Thursday, June 23, 2011

Helping Reluctant Readers

I love books. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved reading and have had a book on my bedside table. I even have a second grade report card in which the librarian admonished my mother not to let me have more than ten books out from the library (I think she thought I didn’t read them all or something.) But luckily, my mother encouraged my reading.

Later in life, English was, of course, my favorite subject in school because it came easily to me. I loved being introduced to the classics and had a teacher that made it all seem like an incredible adventure when we were learning about Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen and others. So when I went to college, I earned my degree in Secondary Education, English teaching, so I could hopefully inspire others as my own teachers had done.

When I became a mother, I tried to instill the love of reading in my children, although part of me couldn’t imagine them doing anything but loving to read. After all, they were my children! It was a proud day when they turned five because they all knew they could get their own library card then. We had so many great moments at the library---during storytime, free time, and family book club time. I loved it.

But then my children got older and began to choose their own activities, and one son’s choices didn’t include reading. I was shocked at first. I mean, how could he not love reading? How could a child of mine not love books? He said it just wasn’t his thing and he would rather be out playing basketball. Of course all the statistics about what reading does for scholastic achievement and even just plain life skills with literacy ran through my mind. I wanted him to be able to be the very best he could be, and I knew that meant I had to encourage his reading habit in a way that wouldn't make him feel forced or backed into a corner.

Here are some of the things that we did that could maybe help you with your reluctant reader:

1. I showed him magazine articles on his favorite basketball players that he might like to read.

2. I introduced him to the biography section of the library which has many books on sports people that he admires and tells how they achieved "greatness" in their chosen profession.

3. We have a family book club and each time someone in the family finishes a book I take them out for ice cream and we discuss what they did and didn’t like about the book. This little incentive has actually motivated several of my children to stretch and read a few more books than they might have otherwise, including my reluctant reader.

4. My husband reads bedtime stories in the hall so everyone can hear. I know that having their dad read to them has made a difference in how they feel about reading. It’s also helpful that my husband is an avid reader himself and my children have all seen him with a book in his hand since they were small.

5. We have a regular time set aside for reading. It’s sort of fun to all be together with our different books. Of course a poetry book or magazine still counts and sometimes, for my reluctant reader, just having small columns to read instead of chapters makes it seem easier to him and not so overwhelming.

6. Books on CD are available for him to listen to at night right before he goes to sleep. I was actually surprised at how much he liked this one, but thrilled, of course, that he did.

There isn’t one magical thing that will work for every child because each child is different. But there is no doubt in my mind that being a good reader directly relates to success in life. If you don’t think so, perhaps consider these statistics:

70 percent of prisoners in state and federal systems can be classified as illiterate

85 percent of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.

43 percent of those whose literacy skills are lowest live in poverty

Source: National Institute for Literacy

"Whether children can read well by the end of third grade is a strong predictor of how they are likely to do in the future—in school, at work, and as parents and citizens. The facts are sobering. Children who do not learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade are unlikely ever to read at grade level. These youngsters are at high risk for later school failure and behavioral problems, for dropping out of high school, and for a host of negative life outcomes once they reach adulthood."

Source: American Prospect

Reading is important for every child and a successful life can be built on reading skills. That's a fact. But reading is so many things--pleasure, learning, and inspiration--that I want my children to experience all of that. And hopefully they will catch the vision themselves, and pass it on to their children.

How do you encourage your children to read?


Stephanie Black said...

Great blog, Julie! I loved your idea of a family book club with ice cream and book discussions.

All my children read well, but my older son sounds more like your son--he's not naturally a "recreational" reader. My younger son, in contrast, is a much more avid reader and reads with a flashlight at night. My older daughter prefers non-fiction books on topics that interest her (such as law enforcement) while my second daughter loves the classics.

Melanie Goldmund said...

Both of my kids are not exactly natural born readers. I read to them every day when they were growing up, I took them to the library and helped them find books they were interested in (difficult when they shot straight to the computer games and said, "Go look, Mom, I'll stay here and you bring me the books.") I made sure that they saw me reading (perhaps I went a bit overboard on the good example part, though.) We've tried to encourage them by saying that they needed to read one hour for each hour they spent on the computer. That worked -- for a while. And when my second son said he wanted to read the third part of a popular book series, of which only the first two parts had been translated into German, I sat down and translated the third book for him. He's read some of it ...

I think they take after my husband.


Debra Erfert said...

When my two sons were big enough to sit upright on my lap Disney had these wonderful books out that had corresponding audiotapes with them. While I, (while they were young) turned the pages at the sound of the magic wand, the voices of the characters read the story—all the classic Disney fairly tales. We wore those tapes out over the years. But, of course, Doctor Seuss’s books occupied a huge part of our shelf, too.

Reading to my sons was our way of learning new words and sentences, and right from wrong, and going on adventures to spur wonderful dreams. As my sons got older, their interests in books took different directions. My younger son’s mind loved science and bugs, and eventually foreign lands and languages. This built a solid foundation for his mission to a Spanish speaking South American country. He can speak three languages and understand several more. His beautiful new bride is from Paraguay. My older son hasn’t demonstrated the same love of reading, but he has an engineering mind and we think slightly differently sometimes. He’s physical and an EMT, so he reads for technical information, and he sops it up like a dry mop. It maxes out his entertainment reading time. (Okay, he bought the Castle book and won’t let me read it. Something about page 119?)

Me? Of course I read now—all the time, whether your books, or Stephanie’s, or Jennie’s, or Michele’s “All the Star’s In Heaven,” or my own work in progress, over and over again. But when I was growing up . . . that was an atypical story. I went to thirteen different schools in my twelve years of education, and my dad wasn’t in the military—my mother was sick with cancer. Moving was a sad part of my life, and reading wasn’t on a list of “things to do” with us kids. Strangely enough, a strong thread of my mom’s tragedy is coming to life in my current WIP, and I’m not sure why. It’s falling into place like missing pieces of a puzzle, and it’s a little frightening. I’m not sure how my siblings will react to it—if they ever read it. They’re not recreational readers. (see above “things to do” list)

Reading is very important to children, and having a parent or parents cuddle and read is priceless. Books are the real gifts to give at baby showers, don’t you think?

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Stephanie, it's so funny how different each child is, isn't it? Fascinating to watch, though.

Melanie, sounds like you've done everything right! And wow on translating that into German. You are amazing.

Debra, I agree about the cuddling part and books are great baby shower gifts! I can't wait to read your book someday.

Brittany said...

Great post Julie. Your family does a lot of the same things mine does. I've read some research that says the most important factor in getting kids to read is for them to see their DADS read. Can't tell you where I read it, but I did.
I actually have an issue with my 10year old reading TOO much. People think I'm crazy when I say that, but really, it's a problem. Even her teachers complain. So if anyone has some suggestions about how to get a kid NOT to read when she shouldn't--like when they should be doing chores or learning math--I'd love to hear those!

Jon Spell said...

I started reading early because my mom was always reading and I loved reading.

I got in trouble in school once because I finished my assignment early and pulled out a book to read. In 3rd grade. (At the time, I thought I was being good.)

We have quite a library of books to go through with our kids, they had BETTER be readers. =)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Brittany what a great problem to have. All I can think of is making reading the reward for work well done. Or a book that he/she wants to buy/borrow as a perk for doing a week's worth of chores without being reminded or something. Sorry I'm not more help!

Jon, I hope my kids use my personal library, too. Heaven knows I've spent years building it up and have shelves and shelves of books to choose from. Somebody better use it besides me! :)

Primarymary said...

My parents were both readers and before I was born, my mom signed me up for a DR Seuss book club. I was born with my own library.
I have always loved reading, I sometimes have to ground myself from books until I get other things completed.
Lately I have been listening to audio books while I drive, I love having a book going at all times.
My 9 year old nephew loves reading, he knows if he asks Aunt Mary for a book, I will usually find it for him.
My 7 year old niece reads, she just finished Harry Potter. She wants to read the books I am reading, and I tell her she can when she gets a little older. The normal 2nd grade level books don't interest her. I'm trying to find books that are enough like what I read, that it will satisfy her, so she will keep reading. I don't want her to get out of the habit.

Melanie Goldmund said...

Brittany -- about your ten-year-old reading too much, is it possible that she has a kind of OCD where she focuses on words and stories to the exclusion of everything else? Or a kind of ADD where that is her "hyperfocus"? Or perhaps reading is an escape for her from something that's bothering her, such as fear of not living up to expectations? (I have seen some of these symptoms in myself, though it's taken me many many years to realize it.) These are just thoughts, though, and might not have anything to do with your daughter.

Brittany said...

Melanie - I suspect it has something to do with ADD, although she hasn't been diagnosed with it, because it does run in my family. People don't believe me though when I say she may have it because she's pretty mellow -- at least at school. I have never thought about OCD though. Thanks so much for your insight! If you have any suggestions for what to do about it, I'd love to hear them. YOu can email me: so we don't hijack anymore of Julie's blog. thanks!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

You guys are welcome to hijack the blog anytime you want!

Mary your nephew and niece are very lucky to have you. :)

Anonymous said...

I hated reading when I was a kid. I hated it when I was a teen. I loved sports.

I never read anything that wasn't absolutely required reading. In fact, from age 1 to 18 I read the Book of Mormon once with a few additional excerpts here and there, Johnny Tremaine (sp?), and maybe ten articles from the New Era. That was it. No classics. No kid books. No novels. Nothing. There may have been ONE Hardy Boys in there, but that was it. I loathed English class. What good was a dangling participle and misplaced modifer dunking when I had just dunked over Big Lemon at recess? I managed to get through English classes by reading some cliff notes, or watching the video, or asking friends to tell me the basic story. When I arrived at college I read the textbooks, sometimes multiple times—probably because I was so non-bookish that I lacked any semblance of comprehension skills. Despite all that I managed some good scholarships, a fairly high, if not really high, GPA, got some minor degrees, a master's degree, and a doctoral degree. I will admit that when they handed me my diploma, I had the distinct impress that I was still uneducated. My guilt over associating with so many avid readers had managed to crake open a little shaft of non-reader shame which I quickly shut away behind the blinds. I simply never managed to cozy-up to the reading thing.

It wasn't until all the education was finished that I decided I would look into reading something. I didn't hate reading anymore, I just viewed it as a supreme waste of time. When I couldn't find what I wanted to read in the library or the bookstore, I decided to write it.

Imagine my shame when I submitted my first manuscript and the editor said, "So tell me about your favorite works of fiction." I didn't have any. I hadn't read any. I knew the Book of Mormon didn't qualify, so I blurted out, "Johnny Tremain". He smiled, folded his arms and nodded. That's when I became dreadfully aware that he wanted a list. I was seated in his office. There was no way out except through oral submission of a reading list. I didn't have one. I would probably never have one. Ever.

What I did have was an imagination. A somewhat active one. And when I started writing, my imagination shifted into over-drive. I've come to the conclusion that ever since my youth, I had viewed reading as restrictive. I didn't want someone I didn't know or trust messing with my thoughts or, even worse, my heart. Call it a fetish for freedom. I protected the agency of my frontal cortex like a mama bear protects a cub. I imagined what I wanted to imagine and invented what I wanted to invent and I certainly didn’t need anyone else spoiling it for me. Add to that the restrictive nature of having to focus on ideas and inventions created by someone else, the slog of page after page of ink to figure out the plot or the joke or the emotion and thank you very much, but no thanks.

Not all reluctant readers are destined to the academic wilderness, failure, or prison. And if you think about it, reading isn't the most efficient way to imagine or ponder or invent. It primes the pump, but it has its limits. So many pages. So much time. So many missed basketball games!

Some non-readers may just happen to dreaming light years ahead of the printed word. Slowing down long enough to take in a book keeps the dreamer from creating a solar system, resolving a mathematical impossibility, or bridging the gap between a dimension in time and a dimension in space.

Give us a break. We can't save the world and read Huck Finn in the same afternoon.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I get what you're saying, anon, but sometimes a book can spark or inspire that imagination in ways previously unknown.

And while not all reluctant readers will end up in poverty or prison, as you said, your comprehension skills suffered and you were embarrassed by your lack of knowledge in front of someone else. To me, reading, comprehension, learning, job skills, they are all interconnected and worth focusing our efforts on improving. :)