We are a family of readers. Though a house fire cleared our library shelves ten years ago, we’ve done an admirable job of restocking, especially with children’s books.
We read at the table. In the bath. In the car. And especially, before bedtime. My eight-year old—an avid reader since the age of 4, when he began reading independently—gets so lost in a book, he forgets to eat. We have to sometimes literally rip the book out of his hands so he will go to sleep at night.
Other parents will not be surprised by the news that my six-year old is different. She’s known for forging her own path—from an outside perspective, this occasionally looks like spoiled willfulness. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, even as her parent. After two years of swim team, she showed up at practice last year and wouldn’t get in the pool. What could I do? She learned all four strokes, on her own, swimming in the recreation pool with me as her “coach”–mostly ignoring my instructions.
Now we’re running into that same iron streak in her personality when it comes to reading independently.
Keep in mind, she reads beautifully at school, at grade level or beyond. This is not a matter of an undiagnosed learning disability or visual impairment–which is something to be mindful of, I suppose, whenever your child develops anxiety about reading. (In this I am not an expert, only a parent.) What we’re talking about is reading at home—practicing reading on her own for ten minutes a night, which is essentially the ONLY homework this school asks of kids her age.
“But you’re going to love it,” I assured her. “Just practice.”
“I’ll give you a cookie.” (This was to test how serious she was. She’ll do anything for a cookie.)
“Nope.” (Whew. We got away with it.)
“If you don’t learn to read, you’ll never go to college and get a good job.” (I do not recommend this argument—it failed spectacularly.)
“No!” Indignant. Followed by an extremely betrayed look. It took me awhile to win her back.
“I promise once you learn to read, honey, we’ll still read to you. You know that, right?”
Hesitantly: “No. You don’t read to HIM (big brother).”
“Daddy reads next to him. Doesn’t that count?”
So the next night, I started reading a book to big brother again. It turns out, he still loves being read to, just as much as little sister loves it. We are now a quarter of the way into “BOMB” by Steve Sheinkin, and are both learning about the science and history that led to the building of nuclear weapons during World War II.
She won that round.
And the next night, she read a whole book to Daddy. Then he read three books to her.
She’s a beautiful swimmer, by the way. And as long as I don’t mention the word “swim team,” she has absolutely no anxiety about the pool. For now, we don’t ask her to read. And the less we mention it, the more she’s willing to do it. It may be stubbornness…but why fight it? She’s getting what she needs, in the end. The only race is the one I impose on her. She is growing up perfectly. In the way she is meant to, at the pace she is comfortable with.
The lesson is, you never have to stop reading to your kids, and it’s okay to remind them of that (and for them to remind you). When your kid doesn’t love reading as much as you do, be patient. Love her. And keep reading to her.
It will pay off.
After I wrote this, I was sorting through pictures and videos from 2012 and found this. Here’s my daughter, age 4, “reading” her stuffed animals a bedtime story. How quickly I forgot that she once loved reading so much, she practiced it before she could sound out a single word. I think finding this video is the universe’s way of saying, “Give me a break, Mom!”