Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reading as Torture

I finally -- finally! -- signed my kids up for swim lessons. It's been a good year and a half, at least, since anyone has had a formal swim lesson because, well, when you have four kids at four different skill levels, scheduling is a devilishly tricky thing. The last time I looked, I would have been at the aquatic center every single night, all week long, just to get each one in. No thanks!

This time, I was lucky. All four boys have lessons on Tuesday, so last night, I was one of many parents congregated in the center lobby.

As always, I was impressed by moms' on-to-go mothering skills. There were moms with picnic suppers. Moms with games. Moms helping kids with homework. We might have all been stuck aquatic limbo, but that wasn't stopping anyone from doing what she needed to do.

Which, in many cases, appeared to be helping young kids with reading homework. From what I saw, it didn't look like fun - for anyone. Generally, Mom was annoyed and/or frustrated and the kid was either bored, frustrated or defeated.

Somehow, I don't think Mom scolding, "Read it again!" while the kid says, "But I read it three times" is very helpful. Maybe the reading wasn't smooth. Maybe the kid missed some words. But forcing someone to read something over and over and over? Something that probably is intellectually way below their level in the first place? (Most easy readers are too dull for toddlers, in my opinion.) How is that going to inspire someone to read?

I saw the same scene repeated, over and over, all around me: Moms browbeating children into doing their assigned reading. It was horrible. "Reading," as I saw it last night, contained no fun, no interest and no promise.

Why do we do this to our children? I understand that reading is an essential life skill. But when we take an essential life skill -- especially one that can be so enlightening and rewarding -- and make it nothing but work, who wants to learn? Why not, instead, nurture a child's natural curiosity? Read him stories that light his imagination? Read together, taking turns? Answer him when he asks what something says?

After what I saw last night, I'm not surprised that so many boys hate to read.


  1. It is sad to see child lose the love learning this way. My son struggles with reading. We take a book that he's interested in and I have him read the first sentence of each paragraph. Then I read the rest of the paragraph aloud so that he can both practice his reading skills and enjoy the book. It seems to work well for him.

  2. I can honestly say we haven't had this experience in our household. Sure, we've had times when there were arguments over doing reading homework. But overall, my kids do alright with reading. I think they are given a lot of freedom to choose what they read though.

    I agree with you fully that the reading experience needs to be fun, imaginative and interactive.

  3. the reading program we have been using at school (until this year) stresses reading each word perfectly on command. i don't think that benefits anyone, especially my students. reading is an essential life skill, yes...but shouldn't it be enjoyable at the same time? i want my kids to enjoy and understand what they're reading. if they say "the" instead of "a", is it really changing the story? do they understand it any less? no! they hate the stories already, why am i going to demand they read every word perfectly? if i don't beat them into submission, the more likely they are to enjoy what they're doing. and i feel that as long as they understand what's going on and can tell me pieces about the story, they have read! i have students that can read words at a 5th grade level, but can't tell me a thing they read about. but that makes them better readers according to most reading programs. to me, the biggest part of reading is comprehension. if they know what's going on, they're doing fine!

  4. Missy,
    It's great to hear your comments on this one, given that you're a teacher. I agree -- comprehension is key. Think of how many times *we* managed to transpose or say the wrong word when reading aloud to our children! The key, like you said, is reading comprehension. If I can look at some words on a page and tell you the basic meaning of that page, I can read -- whether or not I can properly pronounce or decode every single word on the page.

    Rose -- I love your technique, and may borrow it very, very soon!

    Nate -- Glad to hear reading isn't a struggle in your house. Any tips to share with the rest of us?

  5. One thing I wish my children's teachers helped parents with was how to help children want to do the assigned reading homework. I would have liked to have been given a list of ways to make it fun and rewarding. I do not think I was very successful with this. I had no clue how to encourage. I remember getting frustrated when my kids couldn't read simple words. I had no clue how to help them learn how to read. What I would have given for some kind of guidelines to follow! Ideas? Suggestions?