A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a third-grader.
“Do you like to read?” I asked him.
“No,” said the boy, shaking his head.
“It’s long. And boring.”
“Does your mom read aloud to you?”
“No, we listen to recordings in the car.”
“Who’s your favorite writer?”
“Uhh...Pushkin! And…umm...Krylov. At school, we learned two fables by heart and I got an A on one of them.”
Krylov is great, and what could be better than Pushkin? But do you, too, get the feeling that the boy understood the question “who’s your favorite writer?” to mean “which writers do you know?” And there’s no love there...after all, reading is long and boring.
What’s the deal with today’s school kids? Why is reading books “long and boring”? And can we parents do anything about it?
I think the first thing parents should do is to stop shifting responsibility for a child’s reading onto:
- school (“they have a reading period, let them read then”)
- generation (“who reads these days anyway?”)
- the kids themselves (“why do you prefer playing on the tablet?”).
Unlike us, our kids—who live with us—don’t read books. That’s the problem at hand. It’s easier with preschoolers. They get bedtime reading and bright picture books with minimal amounts of text and discussions with parents or grandparents on the way to extracurriculars. School-age children don’t have time for all that. Or the desire, for that matter. Why, nobody knows. Or would we venture a guess?
I’ll try to draw up a few steps any parent can take with their “non-reader.”
After we’ve taken on responsibility for the situation, it’s worth asking ourselves: could the child simply be too busy? Homework, after-school activities, and extracurriculars…. Does all that give them opportunities to get information from text? If so, great! Breathe a sigh of relief and stop worrying. A child’s memory and attention span have their limits. If we insist on reading, an alarm will go off: Overload! Overload! It’s not worth it. Set the talk aside until vacation. Better yet, choose a book together—one that, sadly, you just can’t give him until the break, or you’ll wear him out. Let him look forward to the book, so that reading becomes desirable.
If you don’t see any particular overload, but rather a child with a tablet or remote control in hand, the question is to the parents. How many hours do you think a child can spend on Minecraft or watching yet another episode of an animated series? One? Two? Or…forever, if no one says anything? One of the most common mistakes for parents who wish to get a child into reading is to juxtapose books and cartoons. “You’re on the tablet again—you could be reading!” It’s like comparing soup and candy. One can’t replace the other—there’s a time for each. The tablet is one way to spend free time, books are another. The difference is that gadget time should be limited out of health considerations. But books have nothing to do with that!
What else can parents do? Bring back reading aloud! I specifically say “bring back,” since very few parents read to their children even by preschool age—not to speak of when they’re in school. In order to read aloud to a child, you need just ten minutes a day. That’s enough to read a whole chapter.
You can read a story on your phone instead of a book. You can choose a text that reflects your preferences rather than a child’s. You can read in the morning rather than at bedtime—to help children wake up. Finally, you can read just on Sundays. It’s like physical exercise. You don’t have to train all the time, you just have to practice regularly.
Choosing one book for both you and the child can also be a great motivator. Offer to take turns reading any book he or she chooses. It might be a comic book (something you can barely get through) or a book with a cute puppy on the cover (that insults your taste). Trust your child’s choice. Read what he chooses, what hooks him. When it comes time for the next book, it will be your turn to choose.
The single most important thing parents can do is to bring books back into the family’s life. Specifically:
- give books as gifts to classmates and relatives (and get children involved in choosing the book)
- read your own books where they can see you
- discuss books with other adults in their presence
- go see plays and movies based on books
- find book-related events and engage your child and his friends.
In school, classmates’ opinions become very important. Making reading “cool” in her classroom is a great way to bring books back into your child’s life.
“Children don’t read, don’t like to read, don’t want to read…” I often hear these words at events. This year, I had the pleasure of helping a big group of school-age children get back their love of reading. We did everything: we took turns reading, we laughed, we cried at sad stories, we came up with our own books…. Actually, the specifics of what we did are not all that important. It’s not about the method. The point was that we were able to create a calm, happy, book-friendly environment, one in which you want to read, read, and read some more, to sink deep into discussions, to learn of the world around you, and come to know yourself better. That’s what we as parents have to create in our homes. It’s up to us to make that magic happen!
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
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