Encouraging Your Children to Read

I was just over at Molly’s blog, and I really enjoyed reading her post answering today’s Booking Through Thursday question:

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”

I decided to play, too!

I’ve always read to my children, from the time each of them were very small, far too small to understand words; I remember being so excited by the way their eyes absorbed the shapes and colors in whatever board book I was reading to them.

My older two are two years apart, and as they got older, I took to reading middle grade novels to them, like the Harry Potter stories. Eventually, when they were almost in double digits in age, reading aloud to them before bed had turned into an hour-long ritual, since they had different tastes and I would find myself reading aloud a chapter from two different books every night.

It was at this point that we stopped the bedtime reading ritual; to this day though, we have lots of laughing moments during which we fondly remember Bunnicula, and Harry, and, from a bit farther back in their childhood, Amelia Bedelia and Captain Underpants.

When my youngest was born (he’s six now), I of course began the bedtime reading ritual with him again. He can now read, so bedtime always includes his reading a book to us – this is something I didn’t do with my older two, both of whom always preferred to be read to, but since we are homeschooling Dylan, it’s an easy way of adding more learning into the day.

I’ve written in the past about my older son, the “non-reader” who actually does like to read, although he’d never admit to being a reader. Late last year, for example, I won a copy of Stephen King’s latest, Under the Dome, and he polished it off in about three days. This is a big, doorstopper of a novel, but he got so into it, he even took it to school with him to read during his spare period!

My daughter is, however, a true “non-reader”. She’s never liked to read, and in fact, during her last three years in primary school, she actually decided to sign up for the local Battle of the Books contest in the hopes that she would learn to like reading.

I was stunned when she came home and announced she had joined up (actually, I probably won most unsupportive mother of the year award that year, because I recall bursting out laughing – I thought she was joking). We all knew how much she disliked reading, and the Battle of the Books requires participants to read up to 38 books. The “battle” consists of answering questions about each of the books.

Participating in the Battle of the Books didn’t work out quite the way she’d planned. She had a great deal of fun, and was usually appointed spokesperson because she speaks clearly and loudly, but even after two years of participating in the event, she still didn’t like to read books.

She does find the occasional book that she enjoys, like Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, by Shyam Selvadurai; she even made a short film of a scene from the book as her English project that year.

Very much like Molly’s son, my daughter is an auditory learner. She can watch a movie and then repeat lines verbatim (she’s always been great at doing impressions; when she was younger, her goal was to do stand-up comedy). She also watches a lot of movies and has made over 100 short films.

I’ve come to understand that for her, films are very much like books. She can watch a movie and dissect it the way one dissects a book for an English essay. She can see the archetypal structure of the storyline, and all the symbolism the director has used. There are, apparently, reasons for using certain camera angles other than “it looks good” …

Somewhat surprisingly, despite being a non-reader she is an incredibly good writer; she has always excelled in her English classes and has even won the award for having the highest English mark. But even though she’s good at writing, she still doesn’t feel any urge to read for fun.

Luckily, it appears that I finally do have a child who loves to read; Dylan, our youngest, has just learned to read, and loves both reading and being read to. The other day we had to cut short our weekly trip to the library to pick up my daughter from school, and he kept crying, “But I want to get another Dr. Seuss book first … I want to get another Dr. Seuss book NOW”. (He already had four of them in his book bag.)

So I have high hopes that there’s now another book nut in the family! But at the same time, I’ve learned to accept the different reading styles (or non-reading style, in my daughter’s case) of all my children.

I continue to buy and borrow books for my older son that I know will interest him, and he continues to read them. He still hates to go to the library or to a book store, though; but that’s all right, since I enjoy such trips immensely and it’s all the more rewarding when I come home with a few books for him. I suspect when he’s in his 30s I’ll still be dropping in with a load of books under my arm!

And I am so often in awe of my daughter’s filmmaking creativity; she’s really taught me a lot about films, and the kind of background things that go into making a good film. These things are very similar to the kinds of things that go into writing a good book, and I can see how very like a good book the better movies really are.

And as for my youngest, I’ll continue to nurture his love of reading as best as I can; I can hardly wait until he gets into chapter books and I can begin sharing with him the books I loved best as a child.

15 thoughts on “Encouraging Your Children to Read

  1. Kathy

    We were the same way – we started reading to Vance almost from birth and continued to read to him until he thought he was too old for it. He’s a reader now.

    1. Belle

      Don’t you miss reading to him sometimes? Right now I still get to read, to Dylan, but he’s not into middle grade novels yet and I find I miss that.

      After I wrote this post, my daughter and I talked about our reading together memories, like Bunnicula and all the Roald Dahl books. I’d forgotten about Roald Dahl!

  2. Molly

    Oh my goodness — your daughter and my son are identical! Brian is always talking about the camera angles and the use of light and shadow. He will analyze a movie and remember every line. He is now an audio engineer in Nashville and has a thriving second “profession” shooting and editing videos. I don’t think he has missed out on much by not being an avid reader :)
    .-= Molly´s last blog ..Review Conundrum =-.

    1. Belle

      It’s funny reading aloud to kids isn’t an effective predictor of how much a child will like to read, isn’t it? I think back to my own childhood, and my mother never read aloud to me – and that didn’t stop me at all! :)

  3. Janel

    Both of my kids read well above their grade level, but my daughter likes to read and I have to force my son to read. It’s a constant battle with him, so we are trying to do a little reward for him when he reads consistently. We’ll see how that works.

    By the way, I remember loving The Battle of the Books. There are still doing that in my old school, but unfortunately I haven’t seen anything about it at my kids’ school.
    .-= Janel´s last blog ..Added Value Day! =-.

    1. Belle

      My primary school didn’t have Battle of the Books. I remember watching my daughter participating, and thinking to myself, “I would have LOVED this as a kid!”

  4. rhapsodyinbooks

    I wonder if not relating so much to reading is related to not just an auditory orientation but how artistic Hayley is. Maybe her brain is just attuned to learning in a different way. Or maybe that’s what you said! :–) But she takes in stories, from movies, and creates stories, from her short films, so really, she’s not so different from her mom, except in format!
    .-= rhapsodyinbooks´s last blog ..Black History Month – Lincoln’s Birthday – Did Lincoln Actually Free the Slaves? Well, Sort of, In a Way….. =-.

  5. carol

    Isn’t it amazing how different kids with the same parents can turn out differently.

    My daughter’s 10 and I still read aloud to her every night for a t least 15 minutes, sometimes longer. She’s a good reader on her own though, above her grade level, she just truly enjoys being read to. I think my husband actually like listening in too, although he won’t read out loud since she got old enough to correct him.

  6. Dorte H

    I don´t know what it is like to have a child who does not read. Our daughters read more than our son, but recently he has begun devouring my TBR. When my younger daughter was four, she even cried because she was ´the only one in this family who could not read´. In Denmark children do not start school until they are six so of course I had to help her learning. We both enjoyed that immensely, and though it took two years, she could read books when her classmates were still learning the letters.

    NB: why is it that your children ALWAYS want to read exactly that book you had just planned to read, preferably when you have put it on the table in front of you to begin reading it after your blog round???
    .-= Dorte H´s last blog ..Pierre Magnan, Death in the Truffle Wood (2005) =-.

  7. heidenkind

    I didn’t look at films like books, either, until I went to college. For some reason I hung out with a lot of film majors, who were dissecting the meaning of movies. It’s really amazing the symbolism that’s in them that the casual viewer never notices!
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..Addicted to Blogs =-.

  8. Helena

    I was at a dinner party with a non – reader (hadn’t read a book in years because he says he reads enough at work) ; he whipped out his new Kindle and told me he’s read 3 books in 3 months since he got his new toy!

    I must admit, the enthusiasm with which he showed me his Kindle had me all excited as well.


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