"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or a duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." -Kate DiCamillo
We read strictly for pleasure.
I find that when I make this statement it illicits some pretty strong opinions. You know those surveys where you’re asked to respond with “strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, disagree, strongly disagree”? Well, this statement seems to have no middle-ground. Letting your kids read only what they love is sometimes a controversial topic in the homeschool world, and I'll tell you why I'm firmly in camp “strongly agree”. It’s simple- I've seen the results.
We didn’t start our schooling journey at home. For the first few years my son and daughter attended public school. During those years I watched my son toss aside book after book, bemoaning the school library rules that restricted his choices. Even after we began homeschooling, he balked at what I saw as a beautiful selection of literature, carefully chosen by the creators of a fabulously enriching curriculum. I knew I wanted a literature based approach to learning, and my son was reading, because I required it daily, BUT he wasn't loving it. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years feeling like the joy-thief. I wanted his eyes to light up when he talked about the worlds he was currently delving into when he got lost between the pages of a good book. I wanted him to feel that same sense of satisfaction mingled with sadness that I felt as a kid (and still do) when I had to leave behind a beloved character at the end of a story. I began searching high and low for books he may enjoy. In my search I found Read Aloud Revival's booklist for boys, and I selected a few titles I thought he might enjoy. One of those choices was Edge of Extinction by Laura Martin. Sarah MacKenzie just so happened to have a podcast episode where she interviewed Laura, and I played it for my son. In the podcast Laura talked about how she had written this book because she wanted to help kids like the ones she had taught fall in love with reading. Hearing her excitement over the book made my fourth grader excited too, and when we finally received our copy he couldn’t put it down! He found the joy in reading, and the rest is history! Now, you think it’s hard to get a kid to fall in love with reading? Try getting a kid who loves reading to read a book he or she doesn’t love. Once you’ve felt the magic of a good book, you just don’t want to settle for less. I didn’t come to this conclusion of reading strictly for pleasure immediately. It took about a year of homeschooling to realize that life’s too short to read something you don’t love. And I’ve heard the common argument, “We need to teach our kids they have to do things they don’t like sometimes.” And that’s true. But what value is there truly in reading something that doesn’t spark joy? If we live in a world filled with tasks we don’t want to do, shouldn’t we be allowed to choose the worlds to which we escape??? Trust me, reading things they do not like will only make your kids bitter, not better. Maybe not bitter at you but certainly about something, and that something will probably be learning. Choosing a literature based approach was the easy part for me. Letting my children choose what they read was the hard part, but once I gave them this freedom, they began to learn so much more than I could have taught them myself. Their brains absorb details and little nuggets of truth that would never stick with them if they were not engrossed in the words on the page. They talk about what they are reading. They ponder it and compare the stories to the world around them. They want to share the stories with us, and in doing so they naturally reinforce what they read, deepening their comprehension and understanding of the text. There are some school days that my kids ask, “Can we have the day off and just read?” I love that they don’t equate reading with school!
Learning is not devoid of emotion, and if there is no enjoyment in what they are reading, there will be no joy in what they are learning. Reading should makes us think, make us feel, even if those feelings are simply happiness and excitement. Reading should call us to action. We do not read simply to know more, but to do better- with our thoughts and our lives.
-WHAT READING IN OUR HOME LOOKS LIKE-
30 minutes of "free choice" reading time and 30 minutes of "assigned reading" time. Free choice books are books they chose on their own. It can be anything. And I mean anything, within the confines of age-appropriateness. Assigned reading is still a book they choose, but with my guidance. When it comes to our schoolwork, I do the research, we work together to choose topics of interest, we select a stack of books relevant to those interests, and they choose from that stack. If they aren't hooked after 4 or 5 chapters, they are allowed to select a new book. After coming to know my children's preferences, I can count on one hand how often this has happened, but we do not slog through a book. If it isn't enjoyable, it isn't required. Letting them choose their own books on topics I help them select means I cover everything necessary in raising well-rounded, well-educated children, but we’ve done it in a way that doesn’t feel ”schooly”.
TRIPS TO THE LIBRARY:
We make weekly trips to the library where the kids can choose any books they like. To make sure we are cover a range of topics, they also must choose a book from each of the following areas:
-a science topic
-an art topic
-THE ROAD TO READING FOR PLEASURE-
It may take you and your children months, years even, to find their "thing" when it comes to books, but don't give up. And don't settle for unenthusiastic readers, daily fights, and tears because they aren't enjoying the books they are being asked to read. Be persistent. Make finding the books that interest them your number one priority and so much of the rest of learning will fall into place. Seeing that you are working hard to make reading fun for them will also show your kids that you care about them.
Once you’ve discovered what type of books interest them, you can find that same type of book covering a wide range of topics.
Here are some tips for finding books they'll love:
Read aloud- sometimes they will be more willing to give a book a chance if you are reading it aloud. Reading aloud should be a part of your homeschool day anyway, why not use it to explore new genres! : )
Look for books that match their television interests- This works great for getting older kids interested in reading. Whatever storyline holds their attention in tv and movies will likely hold their attention in literature.
Let them read books below their reading level- Many parents fall into the trap of choosing books with the goal of challenging their young readers, which is ok every now and then, but no one wants to read a book they are struggling to comprehend. Most of your child's reading should be at or below their current reading level.
Introduce them to authors- There are lots of videos online of author chats where they talk about themselves and the stories behind their writing. If your child likes an author, there's a better chance they will fall in love with their work.
Limit your restrictions- If your child shows an interest in graphic novels, joke books, cookbooks, poetry, whatever it may be- let them read it! Restricting content that is too violent or inappropriate for their age is definitely necessary, but restricting content because we as adults feel it is "too silly" can hinder our children from falling in love with reading.
Don’t discount audiobooks- Audiobooks are a perfectly valid way to read a book. If your kids prefer audiobooks over reading a book, go for it!
If you think literature based learning would work for your kids, but you think it means assigning just the right books, think again! Literature based learning offers you the freedom to let your kids read strictly for pleasure without taking away from their educational experience. I’m so glad I took that leap of faith and gave myself permission to just say yes!