I need help motivating my son to read for pleasure. He is finishing up 6th grade and has never read a book on his own since we began homeschooling 2 years ago. He loves for me to read to him and although I enjoy this too and would continue even if he were reading for pleasure himself, I can't get him to read without absolutely making him. We have subscribed to magazines that should interest him and he has access to many, many books at home. I do not have him to answer questions after reading as he did in PS, but I am thinking this was the burden that killed any interest he may have had. Any suggestions?
"Read lots and lots of books."
This advice was given to my 7 year old son last week on his birthday. I wrote about it in another post recently and have been thinking about it a lot since. The woman who said these words, while patting my son Charley on the head, owns a bookstore and used to be an elementary school teacher. She was shocked to learn that my bright, capable, happy 7 year old was not yet a reader. The context of our meeting and the short time we ended up spending together did not lend itself to lengthy discussion of educational philosophy, but I have found myself carefully outlining in my head what I would have said to her, had our time together been more lengthy.
It's really hard for many people to believe that kids really will learn to read, and read well, if left to their own devices. Our system of educating children at school has taught us that kids need to learn to read by the end of First Grade. When I was teaching elementary school, I loved teaching 2nd and 3rd grade, because they came to me already reading. And if for some reason a child didn't quite catch on by the time they began Grade Two, they were shipped off to remediation and "special classes" so they didn't (gasp) fall behind! The notion that kids all need to acquire skills at the same relative rate makes no sense to me now. My three kids have never been to school, and no one (aside from well meaning librarians and book shop owners) has ever told them they had to read.
Motivating a child to read, in my house, looks like this: I read. I read a lot. I read silently to myself. I read aloud to my children. I spend hours in bookstores. I give books as gifts. I write letters. I read letters. I write in my journal. I read magazines...you get the idea. My point is, children don't need any other motivation other than modeling. A child who is raised in a home where reading is valued, will likely grow up to be reader herself. But here's the catch: it may not happen as early as age 7. It might not even happen by age 9 or 11. I know of some unschoolers who did not begin to read independently and easily until age 12. But they eventually did. And they didn't do it because someone told them to. They began to read because they were ready and because they wanted to.
My 7 year old son has two older sisters. At 9 and 11, they are readers. No one taught them to read. They just figured it out. The motivation came from a place of curiosity, wonder, and excitement. Reading for them has always been a pleasurable activity, mostly because no one has ever required that they do it. I love to read. I always have. However, my worst memories from high school and college are of the last minute cramming I did the night before a book was due. I have horrible scars associated with classic novels such as The Scarlet Letter and Catch 22, all because I was required to read them. There was no pleasure there, only pain.
My guess is that a child that has been required to read a certain number of minutes a day or a certain number of pages per week, will probably go through a period of withdrawal when those requirements are no longer present. I can imagine that child, particularly a pre-teen, needing lots and lots of time to choose not to read, so that he can eventually make the choice to read. Developmentally, children at this stage are testing the limits of their own autonomy. Choosing not to do something is just as powerful for them as choosing to do something. If the child is open to being read to and interesting reading material is ready and available when he is ready for it, there is nothing else that needs to be done. Keep on reading aloud. It's good for all of you. Let him choose. He'll be a reader someday.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 11, Macy, 9 and Charley, 7) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a Homeschooling Consultant, offering support and guidance to families looking to clarify their vision as a family of learners. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at homeschoolconsultant@gmailcom.