Monday, July 16, 2007

Help My Kid Read!

So my husband and I are having a convo about our son last night at dinner. Well, it was also about us. See, I am an avid reader. (Obviously.) I can read just about any book in two-days, and once I pick up a juicy one, I'm completely oblivious to the world. My brother is the same way...I mean, he reads more books and reads them faster than any human being I've ever seen.

My husband, however, is not so eager to dive in. In fact, I'd go so far as to say (as would he) that not only doesn't he read very often, he doesn't particularly enjoy it when he does. (Trust me, it was a huge accomplishment in our household when he read TDLF.) To be fair, he spends a good deal of his day reading for work, so it's not like he's illiterate and it's not like he's not freakishly smart: he is. He just doesn't enjoy reading for pleasure.

So this comes up last night as we're discussing our son, who is almost 3. Now, Cam really digs it when we read to him, which we do every night, and I often do while he eats, and at intermittent periods during the day, etc. But he also plays around with us: we ask him to point out letters, and even though it's obvious that he knows them, he jokes that he doesn't and pretends that certain letters are numbers, etc. This, I know, is just part of his personality: he's a ham and finds the whole scene hilarious.

But there's a niggly feeling in me that wonders if we're not doing enough to turn him into the readers that my brother and I became. I mean, I'm an easy-going mom. He's allowed some TV, and spends a lot of his day just playing, and certainly, I'm not interested in pinning him to the library and turning him into a superhero reader. But I do want to impart how much joy books can bring into his life, and how they can take him places that TV and other mediums can't. (I should add that I'm not truly concerned that he won't love to read or doesn't love to already: he's surrounded by books and a writer mom, etc, but I'm more interested in what you can do to fashion a good reader.)

So, I know that a lot of you out there are avid did your parents help you get there? Why are so many kids out there completely disinterested in reading these days? Is it because TV is just so much easier and since a lot of kids are lazy to begin with, they'd rather plop down in front of it and zone out?

And yes, I do plan to ask my mom what she did right...but I'm curious to hear what other people are doing for their own kids or what nurtured their own love of books.


Sue said...

My mother made sure I had a lot of access to books. Same with my siblings. But my sibs never picked up books the way I did, despite having the exact same opportunities.

My kids were always surrounded by books. I read to them. They saw me reading. But they aren't huge readers. My son is moreso than my daughter, but we discovered she is dyslexic when she was in the 5th grade.

I think it is personality as much as anything.

Larramie said...

Both my parents read to me as well as recited nursery rhymes. But my dad told me stories (totally made up, of course) and I understood imagination at a very young age, sparking the desire to want to read other made up stories.

Anonymous said...

My parents didn't read to me at all. They were new to the country when I was born, and didn't know much English for a long time. But they did tell me stories. Lots and lots of stories. I don't think I had anyone read to me until I was in kindergarten. I loved being read to. I think that was what did it for me. When I reached the age that teachers stopped reading out loud to kids, I read like crazy on my own.

To this day, I've never seen my dad read a book. My brother is a non-reader as well, and my sister occasionally will read. My brother hated reading because my mom (on the advice of his teacher), would force him to read every day and go to the library weekly, and he did not like being forced.

So I'm not sure why I stand out among my family. I'm not sure what makes someone more likely to read than not. I think I'm just a creative, imaginative person, whereas my brother is more of a hands-on, let me fix things kind of guy, and my sister is the very scientific-lab rat kind of girl. Maybe I'm just more artistically-inclined? Who knows.

I'd say tell stories, read stories out loud, role model and give all reading materials a chance.

Gina Black said...

I joke that my kids are MAJOR readers because I read while I was nursing. ;)

I actually don't know if there is a sure-fire way to raise a reader. Access to good books is crucial. Reading to them is too. Reading yourself is also important. But I wouldn't push it. My son had trouble learning how to read and I had to put him in a special program when he was in the third grade because he still couldn't do it and he was starting to feel like a failure. As soon as he *finally* got it, he was up to his grade-level and beyond. Now he's the first guy at the bookstore when the next Harry Dresden book is out, etc., etc.

BTW--both kids also watch gobs of TV and it's never seemed to put a dent in their reading.

Trish Ryan said...

Both my parents are readers - I guess that made it kind of a normal thing to do in our house. We had nights where we'd all just go to our rooms after dinner and read (we only got 3 TV channels in our part of Maine back then, so it wasn't much of a stretch to find a book more entertaining than the TV option). Also, before we took long trips we'd all get to pick out a book to read on the way, which made it seem like a big treat.

I suspect that if your kids see you reading all the time, they'll want in on it, too.

Dawn said...

When my dad read to me, he always gave characters their own voices and mannerisms -- pretty much acting out the stories. That really made the stories come alive for me.

My parents just cleaned out their attic and found a bunch of my favorite books fromy my pre-school days. Not surpriingly, the one called "Let's Go Shopping" is well worn1

Anonymous said...

Ask your friends & relatives to give your kids gift cards to Borders or Barnes and Noble for birthdays and holidays instead of yet another toy (especially if they ask what they want, but even if they don't and you have that kind of relationship).

All three of my kids get B&N gift cards from my in-laws periodically and they love picking out a stack of brand new books -- they really appreciate the gesture. They typically start reading them in the car on the ride home, then pour over them and keep them beside their beds. They see an inherent value in the books they choose because they were a gift.

Of course, they always choose one stuffed animal to go with their selections -- but heck, what's one more stuffed animal when they've already taken over the room?

Anonymous said...

I heard that statistically more than being read to or having books in the house, kids who saw their parents reading were most likely to be readers.

Anonymous said...

All wonderful questions and I think you know the answers already. Yes, TV , computers and video games kidnap our kids. Never fool yourself otherwise. As for what to do: don't stop reading to your son, and remember to read to him purely for pleasure, as you wish him to read one day. That means don't impose a certain kind of response on his part; no sounding out words or pointing to letters. (That's for you, after all) It takes the fun out and puts the pressure on. Read funny books, read intriguing books, read children's literature that you never read yourself. The more you enjoy it, the more he'll enjoy it.

That's how it has worked for me. And thank goodness. There's a lot of wonderful children's books that I missed when I was a kid. Now I get a second chance.

Anonymous said...

Allison, you couldn't have asked me a better question. Here's my big fat 2 cents:

Number one: Modeling. That's pretty much the recipe for all of parenting, isn't it? So, just do what you do naturally. He'll pick it up because he sees you doing it. Not at 3, of course. He's only 3, and I don't care what anyone says, let him be three, and screw "No Child Left Breathing."

Two: Kill your TV.

Three: Tell stories to your son. Don't read them, tell them. You can find oodles of anecdotal and researchy evidence alike espousing the benefits of telling stories to children. It bonds you; it allows your child to create pictures in his head and generate his own imagination; it lays the groundwork for critical thinking; there is no intermediary between the teller and the book.

Tell stories of your life, your relatives, your childhood, etc. Make up fantastical stories in which your son is the hero.

Most of all, please forget about pressuring your child to read early. Engage his imagination and let him learn according to his own rhythm. At this developmental age, it's just parroting anyway. Our children just want to see you smile and go cuckoo when they get it right.

Get him involved in the sound of language and in the bond of your relationship, and you'll have a reader. No question.

I just got down off my pedastal. Over to you...

Anonymous said...

I'm not a parent, so take my advice with a grani of salt.

My first name is Kimberly, and my mom loves to repeat the story of when I was younger and pointed out the letters in my name that formed the word "milk". (And years later I taught ESL and boggled my Japanese students with that, heh.)

Anyway, my advice would be to play some word games like that. And when you think his age is appropriate, maybe use some mad libs. Those are enough to get him interested in the language, which is a start.

When he's older, perhaps a joke book would be good--or now to be read out loud, depending on his sense of humor. Right now he thinks it's funny to act like he doesn't read, but if he sees reading can make him and other people laugh, maybe it'll change his mind.

You've probably thought of these already, or it's not exactly what you're asking, so sorry to just barge in with opinions. But good luck. :)

Patti said...

i have tutored so many children who hated to read. the first course of action is to get books, mags, anything into theri hands that they find interesting, and then expand from there. also talking about, showing an interest in what they are reading is key.

i have yet to have a hater remain a hater...

Sonya said...

Hi Allison,
First, I have wanted to write and say thank you for all the helpful writing questions you have answered on your blog. I bought TDLF, and though I haven't gotten to it yet, I am excited to!

You asked why so many kids aren't interested in reading, and I think that pushing them to read before they are developmentally ready is one factor. We are so anxious to get them to read in school, and if they aren't, they get the label of being a bad reader, etc.

When your son is naming the letters, it could be the same as naming any other object, like calling a car a car or a flower a flower. There are some approaches that say don't even teach the names of the letters at first, teach the sounds first. Being able to name the letters is not so important to learn to read.

I think the best thing you can do is to read to them, a lot! And go to the library and let them choose whatever books they want. My kids (7 and just turned 3) love to go to the library and we all read more for several days after. Read really great children's books, like Owl Moon, Make Way for Ducklings and all the books by Robert McCloskey, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, A Giraffe and a Half. See the book list from the Five in a Row series, there is a list here: I discovered truly great children's books when my son was 4 and 5, when I was pregnant and nursing a new baby, and I believe our reading times then were a big factor in his learning to read.
A great book for laying the foundation for reading is Montessori Read and Write, by Lynne Lawrence.
Thanks again for all the helpful questions and answers here!
Sonya Shaver

Anonymous said...

Allison- my almost-4-year-old is just learning to read and loves these Flip A Word books- and I happen to be giving 3 sets of them away today at my blog, MyMomShops. Maybe some of your readers might enjoy this contest too. You just need to leave a comment on the post at MyMomShops by 10pm tonight. See These are great books for pre-readers.

Anonymous said...

From the perspective of a parent with two avid readers (both boys, 12 & 14), I'd say there were several things that made my kids the readers they are.
1. I read to them - a lot.
2. As homeschoolers, they had the freedom to learn to read at their own pace (one at age 4, another at age 8).
3. TV and electronics are limited.

Anonymous said...

I've got a son and a daughter, and my daughter definitely enjoys reading more than my son does. But he's coming into his own, too, and I think what's helped is that my kids see me excited about reading. We go to the library regularly, and they also know that while a trip to the toy store won't necessarily get them a toy, a trip to the book store will almost always get them a book. So I suppose it's a bit of bribery...

With my son, letting him read what HE likes has also helped a lot. I make suggestions, but he's intimidated by big chapter books. He likes graphic novels like the Bone series. He'll go pick those up on his own and to me, that's success.