We feel it is extremely important that our children are able to do it and do it well. For education and knowledge, reading is the key. The struggle has always been, how do we get our children to love reading? My wife has lamented in the past that our four girls do not read as much as she did as a kid. Of course, television, video games, and a host of other activities eat up a lot of free time. And, not all of these time-stealers are bad, I believe. For instance, since our children are all girls, they play with one another all the time. This cooperative imagining, I believe, is a plus. They are building and investing in relationships with one another that will last. And I would say that’s more important than reading.
Screen time is also another obvious factor – there are too many! TV, computer, kindle, ipod… let’s face it, screens are fun and easy to play. As a parent, I have to constantly fight against the draw of the brain-sucking screen.
However, I’m going to address another reason why I think kids might find it hard to like reading. And, I know this may seem controversial, but not many people really read this blog, so it doesn’t really matter.
The educational system is guilty as well.
Well, this is how I see it.
If I wanted my child to be interested in sports, I would introduce them to a sport that I know she would enjoy. If I knew she liked a sport like basketball, I wouldn’t force her to play golf. Now I know there are some people that believe that a child would enjoy golf if you introduced it to her early enough. Maybe, but maybe not. No matter what we introduce children to, in the end, they still have their own personalities that will determine their likes and dislikes.
Winning a literary award may be an honor to an author, but it means nothing to a child.
But this is how school systems force children to read. We introduce them to books that we think are “well written” or that have stood the “test of time” before they even truly like reading. Now I know school systems encourage children to read books they like outside of class. But most children want to play and run around after sitting in a classroom all day. They don’t want to run home and read a book on the couch.
So, the reading of their choice must be done on their time. They would, however, rather play than read.
We have become so obsessed with awards. We force children to read books that adults like for them. Do you know how many Newberry Award winning books my children have wanted to read on their own?
None. That’s right. While I’m not criticizing specific books, awards don’t make them interesting to children. It may be an honor to an author, but it means nothing to a child. In fact, my children have found several of the books too boring to keep reading.
I understand that in some cases it is important to introduce them to these classic books. But in many cases, these books are written for children of a different era – children with little or no access to TV shows, movies, and video games. Entertainment moves at a quicker pace now, and so we have to catch children’s interest early on. At least, that is, until they learn to read quickly. And, the best way for children to learn to read quickly is to read a lot. And often. Usually with fast-paced, interesting books that suck them in and make them want to know the end of the story.
Forcing kids to read books they have no interest in, I think, is the quickest way to get them to HATE reading, to loathe it. It seems arduous to them, painful. You and I can enjoy a classic novel because we are experts at reading. We don’t have to sound out words or figure out punctuation. It’s relatively easy for us, and so we can push through to the “good parts.”
The publishing and educational world (basically, adults) can have a rather elitist attitude, and seem to want to force children to read books that they deem are important.
But it is far more important to get a child to WANT to read, to LOVE to read. Let’s face it. I’d rather have them read a Barbie book than no book at all. Let’s not force some of these slower-moving books on our children just because we think they are classics. Once they love to read, they will discover those books on their own.
Speaking of children and reading, The Thousand Island Book Festival is this weekend, Saturday, June 3rd. This is a great event that encourages children to read and meet different authors. This is my 3rd year participating, and I'm sure it will be just as fun as the other years were.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.