Friday, April 27, 2012

How Can I Get my Child to Read?

Yesterday we heard one of the most exciting sounds to us, the kind that arrests our attention, brings an instant smile of joy and skip of the heart:  it was the in-drawn audible gasp of delight of a five-year-old boy in our library. He had spotted a book he had never read by an author he loves and he was rapturous. It was more than rewarding to us who pour so much effort into providing precious books for children, we rejoiced because we know that joy too, because we love to read and find one of the greatest pleasures in life is  reading books.

Special reports on reading and the statistics they generate reveal that we are in the minority. Last year a friend gave us an “audio journal” from Mars Hill Audio because there was an interview with Makoto Fujimura, whom we admire, but the subject of the entire journal was of deep interest to us. It addressed the concerns surrounding the appalling decline in the practice of reading in our culture. For those of you who read, I could list the figures and you would be alarmed, but we all hear so many dire statistics  these days I think we have become numb to them, if not indifferent. Briefly, the National Endowment for the Arts has released reports in the last ten years, one entitled “Reading At Risk” and the other “To Read or Not to Read” with alarming results:  less than half of adults read any poetry, fiction, or drama; that in 2005 only a third of high school graduates can read at basic proficiency levels, and in 2003 only 31% of college  graduates were reading at proficiency levels. Apparently, Americans spend less money on books now than at any time in the past two decades.

I don’t really need this data to shock me. For many years, I have been aghast at the number of friends I ask about books who unashamedly admit to not reading. Even in our small library’s circle of families homeschooling their children and attempting to raise their own educational levels, many of their children come into our library and cannot be enticed to even pick up a book. Now I know that compared to university libraries with their millions of volumes, our little collection of 15,000 books seems pathetic, but we have attempted to provide the cream of children’s literature from a time when literature standards were significantly higher. The 400 sq. ft. area is jammed to the ceiling with well-labeled and carefully organized books on every topic under the sun. You can then imagine how appalled we are to observe a young person apathetically wandering the aisles who, when asked by his mother, “can't you find something to read?”  responds, “there’s nothing here to read.” More disheartening yet is the number of children who don’t bother to get out of the car, but sit in our driveway watching DVDs while their parents come inside to select good
reading for their school lessons.

In so many instances of depressing news about the downward trends in our day, this is one that is easily  remedied. There is a solution. It’s actually amazingly simple, even according to many other studies I have noted in recent years about reading and education. Other statistics are very encouraging about how this decline can be turned around.

First, read to your children. Children who are read to, love to read. Of course, it goes without saying that the better the ideas you read about, the more the child will engage. A side benefit here is that, if life is too hectic and stressful for this activity, staying home to read with your family will bring you into a whole different world of comfort and relaxation. I have read to my children from the time they are born till they leave home. Kids who are read to, read.

Second, read yourself. As I was amused to hear it stated on the Mars Hill Audio Journal, saying, “Get away from me, I’m trying to read,” is actually a great thing to say to a child. You may want to say it nicely, of course, but the example you are modeling of the pleasure found in a book has immense effects. Parents who read produce children who read. As parents, we are always discipling, not just in what we say we want them to do, but by the daily practices they see us doing.

In closing, the teaching of reading is obviously of first concern to homeschooling families. Workshops and websites offer advice by the shipload on the methods and mechanics of helping your child acquire the skill. Recently I have read my fill of opinions on the specific aspects of teaching reading to children with and  without “learning disabilities”. The answer is not in the approach you use to train your child’s eye to see the words and know them. The answer is in being a lover of books and sharing them with your kids.

For the joy of reading,



  1. I've been reading LBL for a month or so, but I believe this is my first comment (busy momma). I've enjoyed all your posts tremendously, thank you!

    I think your answer is right on. We read, read, read here. Individually, through audio, storytime at the library, reading together, aloud, share (narrate) ... the list goes on.

    I've actually taught 2 of my children to read, without any hiccups whatsoever. Maybe coincidence. Maybe not.

    And, may I just say ... my kids and I would LOVE the opportunity to come to your little library and gather books.

    1. Kathi,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond. We are so glad you are enjoying the website.

      There is a grassroots movement growing. It is our dream to have a library like ours, or better, in every county in America. Then you and your little ones sure could drop by and check out some books.

  2. My husband laughingly read a quote to me this morning by Groucho Marx. It said something like, "The TV has made me smarter. Every time someone turns it on, I leave the room and read a book." Groucho and I have this in common. :) We rarely have a TV on in our house and my boys are constantly saying, "Can we read??"