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Encouraging reading - A parent's perspective

Feb 23, 2010 | By Molly Totoro

How do you get a non-reading child to read? Or try a teenager?  
It's no easy task. A parent-teacher shares her honest story.

Different children have different reading habitsThis is a subject that is near and dear to my heart - although I am not sure that I have any definitive answers. As an English teacher, I do require my students (all teenagers) to read certain books. I try to select books that I think are worthy of study (both from a literary and a writing standpoint), as well as suited for the target audience. Do they all read these books? I am not naive enough to think that they do, but that does not modify my expectations.

Even as a parent-teacher, not all my kids love to read

As a parent, I require my children to fulfill all schoolwork responsibilities, so they definitely read (or at least to the best of my knowledge) the books that they are assigned in their classes. Of my three children, one truly dislikes reading, one reads on occasion (more now than when she was in school), and one loves reading as much as I do. I guess a .333 batting average isn't too bad!

Now that I am nearly in the empty-nest phase of life, I suppose I have the luxury of looking back with perspective. There are some things that I think I did "right". And some things that I definitely did "wrong". But ultimately, I think the love of reading is a very individual choice.
I think we can try to expose our children to the vast array of reading genres out there. We can teach them to read critically and apply what they have read in a fictional story to real life situations. But ultimately we need to learn to accept our children for who they are, and if they are not readers, that is ok.

Some you do right, others not

Parent reading personalized book to her childCase in point: I read to all three of my children from the time they were about 3 months old. I kid you not! This was a way to keep my own mind active, and they enjoyed teething on the covers. I probably read to them a total of one hour or more throughout the day.
When they were toddlers, we ended every single night with story time - consisting of at least one Bearenstein Bears book and perhaps a fairy tale story. This continued until they were first grade. This is the part of their childhood that I think I did "right".

Once they entered first grade and learned to read on their own, I encouraged them to read to me during out bedtime routine. It began as a 50/50 split: they read a story and then I read one to them.  But by the time they entered 2nd grade, I felt as though they should be reading on their own. After all, when I was in 2nd grade I wanted to read on my own! I was fiercely independent and I thought it was rather "baby-ish" if I still had my parents read to me. I just assumed that my own children would feel the same way (and you know what they say about assuming...).

At this point, it became a battle of the wills. My older children still wanted to be read to. I was viewing this as they were just lazy and didn't want to read themselves so I refused. And a war ensued.
This is the part of their childhood that I definitely did "wrong". In hindsight, they were not being lazy, they just enjoyed the story time. They would often come in and listen while I read to their younger sister. Why did I not see this?! It is a regret that I will always have. I missed out on some wonderful memories - and caused senseless battles. Hopefully they are not scarred for life.

Throw in a different way of learning

Boy listening to audiobook

Jump to my son's junior hear in high school. At this point we discovered that he needed glasses, and I was convinced that he had a reading "problem". I would bring this up at every teacher conference, but was always told that his reading comprehension was excellent. Yes - he comprehended everything he read - but it took him forever to read it!
I am not a reading specialist, but in an effort to try to help my child I noticed that his eyes would move across the line of words faster than his brain could retain. He read each line, on average, three times! No wonder he hated to read.

We also discovered that he was an auditory learner...BIG time! I remember driving in the car and he was listening to a baseball game. All of a sudden he shouted, "Did you see that?!" He was talking about a play that the announcer had described. Not only did I not "see" it, this highly visual learner could not comprehend a thing the announcer was saying (and I like baseball!).
At that point I started investigating audio books. What a God-send! My son would often listen to a book on tape, or at times, I would actually sit down and read to him (this is how I read The Scarlet Letter for the first time). It was a way for us to spend time together, and a way for my son to be exposed to some wonderful classics in a style that he could grasp.

Where does it end?

So at what point do you stop pushing your child to read? I guess I would say that through elementary school we have a responsibility to help our children learn all the basics - of which reading is a large part.
The book fairs are a wonderful way to elicit excitement for reading. Save your money and purchase the books on your child's wish list. This may be a great incentive for them to try new genres and find one that truly resonates with them.
Through secondary school children need to learn that they have a responsibility as students. Whether they like a subject or not, they must do the work in order to pass. The books selected are intended to give students a well-rounded foundation (or at least that is my philosophy when selecting books). If a child does not like a book, help them to voice what specifically they do not like. Foster discussion. Help them to dig deeper into their initial reaction and support it with details.

In the end, if your child truly does not love reading - accept it. Discover what they do love and embrace it. My son loves movies, going to movies and making movies. Movies are, quite literally, moving narratives (as opposed to books which would be stationary narratives). They have plot, setting, character, and conflict. He can see the movie, I can read the book, and we can compare notes. It is a great way for us to relate to one another and still maintain our individual preferences. 

About the author:
Molly Totoro is an experienced high school English teacher and dedicated mom to three wonderful children. Teaching English has opened Molly's eyes and mind to the wonderful world of literature. Molly shares her love of everything books in her blog, My Cozy Book Nook.
Click here to contact or read more posts by Molly Totoro.

Tags : children, kids, reading, encouragement, advice, parent, personal experience

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