop and The Monster at the End of this Book. The point is kids love familiarity so if they want to reread their favorite books or will only read a single series let them. I promise that eventually they will move on to something else. There are kids who come into the library that will only read American and Michigan Chillers or Junie B. Jones or Rainbow Magic and their parents will try to force them to pick out something else. and it just makes the kids more stubborn. I have read The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, and countless other books multiple times so why would I tell my kids they cannot read their favorites again? Even when they are reading a book for the tenth time they are still immersing themselves in language and that is what matters.
5.The Right to Read Anything
This one is usually the hardest, because we (as in parents) tend to get overly concerned about grade level and whether or not our kids are meeting educational standards. Do you always read Literature with a capital L or do you like to relax with a good thriller or romance novel? Throw all those thoughts about what you think your child should be reading out the window and focus on what they want to read.
Are they interested in a particular subject? Try nonfiction. Zane has checked out every book the library has on Monster Trucks. Definitely not what I am interested in, but he will actually sit and read it so who cares. Boys especially seem to love any nonfiction book that has gross facts, man eating beasts, or motors in it.
You can also try Graphic Novels. Let go of any preconceived notions or prejudices you may have against comic books. There is a lot of great story telling in Graphic Novels and they have them for every interest and age level.
Branches books that are published by Scholastic. If you follow the link you will see that they have a great variety of Hi/Lo series to choose from. Don't worry that these might be too easy for your child. When a child truly dislikes reading giving them books that are challenging or take too long to read will just turn them off.
Michael Sullivan is a librarian and author who has written several books on reluctant readers and specifically boys who do not like to read. He has lots of great book recommendations as well as book reviews on his website so check it out if you need some fresh ideas.
The rest of the rights are pretty self-explanatory. My final words of wisdom for those of you like me with reluctant and unwilling readers is: Don't give up hope!