Teaching kids to hate reading

Published by Lori Pickert on June 17, 2009 at 01:21 AM


“Mom, I hate reading. I did not want to tell you that, ’cause I know that it’s your job and reading is a big deal to you, but I really really hate it. I dream of the day when I will never have to do reading again. If I was on a desert island, I would rather die of starvation, than read a book. And, if you think I am weird or something, you gotta know, all my friends feel exactly the same way.Angela Maiers, Reading Without Meaning — Heartbreak at Home

Here’s the question. Is it just reading they’re learning to hate?

See also: Reading and In Defense of Reading .. Which Should Need No Defense



Comment by Barbara in NC on June 17, 2009 at 02:17 AM

This is so heartbreaking I don't even know what to say.

Comment by jessica on June 17, 2009 at 03:24 AM

This was so good for me to read today. I have been feeling anxious about the fact that all my two older kids (7 and 9) want to do is read. They do ride bikes, build legos, draw and use up copious amounts of paper, but I think I could easily say that they read for at least 3 hours a day, my nine year old probably closer to 4 or 5. They love to read, but really, couldn't they do a little writing about what they read? or maybe switch gears and do some math or science experiments?

Then I spend some time with kids that go to school or read a quote like this and realize that if the one good thing about the homeschooling environment I've created is that we eat, sleep, and breath reading, then my kids are worlds ahead, because if you can read, comprehend, analyze, and apply, then you can learn to do anything.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 17, 2009 at 03:53 AM

“While I haven't asked because I’m afraid of the answers I’ll get, I’d bet that my kids can’t stand reading. To them, reading can’t be fun. It’s just another pressure-packed opportunity to be assessed. There’s always a wrong answer when it comes to reading — and wrong answers never feel good.” — a teacher’s review of Readicide: http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/2009/01/reviewing-readicide.html

Comment by patricia on June 17, 2009 at 05:10 AM

There's that one little word in Angela's son's response that tips us off to the problem: do. As in, "I dream of the day when I will never have to do reading again." You don't *do* reading. You read. Unless someone has stolen reading from you and made it something to do for him or her.

So sad.

Comment by Theresa on June 17, 2009 at 05:43 AM

Ugh. Really, this should not surprise us. Schools have already produced generations of math-phobics, made history deadly-dull, and completely killed the joy of science. Why should reading be spared their kiss of death?

Comment by Stacey on June 17, 2009 at 09:36 AM

Just another book suggestion What are Schools For by Ron Miller. THere is an excerpt at great-ideas.org

Comment by TBirdAnni on June 17, 2009 at 10:53 AM

this seems all the more ironic considering that, in the UK, our right to allow our children to learn to love reading at their own pace (and learn to love learning for that matter) is about to be ripped away from us. I am left wondering how the evidence of repeated studies into how children learn can be ignored and called progress.

Comment by Ellie - Petalplum on June 17, 2009 at 11:41 AM

I was talking with my father-in-law about this the other day. How things are lost through sterisilation of life, of people not wanting to take the time to learn something because "it's too boring".
How many things are lost through text messaging and facebook - misspelling is becoming accepted in schools, and grammer is all but lost.
Everyone in my family (my parents + my 3 siblings) read constantly. In the car, on the school bus, walking up the big dirt road hill from the school bus, tucked in bed during weekends devouring books, all lined up in a row reading comics (generally Tin Tin). Our houses are filled with books. We grew up with books.
I would be so sad if my children, and nephews + nieces, don't grow up with this same love.
The books I see my nephew read at school are tedious, and wouldn't encourage anyone to learn to read. You know the ones I mean. We normally swap the school ones out for something more fun, and the reading voice changes and the enthusiasm increases.
I do think that all parents need to read with their children at home. If your child goes to school, don't leave it all up to the teacher to do all the teaching. Parents are often scared to sit down and simply read and enjoy that with their children; they think it has to be a chore, which means that children think it has to be a chore.

Oh - I cannot imagine my life without reading and stories and writing and words and sentences and letters, and commas, and full stops, and exclamations marks!

Comment by barbara on June 17, 2009 at 12:57 PM

wow, that is really sad! my life would feel really empty without a good book to soak up and get lost in.

(OT: sweet chairs!)

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 17, 2009 at 01:07 PM

barbara in nc, i feel that way, too. well, except you know i can always find something to say. ;^)

“because if you can read, comprehend, analyze, and apply, then you can learn to do anything.” — jessica, absolutely — it’s one of those “core skills”, right? it’s a superpower you can use to do anything you want.

my boys read for hours a day, too. the homeschool day is *long* and there is room for doing everything you want to do and still some room left over to think and dream and be bored and make new plans!

theresa, it’s more general than that — there are kids who just hate *learning*. just the word “learn” turns them off — they think it’s going to be boring and rigid and punitive. it says “we have expectations of you and you are going to do what we say.” rather than — here is the whole world — we want to show it to you and then do whatever we can to help you discover its treasures.

stacey — thank you for the book recommendation!

tbirdanni, i’m so sorry about what is happening in the UK — i can’t imagine my government telling me i am not capable of educating my own child. it seems the antithesis of freedom. i hope there is a huge uproar and things change in your benefit.

ellie, oh yes, i do know the ones they “do” at school. there is so little time for “free choice” reading at school — if any. and if you follow that second link up there in my update you’ll get a teacher’s perspective of how even good books are destroyed through the teaching process — pulled apart and turned into tasks.

i was appalled — absolutely shocked and appalled — when the sons of a friend told me that they “hated to read” several years ago. my own boys were 2 and and an infant. these older children told me they *hated* to read, hated books — i couldn’t even imagine such a thing. i couldn’t imagine how *anyone* (school, a teacher) could manage to present books in such a way as to make them anything less than wonderful. with time, i understood how it happened — but i’ve never understood why.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 17, 2009 at 01:15 PM

b, YES, forget about how key reading is for understanding the world and mastering the things you want to master — what about the pure enjoyment it brings to life?! how could one life without it?! :^)

(and thanks re: the chairs — got to have good places to curl up and read! ;^)

Comment by Henry on June 17, 2009 at 01:41 PM

Thanks for the link.

Comment by Amy on June 17, 2009 at 01:48 PM

I've been thinking about this since we started talking about summer reading programs in the comments of the last post. I can see all the ways schools ruin reading for kids, starting with the expectation that everyone should read at age x (what is it now? 6? is it 5 yet?). I remember my own early elementary experiences, how we were all forced to read aloud in small groups, how excruciating it was for all of us when it was the turn of the slower readers, and I wonder what the purpose was. How easy it is for a kid to be labeled slow or stupid, when he's probably just being forced to do something too soon. If that were your early experience with reading--being shamed in front of the class--would you *ever* love it?

One of my degrees is in English. Obviously I don't mind digging in deep to pull apart a book. But when I did it on my own, in college, it was very different than being led by the nose in high school to uncover the predetermined, "correct" answers. I don't know how I managed to keep the two separate--reading for pleasure versus reading for school--or even how I managed to get some pleasure out of school reading. (I was SO MAD when Miss Capalbo in junior year English gave away the ending of A Tale of Two Cities. How dare she go ahead of where we were in the reading and spoil it? Did she not realize that some of us were actually enjoying the damn book? It probably never occurred to her.) I go back and forth, much like Jessica, on whether my 7yo should be doing some writing along with the reading, if I should have a more structured reading curriculum. For now I'm just asking basic comprehension questions and leaving it at that. I'm so glad he reads for fun! (Right now he is reading to the 5yo while I nurse the baby to sleep.)

Comment by jen on June 17, 2009 at 02:48 PM

I have a friend who was recently telling me about how her daughter has to read for x number of minutes before she can play on her DS or with the Wii or watch tv. She was telling me about how her daughter (who is amazing and bright and funny and very able to read well) will complain and whine about reading that one chapter a day.

I was crushed for her (the mom...well, the child too, but that's an obvious one), and I was even sadder that I couldn't tactfully think of a way to tell her that she was causing the problem with her structure. She was pitting reading against something that is, for lack of a better word, easier. (Electronics are easy on a child's brain; kids don't have to think...and we all like easy.) The mom, though meaning well is also turning reading into a chore by making it the thing that "has" to be done. In that sort of scenario, there's no way her daughter is going to curl up with a book for a few hours.

I wish I could express that to her w/o sounding all "I know it all."

I have been pondering this little scenario for the last week or so, and I truly think that this is the heart of the reason that so many kids have not learned to love reading. It is no longer seen as a privilege or a way to visit far away (or imaginary) places or a way to relax or a way to learn. It is something that kids have to do - to pass the test, to get access to the Wii, to earn a coupon for ice cream at the library, and so on and so on. I don't think the rewards are always bad, yet when reading is only a means to an end our children are robbed of the opportunity to see reading as a reward in and of itself.

Comment by Bobbi on June 17, 2009 at 02:54 PM

I'm so steamed that I can't even articulate myself!

In the original post the authro described a lesson of sorts but the boy equates that lesson to reading in general. That is sad. What is more is that the original author whose job it is to "teach reading" doesn't seem to have much on her website that isn't about structural lessons that require reading but are about other things such as the structure of a sentence (grammar), the composition of a report.....now I didn't dig through the entire website so perhaps I missed where she talks about reading versus language arts lessons.

I admit I'm slightly confused but I think that is because I hold reading (the act) separate from lessons on language structure, writing composition and so forth. Even though we have a structured homeschool (vs relaxed/unschool) we try diligently to not force or push the skill of reading before it is ready to blossom on its own.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 17, 2009 at 04:56 PM

henry, thank *you* for the link. ;^)

amy, i think it is five now. one of my best friends has taught K for the last several years and the majority of the kids learn to read.

i remember reading groups! they divided us by ability, so all the kids knew who were “good readers” and who were in the “slow” group. excruciating is right.

my third-grade teacher read chapter books aloud to us every day before lunch. i have intense memories of the classroom, my desk, the shadows the tree-filtered sunlight made on the walls, and all the children listening with rapt attention. i wonder how many teachers (especially in third grade — a testing year here) could get away with that today. like recess, i think the benefits *far* outweigh any “direct instruction time” lost.

jen, this “must read *first* and only *then* get your reward” mentality is the same thing amy and i were discussing re: reading programs in the comments of the previous post. we *create* a situation where we say, implicitly and explicitly, reading is something you *have* to do and somewhat of a *chore* but here, i will reward you for doing it. then we wonder why they see it as a chore…

i do have to disagree with you about electronics being “easy” — i actually hold kind of the opposite view. ;^) i think they are *so* attractive to children because they are *not* easy — they offer up a challenge and a lot of interaction. my husband (full disclosure — he is a software engineer! ;^) and i were just discussing this — how *hard* kids will work on a computer (or DS or video) game, how they will do a million tedious tasks to reach their goal, how they will discuss animatedly with each other different strategies for solving problems. their brains are fully engaged. (even if their bodies are motionless blobs ;^)

*books* can be hard — somewhere on the site i talk about a study that said college students today are *way* less willing to tackle a tough book, like shakespeare or dickens or even a science text for nonscientists. they aren’t willing to do the work; they don’t see the reward. yet my sons, a couple of years ago (when they were 10 and 7) started reading shakespeare together (believe me, entirely their idea). my 10yo told me it was hard, he didn’t understand everything, “but i’m going to stick with it.” to me, that comes from a deep understanding of what books give — a love of reading, but even more than that, a connection with reading. he really understands that this “hard” book has treasure inside that he will have to dig for. kids know this about video games — because they are games. they are fun. they are *play*. but we have taken books (in schools, maybe not all schools, and in some homes) and we have turned them into a chore, taken away the play aspect, taken away the choice and the freedom, and *that*, i think, is why kids aren’t willing to do the work. why should they? they don’t see the reward.

“It is no longer seen as a privilege or a way to visit far away (or imaginary) places or a way to relax or a way to learn.” beautiful — and reminds me of emily dickinson — “there is no frigate like a book … to take us lands away …”

bobbi, i see your point!

Comment by jen on June 17, 2009 at 06:07 PM

I guess this is where I clarify that "for lack of a better word, easy" bit. Probably should have done that earlier, but I'm totally stealing time to get to the computer today - eek!

I actually do agree with you about electronics; I guess I meant easy in the sense of easy to get into, easy to learn, easy to enjoy, easy to keep going and going and going, even like you said, easy to consider fun. You used the word tedious to describe some video game tasks; that's exactly what I am saying.

While there are definately a few tedious books out there, so often books are complex with storylines interwoven, sometimes with difficult vocabulary and wild characters. Once you start a book, it can take a while to get to the exciting. You have to read and decipher, and for children it can be a multistep process of decoding then developing understanding...but isn't that exactly what you were saying when you were talking about your boys reading Shakespeare?

And finally, your recollections of third grade melted my heart. I had the same scene for much of my elementary school career; it was my favorite part of the day. I worked diligently to do it as a teacher; it was hard, but when I could manage that reading time, it was again my most very favoritest part of the day - because I enjoyed the reading and because I relished hearing my students beg for more!

And with that I'm back to preparing the house for a visit from the in-laws!

Thanks for the great discussion!

Comment by Samantha on June 17, 2009 at 09:11 PM

You all seem to have kids that love to read, and that's great, but my question is, how do you get your 7 yr old son to love reading when all he wants to do is to be outside playing soccer. Don't get me wrong, he loves me reading to him, but because he struggles so much with reading, still having to sound out most words, its a struggle, exhausting and frustrating - for him. Our home is full of books, we visit the library all the time, I am passionate about books, but at the end of the day the fact that he is finding it so difficult is jeopordising any chance of him doing it for 'pleasure'.

Comment by Kellyi on June 17, 2009 at 09:14 PM

Never again will I complain when I find A Child's First Encyclopedia damp inside the tree house, or my 6 year old fast asleep in his bed surrounded by twenty comics and books.

This makes me feel lucky to have a bunch of little readers.

It didn't used to be like this when they were at school though. Then, it was a chore. Home Ed has made them see the "reading light!"

Comment by Dawn on June 18, 2009 at 01:54 AM

I would read a whole chapter book outloud to my high school students each semester! And they loved it... The best part was that the librarian had to get extra copies of the sequels because so many of my students wanted to finish the series after I read the first book in class.
Kids "doing" reading is heartbreaking...
I was just thinking about reading today becuase I was also thinking that we do so much reading but not much writing. My mind is now at rest with this!
Great discussion!

Comment by Cristina on June 18, 2009 at 02:11 AM

Nothing kills a book faster for a child than picking it apart. ;o)

This isn't a surprise to me. Schools have always been finding ways to destroy a love of reading. Think of Shakespeare and poetry in school. I remember when I was finally out of high school was when I first picked up the complete works of Shakespeare and discovered *gasp* he wrote comedies! I never knew that!

My oldest loves reading. She's devoured books ever since I stopped trying to get her to read and when I stopped explaining the stories to her so that she could experience them for herself. :o) Now that she's in her dream job (page at the library) she's made it her mission to find books that her 13 y.o. brother will love.

Two other things I've noticed: When kids have learned how to read, they still crave having stories read to them. Our librarians have told us how many parents don't understand this. As soon as their kids learn to read they end this activity. This leads to another thing I've noticed. Parents who insist their kids read age appropriate books. I once overheard a mom at the library tell her child to put a book back because it was "too easy" for her. Once again our society is too wrapped up in standards to understand how to nurture learning. I would never tell my child to put back an easy book!

Comment by Valarie on June 18, 2009 at 11:09 AM

It is such a sad thought to me that one of my children wouldn't love reading and then it happened. My youngest only liked to be read to. His sisters would ask him,"Don't you want to learn how to read by yourself?" His answer was always the same,"No that's ok, you can read it to me." After some testing and discerning that everything was beyond normal, we left him to himself. All of us read to him, book after book. One day he decided that he wanted to write a book of his own, and then all of those sisterly instructions in phonics paid off. He wrote and still writes enough to fill blank book after blank book. At night he always has a stack of books by his bed and he reads without issue. The most important lesson for me was that I didn't budge on my behavior about the "love" of reading. I kept reading and I loved doing that. He chose how and when his love of reading would kick in. I won't lie, there were moments my heart was aching. When I look back I think "reading alone" meant that he wouldn't have the great literary company of his family around him. He just didn't want to be alone. He figured out that he wouldn't be and now reads wonderfully and beyond grade level.

Comment by Alex on June 18, 2009 at 05:04 PM

I learned so much from teaching, and then working in a children's bookstore. I'll never forget recommending a book to a homeschooled girl and her mom. Her mom said, "That was a good one! I don't think SHE liked it much because I had a study guide for it." Some time later a little boy came over to me by himself and asked me for a specific kind of sports book. When I asked him to tell me what he'd been reading so I could get him something at a good reading level for him, he said, "I can figure out anything I'm interested in." I wasn't even sure we'd be homeschoolers yet, but it was suddenly a lot clearer to me what kind we would be.

Comment by Jen R. (aaron-n... on June 18, 2009 at 07:14 PM

I don't understand how my husband can't love to read, personally. I hope to instill this love for reading that I have in my children!

Comment by Tracey on June 19, 2009 at 12:55 AM

Samantha- For your son I would suggest backing up the truck. Make reading easy. Find simple things for him to read... with good stories... so that he can enjoy it and gain confidence. Then he will be willing to tackle the books he has to work harder at.

I too remember being read to in elementary school. In 6th grade we were only able to hear 2 chapter books though out the year, but I still remember it being my favorite time. I had to really fight the urge to check out the books we were reading from the library... I just wanted to know what happened next! ~:-)

Comment by Sarah on June 19, 2009 at 03:36 AM

7 is not that old. Its perfectly normal for some kids to still struggle at this age. Just keep reading to him. He'll get it. Really he will. My husband and I are big readers and we were just discussing how old we were when we "got into reading" and it was about 9 or 10. Don't worry about it. Soccer is a great way for his mind to subconsciously work on reading while his body is working out. Just practice reading with him for a couple of min. before you send him out to play. :)

Comment by Samantha on June 19, 2009 at 09:55 AM

Thank you for the advice. Yes 7 is not old at all, as I think someone already mentioned, its this expectation from schools, government etc. that is putting so much pressure on the kids and parents that they should be achieving x at x age. I cannot even remember learning to read, so have no idea what age I was. However, I didn't fall in love with books until I was in my late teens. (People that know me find this hard to believe, they assume that It has always been like that for me). I guess I am just a little scared that the negative damage has been done. I also have a 3 yo, and don't want to make the same mistakes. I assumed wrongly that the 'school knew best' - how stupid of me!

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 19, 2009 at 12:17 PM

jen, exactly — i wanted to stop short of saying i wanted to “clarify” what you meant, as i thought it was a bit presumptuous to say i knew what you meant! ;^)

we have been talking more here about the video game/book connection/conundrum. i am *positive* that schools, if they really wanted kids to watch less tv or play fewer video games, could *easily* achieve it simply by teaching them and making them mandatory! once you’ve sucked the fun out of something for a kid (as some schools/teachers/parents have done for books), they start to be repelled — we should really consider the possibilities. maybe we could create a junk food curriculum! ;^)

samantha, i haven’t even read everyone else’s advice yet but i would say — don’t stop reading aloud!!! and introduce him to books on tape as well, so he can check out the books he wants to “read” and listen to them in his room while he plays LEGOs or lying on his bed, etc.

the thing that dies is the *love* of reading and books and that’s what you have to keep alive beyond the school-driven slog to master “language arts”. it’s essential to keep that love alive. and also to always see the great benefit of books re: learning what you want to know — books for inspiration, books for information. books with photos of treehouses or boats, field books about insects and snakes, and etc.

most preschool children can’t read yet, but i never saw one shy away from choosing a stack of library books, and most young children will choose books far beyond their ability if they are allowed — this attraction to books should be fostered and not squelched.

re: soccer vs. reading — most kids today have little free time, and i would think anything shoved between them and their favorite activity would be resented. i would try not to pit them against one another and instead look for soccer books and magazines to throw in his room! :^)

(and for what it’s worth — when i went to school, K was like preschool, 1st grade was like K, and most kids didn’t learn to read until 2nd grade … the pressure today to do it all early is a real detriment to those kids who would acquire the skill more naturally at their own pace. boo.)

kellyi, the book in the treehouse is a lovely image. :^)

dawn, reading aloud to high school students … i knew i loved you. ;^)

re: reading vs. writing — i have learned from bitter experience that whenever i poke my fingers in, i kill all my sons’ enthusiasm for an activity — including writing. there is a real desire to force kids to do activities to prove that they can do them — whenever possible (and that turns out to be most of the time), i try to avoid pushing where i have confidence they have ability. in other words, i know they can write — so why am i forcing the issue? i think it’s something we all wrestle with!

cristina, that is something i have written about here often — the mistake of forcing “age-appropriate books”! children should be allowed to choose the books they want, whether the teacher, parent, or librarian thinks they are far below *or* far above their ability!

you hit on another of my pet issues, too ;^) — parents continuing to read to their children after they learn to read themselves. just *one* reason to do so — our comprehension is far above our reading ability at first. if you stop reading aloud, your children are stuck with only the simple books they can get through on their own. but listening to books read aloud can greatly assist them in becoming great readers — improving their reading, their comprehension, and their love of books!

valerie, what a beautiful story, and exactly what i was recommending to samantha, too. :^) so many parents would react by trying to force the issue — and therefore inadvertently killing the love of reading! so much better to allow things to develop in their own time and their own way. beautiful.

alex — “i can figure out anything i’m interested in” — now *that’s* that lesson *i* want children to learn!! :^D

jen, i think that about every adult i know who doesn’t love to read! i secretly want to throw them in the back of a panel van, take them to a remote cabin, duct tape them to a chair, and read aloud to them until they convert! ;^)

tracey, good memories. :^)

thank you, sarah!

Comment by jen (learning p... on June 19, 2009 at 08:14 PM

"we have been talking more here about the video game/book connection/conundrum. i am *positive* that schools, if they really wanted kids to watch less tv or play fewer video games, could *easily* achieve it simply by teaching them and making them mandatory!"

"maybe we could create a junk food curriculum! ;^)"
-and that had me practically snorting! Ha!

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 19, 2009 at 10:11 PM


Comment by Virginia on June 20, 2009 at 03:46 AM

Oh, this makes me think about something that happened with one of my son's closest friends last week. We were at the pool, and the little boy's father told him that he (the boy) knows what will happen: either he chooses to join the swim team and go to practice, or he sits with his father beside the pool and works on his reading. For 45 minutes. Well he doesn't want to swim on the team, so he has to work on his reading! This little boy has just turned four years old! And he has one of the gentlest families I know of. I could not believe it. They were using reading as a punishment!

And speaking of Shakespeare, my kids go to a Reggio-inspired school that had the study of Shakespeare as a school-wide intention this year. My 2nd grade daughter and her friends took many field trips to a Tudor house. They played lawn games and learned dances and visited the kitchen and learned about bodily waste. They studied Shakespeare's plays and wrote a play based on Macbeth and Midsummer Night's Dream, and directed it and designed and made costumes and sets. They planned a feast and studied and cooked the food themselves and reproduced games of the period and taught them to their guests. And when it was all over, my daughter CRIED -- she loved learning about Shakespeare! Yes, it was challenging, but totally worthwhile.

Comment by stephanie on June 20, 2009 at 04:00 AM

There are, thankfully, still public schools where teachers read aloud. Both my children were read to every day. In fact, my daughter's teacher (3rd grade) spent the *entire* last day of school reading to them because they wanted to finish the book. It's a rarity, but it exists.

I think we have to engender a culture of reading for pleasure. When children see their parents reading (and laughing or gasping or crying or sharing a quote), when they are visiting the library often, when books are read aloud to them daily, they will come to view reading as a worthwhile pursuit. For schooled children, some of whom may not have the experience at home, we have to bring that pleasure-reading culture to the school—not with contests or incentives, but with stories told aloud and free time and access to books. Sadly, many schools don't even have librarians anymore (ours didn't this year).

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 20, 2009 at 04:22 PM

virginia, ohhhh, cringe — reading as punishment. gahhhhhh.

re: shakespeare — funny, but at our reggio-inspired school, the mixed-age K3 class studied the globe theatre. i do *not* remember how they became interested in that; from something we read in class, i’m sure. and they studied theatre, shakespeare, wrote plays, constructed models, made trap doors, did paintings and drawings and clay sculptures, etc. etc. etc. they LOVED it.

open-ended projects based on children’s interests — the message they send is, life is fascinating and interesting and how great is this?!

stephanie, so wonderful for your children, and yes, i don’t ever mean to imply that good things never happen in schools — we read aloud to the children every day at our school, too!

it’s the “rarity” part that is the problem. :^/

i so agree re: creating a culture of reading for pleasure — certainly it is part of our family culture. the boys grew up with books in every room, parents who read, parents who read aloud to them and to each other, discussions about books, trips to the library and bookstore, books treated as treasures.

“[W]e have to bring that pleasure-reading culture to the school.” — YES!!!

if only someone would conduct a study showing pleasure-reading in school raised test scores…

not only did we read aloud to *all* our kids every day at my school, but we also had a block of time set aside each day for free reading — and a large library with a rotating supplement of fresh books from the local library thrown into the mix. i really don’t think the pleasure of reading is a hard sell at all!

Comment by Amy on June 20, 2009 at 08:59 PM

It seemed instinctual to me to make sure my son knew we'd still read aloud together even when he learned to read. I could totally see how some children might have resistance to learning to read--or admitting they could--if they knew or even thought they'd lose that together time. How nice is it to be read to? And I enjoy talking about the books together, too. I don't have memories of my parents reading out loud to me. They must have, or maybe my sister always did. But once I knew how to read, it was my thing. And I guess I was fine with that, but I like sharing books with my kids and reading chapter books out loud together.

I'll admit that the other day I told my independently reading 7yo to look for books more at his level at the library. That's because we have shelves and shelves and shelves of story books at home, and we routinely take out a full bag of books, and, well.... enough already! But I don't discourage him from reading the "easy" books, and in fact, I love that he willingly reads to his siblings.

We recently were notified that the charter school had a spot available in my son's grade for the fall--did we want it? We went to visit, and the teacher has been reading Superfudge out loud to the 2nd/3rd graders. Yay!

Comment by Alice on June 22, 2009 at 03:03 PM

our comprehension is far above our reading ability at first. if you stop reading aloud, your children are stuck with only the simple books they can get through on their own. but listening to books read aloud can greatly assist them in becoming great readers -

This is so true. My 7 year old reads quite well in Italian, which is her school's language, but is only reading at a beginner level in English. She just isn't interested in reading the beginner books we have at home. I read her the English versions of thee books she is reading in Italian and I am sure that she is following along. I hope she will just learn to read like that.


Comment by Lisa on June 23, 2009 at 03:06 PM

Hold me back!! One of my favorite soapboxes!! How mandated "excellence" and "accountability" is robbing kids of a love of reading! aka the Accelerated Reading test and the death of reading. Kids are forced to stay at a level of "points" that they [and the teacher] know they can "pass" the AR test for. Hence their interest level and their "testing" level end up out-of-whack and they hate reading "baby books" just to pass the damned test. No one bothers to teach them how to pass the test for "harder" more enjoyable books.

Reading is also mandated for X amount of time. We've all sat there looking at a book and getting no where with it. We put it aside and it becomes a great read another day. This is not allowed. You must pick a book and stick with it during silent reading time. After all the big AR test is looming.

Then there are the publishers themselves who dumb down books so that you can read a preschool "story book" of, say Laura Ingalls Wilder, then a bigger kid version and finally the "real" version.

Can you tell this is a hot subject for me!! You will never create readers by doing this to them. Kids who have not learned the love of reading by being read to are missing out on such a huge part of emotional development. Books on cd are good for the car, but there is no substitute for the tv being off [or just plain GONE--ditto the video games] and being read to! For renacting [without an adult prompting it] and playing "Robin Hood" or "little house."

You also cannot get kids to read without a rich exposure to real language and conversation. Not just at the dinner table--that may be the very worst time for exhausted parents, but talking in the car running errands, or at bedtime or whenever.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 24, 2009 at 01:48 PM

amy — that’s a good sign. :^)

i really can’t imagine giving up reading aloud. when we camp, i read aloud to everyone each night (husband included), and we talk about the book we’re reading for the whole trip. i read bill bryson’s “a walk in the woods” aloud to the 9 and 12yo this summer (with some on-the-fly editing!). and both of the boys read aloud to me often — just sharing something they are loving in what they are reading.

alice, that sounds like a very reasonable way to go!

lisa, i’m not holding you back — i’ll just stand behind you and nudge you more. ;^)

i *loathe* the dumbed-down versions of books. don’t even get me started re: new pooh vs. classic pooh.

i did love the reader’s digest condensed children‘s literature when i was a kid — i read so many classics in their condensed versions when i was 9, books i still read every year as an adult!

i think you hit the problem right on the head — schools approaching reading this way don’t *care* about creating readers. they are focused singularly on testing and scores. they can’t guarantee that making readers will raise scores, so they just start drilling.

Comment by Amy on June 24, 2009 at 03:51 PM

Whatever else we decide to do in the future regarding homeschooling, this discussion makes me very glad that my son was homeschooled during his learning to read year. Apparently he is reading at a level that the school hopes to see by the end of 2nd grade (ie, a year ahead). I'm just glad he got to go at his own pace, with no comparisons to anyone else along the way. I will definitely be keeping an eye on this as he starts at this charter school, to make sure his love of reading isn't affected.

Kind of funny, though. In amongst all the loads of paperwork was a sheet to keep track of what he reads over the summer and some suggestions grouped by ability. I found the group with Magic Treehouse books, because he likes those, and we picked out some from it. He read the first book in an hour. He has devoured the books, and we need more (I'm thinking, um, we look for some from the next group up). At some point I'm going to have to email the teachers and say, Really? You need to know all gazillion books he read?

This school thing is going to take some adjustment... on my part more than his, I think!

Comment by nancy on June 25, 2009 at 10:52 PM

this post and all the comments were very helpful. i was able to send it to a friend in need of some advice.
also, I thought some of the same advice could be used for practicing an instrument. we did not have any trouble teaching our oldest to read and we don't push him in that area, because of everything we've read about what not to do. but, in the realm of music we've struggled to grasp the best way to promote a love for the instrument he's learning. for now we are taking a break from lessons and going to just let him play if he wants to. we'll keep playing good music in the house and hopefully my husband will have time to play his guitar. anyone have any suggestions for learning to play an instrument?
i'm so grateful for your blog and for you Lori :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 26, 2009 at 11:53 AM

amy, that’s so funny — i can’t imagine keeping track of everything my sons read over the summer! :^)

nancy, mm, interesting tie-in to the music. i started both sons on music lessons at 4, but i was very clear with their teachers that we cared about getting experience with music and enjoying the process — nothing else. we weren’t going to make them practice and we didn’t care how slowly they progressed.

mostly, we had no trouble with the teachers; i managed to find people who understood what we wanted and were willing to provide it. i think there was only one time, between the two boys and three instruments, that we had to change teachers because she simply wouldn’t accept the idea of letting them control the process.

my older son became proficient at piano and took guitar lessons for awhile, then said he wanted to stop. i was horribly sad, because i loved his playing, but i let him quit.

my younger son (now 9) took piano and violin, eventually said he wanted to stop the violin lessons, and now wants to take drum lessons (which i’m enthusiastic about ;^).

neither of them ever practiced more than a few minutes a day and i dare say they are in no danger of becoming concert musicians ;^) but they both emerged with their love of music intact! and the older one is even making noises about taking horn lessons. ;^)

thank you so much for your kind words!

Comment by abbie on June 30, 2009 at 06:07 PM


so, so, so, so sad. :-(

Comment by Emmy on August 19, 2009 at 04:32 AM

I didn't read the whole thing. I didn't read all the comments. I only read the heartbreaking quote...(hmm...do we sense a reading problem here? No, only a 2-kids-age-three-and-under problem).

In any case, I have to say that I LOVE TO READ. I always have, I always will. But I love to read what I WANT to read, and I rebelled just as hard as anyone out there against assigned reading at school. I hated English class at school, I hated the books we *had* to read (I have since gone back to read many of them, as they are classic, excellent books. Didn't think so at the time.).

So I don't know what your conclusion was (I'm dying to read the rest of it!), but I DO know that schools are really crappy at making even good readers want to read. And that was 20 years ago...

Right now, my 3-year-old son can recognize a few words, but will read to himself (outside of when I read to him) for an hour or two every day (mostly at naptime and bedtime). I know as kids get older, tastes change, but I'm doing everything in my power to encourage this love to last. Even if he doesn't like it at school.

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