Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reading as Broccoli For the Mind.

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.

My kids, however, live in a world filled with distractions. They have television, video games and a neighborhood filled with children. There are after-school activities, pets, texting with grandma, instruments to practice and cookies to sell.

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.

My newest rules about reading are as follows:

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.


Stephen Tremp said...

When I first saw that badge, I thought it said, I Are a Reader. But its 5:00 am here and coffee is still brewing.

Great post!

Barbara Watson said...

Those reading rules are great. Fortunately my kids are readers (still, even though both are teens now). It's my husband that I can't get on the bandwagon...

Beylit said...

Growing up we were allowed to read whatever we liked as long as we were reading. It was never an issue with my brother as he could read well before school and could never get enough of it.

For me it was an issue since I had such difficulty learning to read. When I showed interest in teen horror like RL Stine's Fear Street books my mother never batted her eyelashes. She didn't care how trashy they were or how low the literary merit was, she was just happy I WANTED to read. She had a rule that for every 5 books I chose I had to read one of my brothers choosing which is how I got things like Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, and Lord of the Flies under my belt along with all the fluff I could handle.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a great attitude! When you force kids to read, they tend to not enjoy it. And yes, there are so many distractions now. We read as kids because there wasn't a million channels on television, just three. (And four on those days when you could get the UHF to come in.)

ilima said...

As much as they used to make me cringe, I'm grateful for books like Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy kid because they grew my boys into avid readers.

Julie Flanders said...

Nothing better than the sound of a quiet household with everyone reading. If I was growing up now I wonder if I'd love to read as much as I did as a child. I'd like to think so, but the distractions are undeniable and it sure is a different world.

Joanne Noragon said...

I am the library mule. The granchildren reserve books online and I pickup and return. They read voraciously, probably because there are no electronics available, except three hours a day on very restricted computers. Sometimes my eyes goggle at what they have selected, and the librarian at the desk says it's OK. We did snatch one salacious novel back from Emily.

Johanna Garth said...

LOL, Stephen!

Barbara, at least they're easy rules to follow :)

Beylit, sounds like our moms had the same attitude toward reading.

Alex, isn't it weird...3 channels!

Ilima, me too. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was my son's gateway drug.

Joanne, that's our routine too. It's definitely my favorite kind of mule to be!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Reading was the distraction when I was a kid. I always had a book with me. Wish I had that kind of time now.

Hart Johnson said...

We had to make ours read. I bought books. We went to the library. I let them pick. I asked their friends what they liked. I found some of the most effective things have been things like movie trailers--that great movie coming out? It is a SERIES of BOOKS and you can read them NOW rather than waiting for the movie. I've never censored and both my kids are able readers, but only my son ever chooses it spontaneously. For our road trip last summer, I bought him 2000 pages of Stephen King... my daughter was occupied with her camera and her music. (but on a road trip, I think that camera was a pretty good companion)

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

My two older kids love to read. But it was a trial and error of finding what they liked, especially for my son. Once they found the stuff that interested them, they took off. :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

As a teacher, I face reluctant readers every year. Winning them over and finding books that turn them on to reading is one of the things I'm most proud of. I'm not always successful, but I'm pretty good at it.

(Shhh ... it's rarely, if ever, accomplished with a Newbery winner.)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

It's great that you're encouraging your kids to read; that way they'll develop a habit (and a love) of reading. I loved reading as soon as I learned how; it helped me realize that there was this whole other world outside of my small town, and it made me eager to explore it.

Weaver said...

That's wonderful! "They've picked up on the societal message that reading is like working out. No pain, no gain." You could be right. I really think in many ways schools are killing the love of leisure reading. They don't mean to but it's been very effective.

Nicki Elson said...

Oh wow -- you're totally right! These reading clubs and whatnot that are intended to encourage a love of reading in reality turn the thing into a chore -- to be completed amid the bazillion other things modern children have on their plates.

I like your new rules.

dolorah said...

I've always had to be creative in getting my kids to read by themselves. They'd let me read anything to them - what kid doesn't love Mom's attention - but wouldn't read the same books on their own.

Sometimes I just resorted to the internet; I ask a question that they needed to research - even as young as 10 - to find a good answer and we read the results together. Definitely not school approved b/c sometimes the info was really short (not meeting the 30 minute reading quota). They were gammers, and liked to read those expensive $20 quarterly magazines, and every once in a while would read an actual book. Or at least skim it enough to get the gist of the story.

As a parent, I think schools are too rigid about the nightly reading quota. A kid does not enjoy the reading just cuz he/she is forced to something. That method doesn't create a love for reading.

Not that I'm against learning to read. Or instilling an enjoyment of the pasttime. I don't have an alternative, but I just think some old fashioned ideas need to be corrected within the school system. Of course our kids as young as 4 or 5 are reading for pleasure. Too many games (even for toddlers) and other interactive programs, applications, and devices are dedicated to the information age not to address this aspect of education.

So, why does the education system still treat reading like it is an unrealistic goal for most people? Well, I'm a parent that doesn't think a kindergartner needs homework either . .

Sorry; I guess all that box-top rhetoric is just to say our kids are reading, and reading what is important to them. Unlike the 1600's, todays kids cannot get along in this world without reading, so why make it such a chore?


Tammy Theriault said...

when my daughter was having a hard time learning to read, I was pushy about it. then the teacher said to back off and let her find her passion for reading. I did and so did she find that passion. it was amazing!