Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting Susie to Read

A friend recently asked me for reading suggestions for a friend's daughter. It seems this six year old girl was not reading as much as her older sister had at that age. The parent's wanted to "fix" this problem. The six year old was able to read; the teacher said she was reading and comprehending as well as any of the other students in the class. The problem, as the parent's saw it was, that she was not reading for fun. They wanted to books to give her that would make her enjoy reading and start to be an avid reader like her big sister.

This is a problem that is often not really a problem. If Susie, as I will call her though I don't know her real name, is not falling behind in class, perhaps she just has not found the right book yet. Unfortunately for her parents, having them push books on her may well make her withdraw from books even further. The worst thing to do may be to tell her she has to read "for fun" every day for a certain length of time. I sometimes wonder if I grew to dislike physical exercise because my gym teacher used exercise as a punishment. Being forced to read seems like a punishment, though it will be hard for Susie to understand why she is being punished.

While I gave my friend several title suggestions for the most interesting and enjoyable books that I could think of, I am now wishing that I had added more instructions for the parents. I would tell them to any or all of the following:
  • Find some good books--perhaps from my suggestions, perhaps from a favorite librarian or bookseller, or perhaps just things that looked interesting to them--and leave them around the house where Susie will see them. Don't make an issue about them. Just have them around where she will see them when she is bored. The bathroom is one good location. Somewhere near her bed is another.
  • Read to Susie. When she is totally engrossed in the story, find an excuse to leave her alone with the book. If she is enjoying the story, she may well finish it before you have another chance to read it. Some parents even say, "Please don't finish this without me because I want to know how it ends." You have to know your child to try this, because she may put your request above her own interests.
  • Have her see her parents read for pleasure. Some studies suggest that seeing the father read for pleasure is the most powerful impetus for children to read. It is important that this be reading for pleasure. If parents read only work related things or child rearing books or anything that may make them sigh or groan the idea of reading as work or punishment will be re-enforced.
  • Don't stress. I have seen so many kids who did not read for pleasure in the early grades suddenly become avid reason for no apparent reason. Just a few weeks ago a young man who used to hate--he would have put it in capital letters, HATE--to read. I don't what it was that changed all that, but now he is reading at a very high level and willing to have good discussions about the books he has read. (Last week we discussed Moby Dick.)

I hope that Susie soon finds the joys of reading. It seems likely that at this point, though, that the best route is for her parents to make books convenient and enjoyable companions for her and then let nature take its course.

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