I have two children. The first, my fourteen-year-old son, is a voracious reader who said he had to check out the high school library before he decided if he wanted to go there. The second, my twelve-year-old daughter, would rather run over hot coals than read a book.
Both these children have grown up in a house brimming with books. I’m not exaggerating – we have piles of books in at least one corner or every room. She grew up with me reading her and her brother to sleep every night. As a teeny girl, she sat on my lap while I wrote my first, horrible, novel. She has been around books, reading and stories her entire life. And still, she hates reading.
An example from the past: one January we went on holiday after a particularly difficult year. All of us were tired and needed a rest. For my daughter, rest means playing tennis, going for a walk, dancing around, swimming, not sitting around the cottage, reading. She was beside herself with boredom that holiday. She kept telling me that she wasn’t like anyone else in the family because everyone loved reading except her. Then, I assumed it was because she was just learning to read and was struggling (she had some minor learning difficulties) but I was wrong.
An example from the present: my daughter loves school. She loves being organised, leading groups, pleasing teachers, achieving good marks. School is a place she longs for during the holidays, but recently, she was almost in tears, not wanting to go. When I asked her why, she confessed that it was the school’s annual read-a-thon and they were going to spend an hour on the school field, reading on picnic blankets. That sounded spectacular to me, but for her, it caused a deep anxiety – an hour of lying there, inactive, reading? She hated the idea. Her once-a-term book orals/reports are the bane of her life.
Before you jump into the comments section to offer advice, please bear in mind that I am the kind of parent who, when faced with a parenting dilemma, transforms into Research-Cristy. I read everything there is to read about the subject, I ask for advice, and I try all the things. For a long time, I felt as though I had failed my daughter in some way because no matter what I did, I couldn’t get her to enjoy reading.
My daughter is a firecracker of a human. She is brave, strong, incredibly talented (she’s a provincial rhythmic gymnast) and so very smart. Unlike my book-smart son, she is physically smart and fiercely independent. It took me a while to realise the many reasons why reading was not a cherished past time for her like it is for my son and I. Here’s are some reasons why:
Firstly, reading is, largely, a solitary endeavour. My daughter loves interaction with people. She loves being around people; helping them or entertaining them. Sitting alone and quiet is not high on her list of exciting things to do. For a while, I co-read books with her, so that she wasn’t alone in the process but couldn’t keep it up when I started my own business. Even the interaction didn’t light the spark I was hoping for.
Secondly, she is very practical. Most of the books in our house are fantasy and science-fiction, and I’ll admit those are the kinds of stories I read to the kids at bedtime because those are the stories I love. My son is even more of a fan than I am, so he also buys his own fantasy series to add to our library. My daughter says she can’t imagine things she hasn’t seen. Her imagination and comprehension doesn’t stretch that far. It seems inexplicable to me but that’s how her brain works. So, for a long time, I was offering her the wrong books, the kind that asked to much of her imagination. She prefers real-life relationship stories and all I was handing her was fantasy. We lost a lot of time there, while I figured that out.
Thirdly, my daughter is very physical. She always has been. The sedentary nature of reading does not appeal to her. Incidentally, this was why I introduced her to audiobooks – because she can move and listen to the book at the same time. She walks around, does gymnastics warm ups, walks the dogs, and gets a story in her. She loves these kinds of books, and I love that she is getting the vocab into her system, but it is still not reading which is a skill she will need as she progresses through school.
So, this isn’t a Disney-style blog where I tell you my secret for how I got my daughter to fall in love with reading – sorry. This isn’t a prescriptive set of formulas you can apply to your reluctant reader. It is maybe a way to tell you that all children are different and that your reluctant reader is probably not your fault. It’s a blog to tell you to calm down and be patient. If your children are as old as mine, you probably know how much they change over the years – they grow into things you never thought they would and your reluctant reader will too.
It’s also to remind you of this: just because you like something doesn’t mean your child has to. It might turn out that my daughter never loves reading and she only does it because she has to for school. That’s okay too… because if reading has taught me anything it’s that the world is a vast place filled with many different kinds of people, including people who aren’t as fond of reading as we are, and we need them all.
Keep reading and writing.