A while back, a mum wrote to me, worried that her daughter had suddenly begun to enjoy reading. That might seem a strange cause for concern, but the problem was that the books were targeted toward Grades 2-3, whereas the child was in Grade 4. Not only that, but the girl was capable of reading more difficult text. It’s just that these easier texts were books she WANTED to read, and enjoyed reading. Whereas the books she was supposed to read were not.
Where do these messages come from that we should “push” our kids, challenge them with difficult material, encourage them to read books that are branded with their grade level? Who says it’s the best thing for our kids? Is it any wonder so many kids think of reading as a chore?
Let’s look at how adults read. I’ve been a reader all my life. I enjoy reading and would suppose I am a “good” reader. Occasionally, I find a book that’s difficult for me. The text is dense, and full of scientific words I don’t understand. Sentences are complex. After two paragraphs, I feel like I’ve run the reading equivalent of a marathon. There is no doubt some would say I should persevere with such a book. It will do me “good”.
But do I? No. I slip it back on the shelf and find something I’ll enjoy. Am I lazy, unchallenged? I just think I’m being practical. I expect to enjoy reading, otherwise I won’t do it. The only times I read text that I don’t want to read is when I’m a student and it’s a course requirement. And then I employ all my wiles to ingest that information as easily as I can.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that all learning must be fun or we should abandon it. In our less-than-ideal world, there will be times in all our lives when we must knuckle down and learn something despite there being no perceivable fun or pay-off involved. When kids attend school, there will be books they are required to read. It’s very difficult for schools to tailor themselves to the needs and wants of individuals.
What I am saying, and I believe this with every fibre of my being, is that if we want kids to LOVE reading, parents should let them read what they enjoy, when they can, regardless of their perceived ability or grade level. There is nothing wrong with kids reading junior books when they are 16 or even an old chook like me.
The key is to let them choose books they want to read. Encourage them to borrow as many books as they want from the library, buy comics from garage sales, whatever they want. If there are books you think they’ll love, but they resist, consider sharing those books in a family read-aloud time. That way, you are widening the range of literature they encounter, but still giving them control over their independent reading.
When kids LOVE reading, it becomes something they want to do more and more. Books become their friends and open up new worlds for them. They learn to love words and what we can do with them, which in turn fuels their writing, and all their communication skills.
Sometimes it seems to me there are forces at work that want to rob our kids of their childhood. By trying to push them into learning they are not ready for, by making everything a competition and comparing our kids to some so-called norm, we are doing them a huge disservice.
I believe we must do our best to help our kids love reading. That is the number one priority in my mind. I urge every parent to make it a priority too.