Shannon Stacey

Getting a kid to read

The Smart Bitches have an interesting blog post on how to foster a love of reading and literary analysis. Interesting reading, mostly to do with required reading in high school. A lot of really smart people having a great conversation over there.

Probably not the place for my inane ramblings.

But I get asked a lot (in person) how I get my boys to read so much. They read at home, at school, in the car, at restaurants, in waiting rooms. I’ve been asked by the moms of my kids’ classmates. I’ve been asked by several teachers. Total strangers. My standard answer: they were born that way.

In reality, I think the aptitude for reading and the way people read is probably genetic, but a love of reading? A lot of that’s environmental. I had a woman tell me one day she can’t get her kids to read. I’ve been in her house and the sum total of visible reading material was a TV Guide on the coffee table. They’re supposed to love reading how?

In our house, books are everywhere. A lot of mine are mass market paperbacks and my husband has a lot of oversized hardcover history and railroad books. Magazines abound. The Tall Kid got a stack of books for Christmas the year he was minus-8-months-old. Between his own books and the ones passed down from his big brother, I think the Short Kid has more books than the children’s section at our library.

Mom always read. Dad often read. Reading’s like breathing around here. Every night, the boys would sit on the arms of Dad’s chair while he read them a story. Then I’d take them upstairs and read them another story before tucking them in. I have pictures of both boys, at about the 3-year-old mark, sitting with their books. Though five years apart, they both did the same thing at that age. They’d sit in a corner of the room with their books fanned out around them, going from book to book. Hell, when TK was a tot, he’d pull my paperbacks down and use them for building blocks and make forts or elevated track platforms for his Thomas trains.

Both could read before they started school, but I didn’t teach them to read. Nobody did. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have no teaching gene. We never did lessons of any kind.

They learned to read the same way they learned to walk and to talk and to eat with a fork. Reading is that fundamental around here.

9 comments to “Getting a kid to read”

  1. Annmarie
      · August 31st, 2009 at 10:30 pm · Link

    In my family we all brought a book or magazine or newspaper to the dinner table. My parents loved reading and passed that on to us.

    My husband’s family doesn’t read. He doesn’t either.

    How much is genetic and how much is environmental, I don’t know. In the 13 years I’ve been with my husband he hasn’t picked up any desire to read…

  2. Charlene
      · September 1st, 2009 at 8:28 am · Link

    Our house is exactly the same, Shan, and our kids READ. We bought them books from the time they were infants chewing on Pat the Bunny. Books were always their toys, and we always read to them before naps and bedtime. Still do. My 3 year old could read road signs, as a result. And they read cereal boxes and anything else they can get their hands on.

  3. azteclady
      · September 1st, 2009 at 11:12 am · Link

    I come from a family of readers and both my kidlets are as avid readers a I am–even though their father and stepmother don’t read much.

    But, like you, the house where they grew up overflows with books, and I read to them, plus they saw me reading–often.

    How people want kids to read in a non-reading environment is beyond me.

  4. Edie
      · September 1st, 2009 at 9:58 pm · Link

    I came out of a non reading environment, mum read occasionally when I was a kid, but there were not a massive lot of books around, and it was the same with all the diff houses I grew up in. But from get go I was a massive reader, my middle brother has also been a bit of a reader, though he reached my level when he moved in with me. Actually I think he might have overtaken me now.
    I think a lot of it is individual, but I do believe a love of reading can be fostered by schools.

  5. Elizabeth
      · September 2nd, 2009 at 11:17 am · Link

    38 years ago, I remember vividly a scene in the living room: my youngest sibling, 5 years ago, had gone from parents to sisters to brother asking, “Will you play a game with me?”
    My dad was busy writing his book; the rest of us answered absent-mindedly, “When I’m done with this chapter.”
    My brother stood with a forlorn look – yep, I did feel a little guilty – and said, “I can’t wait until I can read!”
    He’s now an English professor. I have visited a class where he was teaching “Moby Dick”, and the discussion was animated, the full class of students engaged. This is at a big state university with a large English department: somehow, all these students love to read, and even to talk about it!
    I, on the other hand, had to confess that I’d never read “Moby Dick”, and belatedly realized I’d missed out.

  6. Karen Templeton
      · September 2nd, 2009 at 6:59 pm · Link

    And then there’s our house, where both my husband and I love to read, where books abound, where we read to the kids every. single. night and made trips to the library a Big Excursion…and none of them liked reading as kids. At. All.

    How are these my children? :gaah:

    Five kids who grew up right smack in the middle of Harry Potter mania, and none of them read the books.

    Some of them still don’t read. However, #1 started reading Stephen King in High School and worked his way through most of King’s backlist. And in his junior year of HS, #2 needed to read a historically based novel for a report, so I handed him MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. He absolutely loved it, went on to major in English/writing and now reads all manner of intellectual, arcane, cutting edge stuff that makes his mama :baby: .

    Now, two observations: Four of my five (#2 being the exception) have reading disabilities, mostly in comprehension. They’re not dyslexic, but do have problems keeping track of what they’re taking in. Only one (#5) has had any educational intervention. So reading was such a chore for them they simply didn’t enjoy it. The other thing I’ve heard is that kids who are very physical, who need to move a lot, don’t like reading because they have to sit still. You can twitch and wiggle while you’re watching a movie, but it’s hard to do that while holding a book.

    For these kids, I think, the key is to engage their imaginations in other ways, perhaps — storytelling through theater or art or music (whether as observer or participant). But I’m here to tell ya — readers don’t necessarily breed readers. :shrug:

  7. Sybil
      · September 2nd, 2009 at 11:06 pm · Link

    I read a lot, a lot, a lot. My mom – not at all. When I was growing up I always had a book in my hand. It was always the joke I had my head buried in a book.

    When I was 18 my mom had my lil sis… could be that I have always tossed books at her. But she is a huge reader as well. So we are backward of Karen T ;).

  8. Maris
      · September 5th, 2009 at 9:04 pm · Link

    And sometimes, no matter what the parents do to encourage their kids to read, they choose not to.
    My BFF loves reading even more than I do, she can read 5-6 books a week!
    Her husband enjoys reading, albeit at a slower pace.
    She read to her three children, limited their TV and video game playing and yet none of them enjoy reading.
    The oldest says she likes reading, but never has the time. The two younger ones HATE reading. They would rather get a root canal than read a book!

  9. MJ
      · September 7th, 2009 at 8:24 am · Link

    My parents didn’t read, but my mom’s a teacher, so she’d always take me to the library and give me money for books for those Scholastic flyers the teachers would send home.

    My son went through a non-reading period in middle/high school. He’d read the Harry Potters but that was it. Now, whenever he has extra cash, he’s at Borders.

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