I’ve always believed in the importance of raising a reader. I have been a voracious reader from the moment I could string the words together. I could read before kindergarten, and I was reading chapter books in first grade. Words have always come very naturally to me. (Don’t ask about my math skills. THAT is a whole different story.)
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I started stockpiling books. We have hundreds upon hundreds of children’s books, many of which we got as hand-me-downs from a family whose children I nannied for most of my twenties. They are precious to me. I spent hours organizing them and arranging them on bookshelves in anticipation of my baby’s arrival. At that point, I didn’t know exactly what kind of parent I would turn out to be, but I did “know” I would be raising a reader.
When he was born, I read to him non-stop. By the time he was about two years old, it was like wrestling an alligator to get him to sit still, but once I had him subdued, I could usually get a few pages in before he went boneless and slithered to the floor.
That firstborn child is nearly nine years old now. He is the oldest of three, and he is legit brilliant. I know all parents say that about their kids, but he’s the kind of smart that makes me look at him and go, “Where the heck did you come from?” I mean, my husband and I are both decently intelligent, but this kid is on another level. His capacity for learning is endless. We tried to homeschool him, but I realized after kindergarten that I would never be able to give him the education he deserves. He needs the benefit of the gifted and talented program and teachers who can pinpoint his potential and help him excel. I am continually outwitted by my third grader, and that’s fine with me. I’m so grateful for his amazing brain.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t prefer to use that incredible mind to gobble up book after book like I did at his age. So much for raising a reader, huh?
As a general rule, we don’t push our kids into activities they don’t like. Baseball wasn’t a hit. Ice skating wasn’t doing it for him. Ninja Warrior classes? Not his jam. I let my kids try stuff, and if they don’t like it, they complete whatever commitment they made, then we try something else. He’s asking about Boys Scouts and basketball lately, so we will likely give one of those a whirl next. Something will eventually stick.
Except for reading. Reading is different. My two other kids will be subject to the same encouragement about reading. For now, I read to them. My kindergartener has the same early reading skills that my oldest had, so we have him read books to us, too. We are working on it.
But we have time with the littles. It’s my oldest son that I am really working hard to convert, and I am not just being stubborn because of my dream of raising a reader. This isn’t like men who dream of raising a quarterback. It’s not about pride or a desire to be able to brag about my kid’s accomplishments. Who would I even talk to about my kid’s reading habits? Weird.
This is about wanting to make the absolute most of the incredible mind that biology gave my child. For older kids, reading is a fundamental part of developing a rich vocabulary and learning how language works. It is crucial to developing imagination and discovering things you might never encounter in real life. If my son grows up and decides to pursue a college education, he will need to know how to focus on large amounts of reading material. He needs to learn those skills, and he can start now by reading every day.
Raising a reader is important to me because it’s what’s best for him.
Even if reading didn’t come easily for him, I would encourage him to keep trying. Honestly, if it didn’t come easy, I might be even more intent on raising a reader. Literacy is so important. For better or for worse, it opens doors that cannot be opened any other way.
I’ve tried a million things. He has always seen me reading since birth. There are stacks of books all over the place around here. We’ve done reading charts to earn prizes, but it didn’t motivate him. I have bought him about a zillion different kinds of chapter books, and he hasn’t found “the one” that sparks him yet. I’ve even allowed him to do his reading on a tablet or computer if he will just commit to reading. He does it—grudgingly. And that’s not at all what I want. I want to help him learn to love it.
I know he is taking in a lot of words every day at school, and he’s doing well, so I’m not concerned about his ability to read. I just know how exciting a good book can be, and I want him to understand that, too. There are millions of worlds that only exist in paper and ink, bound between two covers. I still believe that there’s a book out there that can change my son’s mind about the joy of reading.
My husband thought he didn’t like reading until he met me. I helped him find the kind of books he is interested in, and now he loves it. I’m not the only parent in this family who believes in the importance of raising a reader.
I’m not going to nag my kid so hard that he learns to hate reading all because of his pushy mom. Forcing it is counterproductive. But I’m not ready to give up on the idea of helping him learn to love it, either.
My next plan is to take a page from my own parents’ playbook, and offer him a bedtime compromise. When I was a kid, bedtime was 8 pm, but if I wanted to read, I could leave my light on until 9:30. That hour-and-a-half of reading every night is the only reason I am a writer today. I saw so many beautiful sentences that I became obsessed with writing my own. It really helped shape who I became.
I’m hopeful that my kid doesn’t find reading more boring than bedtime. Maybe the chance to stay up late will be the motivation he needs to get past the first chapter and discover the riches that good books have to offer. I might never succeed in turning him into an enthusiastic reader, but I’m really, really going to try.
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