I was evidently born with a book in my hand, so it wasn’t until I had three kids, and then tutored or taught hundreds more, that I understood why kids resist reading. I don’t necessarily agree with their logic, but I do have to say there are consistent reasons presented by kids in grades 3-8 when asked how they feel about reading.
Some of these reasons I first heard from my <sob> own children. Some I first heard in the form of observations from other moms. Ultimately, I’ve heard all of them directly from the kids I work with:
- I already read all day in school. Why do I have to read more when I already have homework in everything else;
- The books we read always have kids in horrible situations. People treat them horribly or the people they love die. Sometimes, they even kill the dog;
- The books don’t make any sense. I’m confused at the beginning and then it just gets worse;
- I can’t read the book for fun. There is always a test or a project that I need to do to prove I read the book;
- I already saw the movie. Reading the book is a waste of time.
Some of these reasons almost make sense:
- After a full day of school and activities and homework, most kids are toast. Especially the younger ones. The older ones can always find the energy to watch something, play a game, or text with friends. Moving reading-for-school time to either Saturday or Sunday afternoon or early evening — the day without homework — usually works better. If you read a book or magazine, or make dinner while they read in the same room, kids generally find this a bearable activity. They may even get into the book and find that reading is sort of fun.
- It’s true. Especially if you have a highly able reader. For some reason, the books chosen for these kids seem to be designed to beat the love of reading right out of them. Forget books that are fun and entertaining, with adventure and experiences the kids would love to have themselves. They are instead taught empathy by reading about the experiences of kids who have it really tough. Most kids I know see the value in reading one or two of those books. A steady diet? Not so much.
- There are two kinds of books: commercial and literary. Commercial books are often series books. They get right to the point. They’re fun to read and there’s nothing wrong with them. They are not likely, however, to be a book that moves your child to tears or makes them view the world in a new way. The books that do that are literary in nature. With a literary book, there is a bit to set the scene and get to know the character before the climax. After the climax, there is a bit more before the end. Those first few chapters in a literary book can be tough going. It’s usually about an unfamiliar place and experience. Your kid is flying solo through this unfamiliar territory. Why not read the first chapter or two and talk about how the book opens and what might happen next? Once firmly grounded in the book, your child might even find it’s a great read.
- I get it that kids need to do some work around the books they read for school. I just happen to believe it should not be around every book, every time. I also believe it should be feedback in the form of a book discussion in a small group or as a class. I don’t like it when someone asks me if I’m free and then says, “Great! Do this.” Why would kids like it when reading as homework also includes a project? Believe me, the days of the simple diaorma or book report are long gone. Maybe we should bring those back and keep the fun in the experience of entering a new world through the adventures of a character.
- Don’t even get me started about books turned into movies. With all the creative talent available, why it is necessary to take the best of children’s literature and present it to children through the interpretive lens of an adult is beyond me. It’s almost a losing battle, but the kids I work with need to read the book (if it’s at a reading level that is appropriate) before seeing the movie. Why? Because reading is all about going on a journey in your mind. Seeing a book is not the same as reading a book. And, since what I would consider some of the very best works of literature are cherry-picked to be movies precisely because of their enduring worth, it leaves the choice of books for kids to enjoy as they discover reading, that much poorer.
I know. Life is busy. Reading is a vital life skill. I just think it should be a life skill with a bit of the magic retained.