Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My Child Hates to Read!

Learning to read is an exhilarating milestone for young children and their parents, much like the first step in learning to walk. Reading is an entryway to literate, educated adulthood and we are astonished to see our baby toddle his/her way to its threshold.  Parents who are themselves avid readers may be especially thrilled to share this cherished interest with their children.  And certainly every parent is excited to see their child  achieve an important tool for success. But not everybody likes to read.  What happens when our children aren't interested, or worse, dislike reading? 

 Many adults I know lead happy, fulfilling lives without reading much.  More introverted people (like me) thrive on alone time and reading is a perfect pastime. While I read, I mentally interact with the author, transcribing his/her concepts and imagery to feed my own thoughts and mental images. I developed a love of reading as a young child, as a place to explore the world of ideas, where I found myself to be most comfortable. During elementary school, there were times when I would  spend an entire day reading a book from cover to cover.  Even today, I probably read a book a week.

Among my friends, I was in the minority.  Many people prefer more action in their free time:  interacting with others, chatting on the phone, playing sports or card games. They are less comfortable engaging in the quiet act of reading.  There's no value judgment.  In my own family, some of my children and grandchildren enjoy reading for fun and others don't.  Readers and non readers are equally intelligent, happy, successful.  The problem for children who don't like to read is that they must be good readers to succeed in school.  So, how can we encourage them to read at home when they find it a chore?

The very best strategy to help our children along their path to reading is to read to them. An emotional connection to reading develops from the warmth and closeness of mom and/or dad sharing special time with their child. Moreover, reading aloud to children introduces them to important reading strategies.  For example, they learn that we read top to bottom, left to right.  (If you think that's a small detail, consider the fact that my 2 year old flipping the pages of her picture book backwards was the impetus for my conversion to Judaism!)  They learn meaning through our tone and expression, and with picture cues.   In books with repetitive text (such as "and he was still hungry" in Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar), children learn to predict, and often begin to associate letters with sounds.

If a young child does not enjoy books, it may be that the selection is too wordy.  Try paraphrasing, or just pointing to the pictures and describing what you see.  Wordless books can be lots of fun, as are song books:  "Old Macdonald", "Baby Beluga", "Over in the Meadow".  And most children love pop-up books like  "Where's Spot?" and nursery rhymes and songs, "Mary Had a Little Lamb", "Humpty Dumpty".  So many childhood memories are crafted around these books for little ones, and each of them builds beginning reading skills.

Reading aloud is just as valuable for children who are already readers, particularly for those who don't like to read . They also benefit from the special attention and close bonds of reading with mom or dad.  For an older child, choose a topic that interests him/her.  Reading a chapter a night before bed, perhaps of a classic children's book, will allow his body to rest and leave his mind free to think and imagine. He will gain all the benefits of reading without having to struggle to sound out words or intone expression.  Eventually, he may decide to pick up the book on his own. 

A child should not be coerced to read independently.  Reading should never be a punishment. It's fun! Recognize any steps your child takes toward independent reading with interest and positive reinforcement.  And know that reading is not exclusive to books. Comics or age-appropriate magazines work just as well at building reading skills.

Even people who don't read a book a week find pleasure in reading.  Share that with your children.  Keep lots of reading material around the house. Take pride in their steps, and enjoy the journey.


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