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.
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.