Monday, March 27, 2006

Raising A Reading Child

So I signed on to my messenger this afternoon, and the little box that pops up to show your most recent emails; some links to articles of varying interests (usually things about romance, work, and raising children) and then I believe the last tab is actual news (I never read the last tab).

Today, the little page of “human interest” stories included one that caught my eye – (there is usually one fairly frequently that does) – it was something along the lines of “how to raise a child that loves to read”. Because all of my little darlings (‘little’ being a bit ridiculous now that they are teenagers) love to read so much that I have had to ground them from reading. How ridiculous is that to most parents, “you are grounded from reading until you get out of this room and do something else”.

So I clicked on this fabulous tidbit of parenting advice. The five tips were ever so helpful (rolling my eyes). It’s not that they are bad tips, the thing is, with almost any parenting advice – it either happens naturally, or its so forced the kid is thinking (perhaps not consciously) that you have got to be smoking something if you think they are going to fall for that load of crap – and well maybe it’s my mood, but I read their five tips as classic this is going to come off as so forced and unnatural.

So I am determined, in my own less than expert, but it’s working out pretty well for me, style, to tell you what worked for me. It is not a suggested five steps to raising the next super journalist/author/editor – it’s what we did, and our kids are such avid readers that it actually makes other people shake their heads in wonder.

From the Article - #1 – Pay attention to their interests – my reaction, um “DOH” is this something that really needs pointing out to parents? If the only book on your bookshelf – oh here’s my number one – have books, have lots of books, have varied books, have them accessible, have them all over, I have bookshelves in EVERY room – even the kitchen and bathroom – granted the kitchen is for cookbooks and the bathroom is for magazines and in fact I get angry if I find an unattended book in the bathroom – it’s a very dangerous place for a book to be left unchaperoned – fair and kind treatment of books follows later. Alas I have digressed, which is my prerogative this is my rant… anyhow, have books, lots of books, and if they want to read the cookbook, let them, and if the two year old wants to read consumer reports, let them… so having books that “pay attention to their interests” – well hopefully, that will just happen, because you have so many books everywhere. You are saying, but an 18 mo.oOld will tear the book, a 9 mo. old will put it in her mouth. – and you are right… that’s why, God bless them the toy manufacturers have created nearly indestructible books – I really like the fabric ones. But the “chunky” books are pretty tough too, although you can’t run them through the warsher if they accidentally get spit up on. That’s right I said spit up on… I never said “have books everywhere after they turn 4 years old” – I said “have books everywhere”, and that means all the time. There is NO magic age to begin looking at books.

From the Article - #2 – Show your child that reading is fun – well much as I don’t think that naked human form is something to get all prude about, aside from reading playboy or comics, we don’t usually just burst out with outward expressions of joy. Frankly, I think reading playboy around the kids is probably better left for when they have locked you in the alzheirmer’s ward and you are shocking them with your lack of modesty. Also, comics are not bad, they just aren’t all that good either. They have their place, so read the comics on Sunday morning, and read some other books at other times. I think the main thing here isn’t so much to sit around reading Thomas Hardy and heartily laughing at the distress of poor young Tess, but not to bitch about “having to read this for work” – don’t make it a chore, at least not EVERY time, because face it, sometimes it is a chore – I think that some of those books that my husbands Sales Manager assigns, look like a huge chore. Also those parenting books, icky icky icky – have those people seen human children? They are on the right track, but they didn’t actually phrase it correctly, it should have read “don’t make reading a chore” – which could translate “don’t force” – oh wait didn’t we cover “force” up near the beginning?

From the Article - #3 – Use bedtime bribes – I may be one of THE BIGGEST FANS of bribes and threats – the antithesis of every parenting book ever written – like I said, have these people ever seen human children? – however, if you bribe your kid to do something, you are telling them that it is a chore, it isn’t fun, it is something they must do, sorta like my dad “making” us go to church EVERY Sunday – my mom said “why” and he didn’t know. He said it creates a routine, it gives structure, it’s a good habit – not one thing about spiritual growth – that’s when we changed churches, only went when we felt like it, or mom guilted us (holidays) – and dad was s.o.l. on the whole “routine” “habit” deal, not to mention that really killed the old catholic mass that was an occasional visit (he had been raised catholic). So aside from a whole opportunity for another rant on faith – I do bribe my children, to do chores, to do homework that sucks, to clean dog poop – face it there is no selling the dog poop scooping as “fun” no matter how you spin it – even Tom Sawyer wouldn’t have pulled that off. Threats too, but they didn’t mention those, so we will skip them for now. I will say this in response – THERE IS NO NEED TO BRIBE YOUR CHILDREN TO READ AT BEDTIME IF YOU READ with THEM. There is a novel concept that is NEVER mentioned in this article, reading bedtime stories to your children… just like our parents read to us, and their parents read to them, and just like the movies. If your parent didn’t read to you, I am sorry for you, but it’s not like you haven’t heard of it. We read to our children EVERY night from about 3 months at least until they began school, in fact I think until about 2nd grade, okay I broke down and outed myself for writing this to my daughters, the older one “doesn’t remember” (of course she also didn’t remember she had a term paper due) – and the younger one says that we read to them till they were about 6 and then for a couple of years after that we read chapter books as a family – and I do remember reading Charlotte’s Web in particular – my husband and I would take turns on who did the better voices… he would do Wilbur and the Rat and I would do Ariel and Charlotte, that sort of thing. “Voices” are very important when you are reading chapter books to children. In summary, for reading bribes suck, togetherness rocks.

From the Article - #4 – Practice what you Preach – though I preached this one to my husband on occasion while the kids were young, fact is, he could count the number of books he has read in the last five years on one hand, while I have been accused of faking back injuries in order to lay in bed and finish a particularly good read. Still, our children read like something out of a horror movie – sort of a “revenge of the killer tomatoes” with the tomatoes recast as my kids and the house recast as my bookcases.

From the Article - #5 – Set up family reading time – tell me this doesn’t sound like a chore again. This is bible study with a different book – oh hey while we are on bible study – um if that is the only reading that you do, or that you “require” your children to do – you are missing the entire point of the joy of climbing inside the pages of a wonderfully written story and joining the hero while he chases clues to the bad guys’ identity or adventures through strange lands and meets a woman who is not only wonderfully feminine but wonderfully tomboy enough to share his adventure and go off catching snakes and playing baseball and then becomes a huge success but then fails down below his worst nightmare only to climb back out again because of perseverance and the love of the one person that would never deny him. You can change all of that around to fit your favorite book.

So… my advice to anyone who actually wants their children to beg them to check for used James Patterson books on Amazon, because the book budget is completely out of control – have books, and have more books, and read them, together, alone, and for enjoyment. Never force it, never require it, and never ever make it into something scary. It’s not the worst thing in the world if a book is damaged by too much reading.

Oh yes, but if it is neglected or abused, well that is another story. Did my passion for kind treatment of books have anything to do with the love of them… I don’t know. I will tell you this, any book that was ever thrown, dropped, left alone in a bad area, had to be kissed and apologized to. You heard me Kissed and Apologized to. If you threw your book because you were pissy that it was dinner time, you had to retrieve it, kiss it, apologize to it, and put it on a shelf kindly. Books are a privilege and a treasure, they deserve to be treated as kindly as the family crystal. They will become an heirloom, really.

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