by Joan M. Thomas
No one is born hating to read. When children disdain books, the pleasures found in the written word have evaded them for some reason. The earlier that reason is determined, the sooner the problem can be rectified.
This is crucial, because not only is reading fun and exciting, the ability to read fluently is necessary for success in school and beyond. Even if a child has a great mind for math, to learn math most effectively she will need to be able to read a textbook.
There are two basic reasons that a child shuns reading.
1. Reading is too physically difficult. The child may have a learning disability like dyslexia, a visual perception problem like Irlen Syndrome, or an optical problem.
2. The child finds reading boring. He would rather do something else, like watch TV, play video games, or play basketball.
Breaking down the barriers
If a physical barrier is blocking a child’s ability to read, medical or other professional help is in order. In some cases, a visit to an optician could turn a reluctant reader into a bookworm.
If a child is bored, she just has not been enlightened. The first step to solving this problem is to capture her interest with something—anything—she won’t be able to resist reading.
John A. Wright, retired assistant superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District in St. Louis, Missouri, and author of local histories such as Discovering African American St. Louis, saw this firsthand when he was principal of a juvenile detention center that handled errant kids of ages ranging from third grade through high school.
Wright found that if he could grab kids’ attention, he could often get them interested in reading for enjoyment. The center had books, magazines and newspapers on all subjects and reading levels prominently displayed in its library. The material had colorful covers plus plenty of white space and pictures inside—the attention grabbers. Twenty minutes a day were set aside strictly for reading.
The kids were so attracted by the appealing materials that a problem actually arose: some kids attempted to confiscate books by hiding them under their jackets.
Wright also echoes the advice most often proffered by educators and psychologists, that parents who are enthusiastic about reading and read to their child every day naturally encourage the child’s interest. From infancy on, there is no better method to nurture a child’s passion for reading than to read to him.
Additionally, if your child rearing style includes plenty of books and magazines in the home, as in the center where Wright worked, the kid’s innate curiosity will prevail. Seeing his parents engrossed in books, obviously enjoying themselves, he will likely aspire to do the same.
Parents can grab the child’s attention by picking materials that fit his interests. If he’s into baseball, he may want to read about somebody like Babe Ruth. Often he will want to read what the other kids are reading. Let him, even if it is not your choice. He’s reading something!
The earlier, the better
But don’t wait until a child is ready to start school to start introducing books. Developing a love for reading should begin at infancy. That will preclude her ever falling into the category of the reluctant reader.
Fortunately, bookstores and libraries offer a vast selection for even the very youngest children. To help you narrow the field, a good resource even if your child already “hates to read” is Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read: 125 Books That Will Turn Any Child Into a Lifelong Reader by Laura Backes.
The written word is a gift not to be squandered. By developing a Cherokee alphabet, an American Indian leader succeeded in developing literacy in the Cherokee nation in the nineteenth century. Today a National Park and giant trees in the state of California bear his name—Sequoia. How do I know that? I read it in a book when I was a child!
Parents can leave a legacy to their child akin to that of Sequoia’s—the wherewithal to read. And, therefore, to learn.
The author of three books, freelance writer and historian Joan M. Thomas also enjoys writing feature stories and essays on current topics. Born in Carroll, Iowa, she now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, Bob, and canine pal, Sasha.