How to get kids to read?
It's the subject of at least a gazillion internet articles and an ongoing topic of preference for educators, policymakers and politicians of all stripes.
Most writers love to read. I'm no exception to that generalization, so you can imagine my discomfort at discovering my children don't necessarily share my passion for the printed word.
That being said, I've come to realize my childrens' world bears almost no resemblance to the one where I grew up.
I was the only child of back-to-the-land ex-hippies living in a rural area without television. Reading wasn't a chore, it was my savior. Better yet, my parents didn't keep tabs on what I read. Stephen King in fifth grade? Sure, why not. The Blue Book of Fairies the next week? That worked too. I read indiscriminately, voraciously and without censorship.
Still, despite what seems like the constant forward motion of our lives, the occasional silence will settle upon our house and someone will fling themselves bodily upon me wailing the lament of children throughout time. "I'm sooooo bored. What should I do?"
It dawned on me lately that busy schedules might not be the only thing getting between my kids and their love of reading.
Instead of a simple pastime, something to do to relieve the, sometimes suffocating, boredom of childhood, the rhetoric which now accompanies the act of reading has transformed it into something to be measured out in doses and prescribed like a particularly untasty medicine.
The conversations I hear about reading revolve around quantity (30 minutes a night), leveled readers, award winning books and novels chosen on behalf of our children, after consultation with a trusted librarian.
All this goes a little way towards explaining why, when we arrive at the library, my children tag-a-long after me asking questions like "Is it okay if I just read a graphic novel? Does it have to be a Newberry Award winner? Can I pick a book from the little kids' section?"
They've picked up on the societal message that reading is like working out. No pain, no gain.
You have to pick your own book.
The book should be interesting.
"Check out a lot, as much as you want," I tell them, "If you don't like it, don't finish it. Read what you love."
I'd like to think my new rules are having their intended effect. From Sunday evening to Friday after school, screens go off. There are still plenty of distractions, but more and more the plaintive whine of "I'm bored" is being replaced by the silence of an entire household reading, not because it's mandated, prescribed or assigned, but because it's a pleasurable way to pass the time.