Does your child hate reading? Are you at wits end trying to turn that around?
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Reading is the basis of all learning. I can’t think of a single subject that doesn’t require cracking a book. Even art and music and Physical Education are enriched by the studying artists and composers and athletes, who likely require reading to learn about them.
What’s more, reading is fun!
But how do we convince our children of that?
Here are all the things you shouldn’t be doing, along with some excellent advice regarding what you should be doing, if you don’t want your child to hate reading.
10 Easy Ways to Make Your Child Hate Reading
1. Follow Marie Kondo’s advice to limit your home to 30 books.
No offense, Marie Kondo, but a home without books is just a house. Exposure to print and words and books and written ideas is critical to a child learning to love reading. Children learn about the world through observation and exploration, so books and reading must be plentiful. You can best show your child the importance of reading by reading and by having a home full of books.
I even recommend (gasp!) the art of strewing, or leaving interesting reading material around the house strategically. A love of reading is so much more important than a magazine-worthy home.
2. Push your child to read before he’s ready.
I was shocked as a new mom when a friend recommended a 3-year-old preschool she loved. This friend of mine told me all about how my daughter wouldn’t be able to get into the best 4-year-old preschool if she didn’t attend the right 3-year-old preschool. Huh?
My oldest was two at the time. All of a sudden, everywhere I looked I saw advertisements advocating for early literacy, and I kept hearing about how preschool was mandatory, just like public school, in some states and even countries.
My 2-year-old was just barely out of diapers and I was supposed to be prepping her for preschool?
Nothing has ever felt more wrong. It sounded like a great way to make my child hate reading and all learning in general. I could just see me spending hours flashing sight word cards at my toddler and her just wanting to chew on them. That’s what you call an exercise in futility and frustration.
Needless to say, I bucked the trend and did not send a single child of mine to even one year of school, let alone preschool. Instead, I pull my little ones onto my lap, wrap us in a cozy blanket, and read their favorite stories to them over and over. When your child thinks reading is enjoyable, you won’t be able to stop him from reading.
How do you know when your child is ready to read?
>>> 10 Signs of Reading Readiness <<<
3. Suck it up, pansy.
As humans, we tend to think that struggle is normal — that things should be hard because that’s how we learn. We almost have a religious devotion to our suffering. We think of it as a refiner’s fire. I used to think that myself.
But over the last 18 years of homeschooling my outlook on learning has completely reversed itself. If you watch kids for very long, you’ll see that the best learning is joyful and happy and fun and gratifying and pleasurable. When kids are learning something they are passionate about, you almost can’t stop them.
If your child is doing more stumbling than reading and it feels like torture to you both, just stop. Take your child onto your lap and wrap your arms around her while YOU read the story. Hold her hand in yours and help her follow the words with her pointer finger.
When your child enjoys reading, you won’t be able to stop her from reading.
4. Give your child books that are too difficult.
But won’t reading difficult books make my child a better reader?
Well-meaning parents sometimes choose books that are above the child’s reading level, hoping this will help the child improve as a reader. Aim for the stars, right?
Those books will actually be counterproductive to reading growth. Beginning readers need books on their level for several reasons. First, books that are too difficult can destroy confidence. Your child knows if she’s just flubbing her way through something. What she may not understand is that she’s attempting to read something on too high a level. How discouraging.
Second, when material is too difficult, reading comprehension will be low, even when the words can be sounded out. How often do you enjoy reading material you don’t understand? Once kids decide they can’t read or that they don’t like reading, it’s hard to get them back.
5. Force your child to read for twenty minutes every day.
But shouldn’t kids practice every day to achieve fluency?
Yeah, and we should exercise daily and wash our dishes after each meal, too. Why is it that those things seem like chores? How often do you curl up with a sink full of dishes and spend a delightful afternoon? How often does a sink full of dishes make you laugh, then cry (okay, crying would be understandable) and how often does a sink full of dishes make you want to be a better person?
If you want reading to seem like a dreaded chore, turn it into one.
You know how to keep reading in the fun pastime column instead of the dread chore column? Read to your child! And read with him when he wants to participate. Don’t set a timer. Bonus if reading prolongs bedtime.
You don’t need to make reading fun. It is fun!
6. Demand book reports.
Writing isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do. I see it as a means to an end — a way to communicate important things. But my kids think writing is the devil incarnate. They’d rather brave hot coals barefoot than put pencil to paper.
So nothing is less well received than a writing assignment. It’s like a punishment for having read a book. Yay, you read a book, now let’s give you your punishment! How eager would you be to read books?
My kiddos don’t mind at all when I turn a book into a Unit Study. We recently read The Hiding Place aloud, and then we studied The Netherlands, Germany and Poland, took a virtual field trip, ate Stroopwaffles and studied Dutch artists and history. It’s not hard to think of a way to enrich a book study without turning reading into a punishment.
7. Test him frequently and label him accordingly.
At best, testing is just a waste of time. At worst, tests (and subsequent labels) can be psychologically harmful. My mother still laments about being placed in the lowest reading group in kindergarten. She was convinced of her stupidity at that point, and sixty years later she still hasn’t gotten over it.
What if we just allow our children to develop according to their own inner timetables and stop measuring them against an arbitrary, capricious standard? What if we feel and exhibit confidence in our children’s abilities, regardless of where they are?
Ability, no matter how great, can be hampered by a lack of confidence. The opposite is also true.
8. Make sure she only eats vegetables.
By that, I mean make sure your child only reads the classics. Or encyclopedias. Or whatever type of nonfiction you consider to be the most nutritious.
Growing up, my neighbor made sure her kids only ate vegetables. She forbade them to eat anything else. So they’d save all their pennies to stop at 7-11 on the way to school to buy candy. And birthday parties, holiday parties and school lunch were open season.
There are so many distractions out there, from gaming systems and TV to sports teams and friends, that you have to be sure to allow and even offer up books that are intensely interesting — books that can compete will all the fluff. We parents can’t afford to have our kiddos think that books are boring.
9. Never give books as gifts.
We give our children books as gifts for holidays. There is always a book in every Easter basket, and we always search high and low for the very best books to give as Christmas Eve gifts.
>>> Books Make the Best Gifts! <<<
Christmas Eve is always so busy that I started, years ago, letting my children open one package — a book and a pair of fuzzy jammies — just as soon as their chores were completed on Christmas Eve. My kids just think of it as a wonderful tradition, not realizing that it earns me an entire day of peace and quiet, in a clean house no less!
Weekly during the summer, and frequently through the rest of the year, we have D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) camp at our house. My kids joyfully anticipate it and are even willing to complete extra chores to earn it! When I announce DEAR camp in the morning, my kids will scramble to finish up their chores, and will even voluntarily help each other, which is pretty much a miracle.
We then make a quick library run for new books, stop at the grocery store for a few snacks, and head home to spend the rest of the day curled up in various nooks and crannies throughout the house.
10. Make sure your daily routine is too full for reading.
In our society, where being busy equates with being productive and even with being important, we often forget to prioritize reading because it looks like downtime. What kind of an example are we setting for our kids by forcing them to do something we rarely do?
By prioritizing reading and incorporating it into your daily routine, you’ll set a much better example for your children. I’m not just talking about bedtime read-alouds, though, as critical as bedtime stories are. I’m talking about you taking your child to the library and finding yourself a whole stack of inviting books for your nightstand, and working your own way through them.
Read on the elliptical in the morning, read in the bathtub in the evening, keep a book in your handbag and read in waiting rooms and during your kids music lessons. You are your child’s idol, and he will do what he sees you doing.
It’s also important to incorporate reading aloud into your family routine. Bedtime and naptime are perfect opportunities to read. Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain, conditioning our children to associate books with pleasure.
We take turns reading aloud while working together to clean the kitchen after dinner every night (even my teens love it). Reading aloud has given my family a shared language and a million inside jokes.
We all text each other pictures of sextants whenever we run across one because we all loved the book, “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch” so much. We frequently relate silly experiences to books we’ve read together, and it just takes one word to get us all laughing hysterically.
>>> Need some good read aloud books? <<<
So How Can You Help Your Child to Not Hate Reading?
First of all, don’t do any of the above!
Second, in my experience, many children who seem to hate reading just have very little confidence in their abilities. The ones who hate reading the most are the ones who struggle with it the most. Who wants to do something odious?
Building your child’s confidence is key in helping him to love reading.
The best way to build your child’s confidence is to completely eliminate all of your (and his) expectations. Help him to understand and really feel that what he can do is acceptable. Not everybody needs to read by age five.
Find reading material that resonates with your child — books that he is interested in and loves. Then read to him, and read to him, and read to him some more. Hold him on your lap, even if he’s as tall as you are, and put your arms around him and read using his finger to follow the words you’re saying.
You might have to back up to phonics. He may have missed something fundamental. But that’s no problem, because you’re not in a rush. The journey (learning to read) is as enjoyable and worthwhile as the destination (loving to read).
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What have you done to make sure your child doesn’t hate reading? Please share your tips in the comments!