My Son Loves Reading, Except When He Doesn’t

A couple weeks ago, we went to the library, which was an unusual event only in that all five of us went together. As we were pulling into the parking lot, my eldest dropped a bomb.

“I hate reading,” came the revelatory proclamation from the back seat of the minivan. I gripped my door handle and immediately pictured hurling dozens of his video games over the bridge into the Intracoastal Waterway the next time we crossed it, cackling “Take that!” as I threw. I’m stunningly mature that way. I’m also, as it happens, a reading specialist, albeit an immature one prone to rash gestures in my mind.

Having spent years observing the social habits of teenagers while teaching, I have learned that, in their world so transparent and so reflective of our own, it is often cool to dislike something. It gives you an edge. My son is not a teenager yet, but he appears to be headed in that direction, and so the winds of change are starting to blow our way. Therefore, I have little doubt that someone considered a “10” on the elementary school coolness scale made some oh-so-helpful comments in my son’s general direction recently, and thus jump-started his newfound opinion. This is a downside of being educated with one’s peers.

I’d like to report that my audible response was more professional in nature than my initial internal response I just confessed to, but no. At least not immediately. It’s funny how those comments I dealt with regularly and impartially in my career can suddenly become loaded when they come out of the mouths of my babes.

“What!” I exclaimed, not asked. Then, I spouted my knee-jerk reaction to many things of late, “Well, keep your opinions to yourself.” The younger two are parrots of the eldest, so I wanted to stop the leak before it did damage.

I was occupied with the administrative details of moving five people from the minivan to the library for the next couple of minutes, but I did overhear part of a sideline conversation my husband and my son were having. At one point, my son conceded, “Well, I still like being read to. I just don’t like doing the work myself.” To be fair, he’s had a heavy load of homework this last year, one that emphasizes daily reading and then writing about what he’s read. While, generally speaking, there are many positives to writing about what you’ve read, including increased comprehension, retention, and analysis, its insidious tendency to dampen students’ love of reading is a point of frustration for many a teacher. So while I was surprised by the strength of his feeling, the fact that his opinion of reading had taken a serious hit this last year was not lost on me.

I had much to ponder with this turn of events, but we had 30 minutes before the library was closing, and I had epic things to accomplish, including picking out summer reading books for my “Rising Third Grader” from a rather cryptic list, assuring my middle child that he was not, in fact, too old to play in the small play area in the children’s section, and helping my youngest find “all the princess books.” Inconveniently, my husband was immediately sucked into the vortex of the audio book section while I wasn’t looking. Seriously, how does he do that?

Back when I was paid to do this sort of thing, one of my favorite parts about my job was getting a student who didn’t like reading to read. In my experience, almost everyone does like to read at least something. It’s just that some people’s lists of what they like and/or want to read (like mine) are rather long, and some people’s lists are rather miniscule. This is influenced by several factors, including things like overall interests, preconceived notions about reading, and reading fluency or speed. But as a teacher, usually, if I spent enough time getting to know what really interested a particular student, I could find something that she or he actually wanted to and would read.

In my own family dilemma, I decided to focus on getting the required reading books first and foremost. If I had to, I could attack the recalcitrance toward reading later, after I had time to forge a plan of attack. I knew that pushing it in a moment of frustration for both of us wouldn’t work anyway. So I gave the small people free reign of the almost-empty library and let them just wander.  Historically, this and 10 minutes usually results in each small person returning with a stack of books, but in this case, I had no idea how serious or deep-rooted the proclamation would prove to be.

Glory, alleluia, it turns out, the magic’s still there! It just took longer this time. My eldest spent the first 10 minutes moving languorously through the aisles with a pained expression, pausing periodically to lean against a shelf and sigh. Oh yeah, he’s good. And then, just when I began to forget about the live drama I’d brought to the library, I turned and saw both sons coming toward me with stacks of books in their arms. Perhaps you can pick up on the theme of the moment here:

I suspect my boys are not the only children to react with such fervor upon finding the “animals that can eat people if they want to” section of books.

The next day, I kid you not, neither son touched a video game, their activity of choice. All three small people (my daughter didn’t get all the princess books, but she may have ended up with all the Cinderella books at least) sat on the couch for the better part of the day, reading.

(Okay, this picture is sort of, kind of, maybe a little staged, but on my husband’s honor, this is almost what it looked like. Seriously.)

With all the effort in the world, I couldn’t have written a better ending.

4 Replies to “My Son Loves Reading, Except When He Doesn’t”

  1. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported that physical book sales might be down 11.4% by the end of this year. In light of this we need more parents like you who encourage reading by upcoming generations!

    1. Thanks. I’m doing my part, although some days better than others!

  2. I’m new to your blog, and cannot remember off of whose blog I found you, but you are doing great with encouraging reading. I love the bookshelf. My 5 year old son is reading on his own now and I find him parked on the couch with a book in his lap more often than not. He’ll even ask to read instead of watch TV or play on my computer during his allowed screen time lately. We spent a good portion of today reading together in between my getting housework done and after dinner he and his Dad built the animals from Bunnicula out of Legos.

    It’s great to read about kids reading instead of playing video games. And I’m known in my group of friends for giving books for gifts.

    Thanks for the good read.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! We actually even keep some books in the toy box, a trick I learned from a former colleague, to equate books on a level with toys. It’s funny too, that you bring up giving books as gifts, because I’ve recently been reflecting on how I used to do a better job of that with my kids when they were younger, but have not done it as much recently. I need to change that. And yes, there’s nothing like looking and seeing kids reading on the couch instead of incessantly playing video games. It’s picture perfect!

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