I think it was the way she paused and looked at our bookcase. Or maybe it was the way she noted it was one of many bookcases.
Either way, you couldn’t miss the change in her voice from bored-now to sudden interest.
“So…you read a lot? I mean, you personally? Or is this just for your kids? Or do you read to your kids? Oh, wait…no one really does that anymore, do they?”
This was in second grade of my eldest child’s primary/elementary school. It was the first time he had invited a school friend over to play after school. The boys had been playing Pokemon TCG or something in the background, while my youngest and I were playing cars in the nearby room.
When his mum came to pick him up, she had breezed into our apartment, with an air of inspection—checking out what kind of friend her son attracted. Out of all of the toys, the photos on the wall, and the biscuits on the table, she was most fascinated by the bookcase. At first, I had thought this was a good thing. A fellow bibliophile!
But it was not to be…
“If you like reading with your kids so much, my son should come over more often! You can read to him! He can do his homework with you, and I’ll pick him up…say 6 pm?”
What the…? Uh, no! I’m good with the kids playing and socialising, but to ask me to essentially be his tutor without me being his actual tutor?!?
Apparently, her son doesn’t like to read and was not a good student. Her instant response was to out-source his “reading time” to the smartest kid in the class…and the mum who reads.
Reading Time Is Personal
I’m going to be upfront and honest with you: For every child who is fighting against reading for homework, there is a parent who is ready to throw in the towel with them. I am not writing this to tell you some secret solution, nor am I here to pass judgement. Every child is different and unique; you have to find what works for them.
What I am going to tell you is I AM NOT YOUR SOLUTION. It is always great to ask for advice, and you should do so often and repeatedly. But do not ask another parent to BE the solution for you.
Reading. Time. With. Your. Kid. Is. Personal.
I’m guessing if you’re a fan of Book Riot, you are a bit of a bookworm. And if you are, your kids have the potential to be bookworms too. If they see you read, if they hear you read, if you read with them—these are all things to improve the chances of them loving books too. They are not guarantees but they are contributing factors. Because they are all about the bond they have with you.
Both my husband and I have read books to our kids since the day they were born. It started with reading anything aloud. Then it progressed to specific baby books with bright colours and pretty pictures. Now it depends on their interests: our four-year-old is really into Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs; our eight-year-old flits between The 39 Clues with me and The Magic Pudding with his father; our 11-year-old still loves listening to dad read Lord of the Rings while he has been asking for me to hurry up and finish Wizard of Oz with him.
All The Good Stuff
All of this reading is often seen as its own reward. Reading WITH another person has even more benefits.
When you are reading with your kids, you are showing them intonation and context. You can use your voice as an amplifier for humour, sarcasm, and subtle expressions. You can branch out and find new genres, discover why a classic is a “classic,” and learn about language.
Reading with your kids can also open discussions about situations they have yet to experience…or are experiencing and unable to talk about. A timely pause to ask, “what would you do?” can show far more about their life and mindset than you would otherwise expect.
Reading time is personal. We love reading our own books, and we love sharing our books within the family. Mostly because we are all book-nerds but also partly because we know it is a safe space to share our passion for books.
This mum was asking me to read to her son for her. And it felt wrong to me, queasy wrong.
Here was a mum who, for whatever reason, is unable to read to her son. I don’t know if she is time-poor, or doesn’t like books, or is scared of reading aloud. I don’t know and it’s not my place to pass judgement.
What I do know is she had taken one long look at my bookcases, heard my kid likes to read, and automatically assumed I can wave a magic wand over her kid and achieve the same results instantly.
Problem is: you can’t outsource “reading time” with your kids.
The reason it works with our kids is because we created a habit of reading, mostly from it already being a habit for us. Reading time is part of our “reconnect” before bed. It is part of our snuggle-time when sick. It’s part of our ‘brain-space’ time during school holidays.
You can’t simply throw a book at someone and hopes it sticks. I tried it. It did not end well.
Outsourcing reading time to a tutor or unsuspecting parent robs you and your child of the chance to connect. You don’t have to read every book your kid is reading (there is no way I can sit through another Captain Underpants) but one book could start a great adventure for you both. Do a quick search on Book Riot for kids lit and you will find a plethora of options.
The minute your kid sees you palming this responsibility off to another person, they know reading is of no importance to you…and subsequently of no importance to them.
What Did I Say To Her?
Well, I put my diplomat boots on and kindly thanked her for the compliment, then pointed out everything above.
Her first reaction was shock at when we started reading to our kids. Then, rejection of any idea she could do the same and achieve the same bond instantly.
This is where she was mistaken! Like a tree, the best time to start reading was right at the beginning, a very good place to start. The second best time is today. Sure, she wasn’t going to have instant results—but she would have a day more than she did yesterday. And gradually, the bond would grow and maybe, just maybe, so would their love for reading.
It is now four years later. Those two children are in their final year of primary/elementary school. I now have three kids and they all love their reading time. My eldest is no longer close with this particular friend, partly because of divergent interests. My son likes to read, play, explore; the other child likes to play soccer, handball, and run up and down the oval. His mother still sees me around the school, usually with a passing nod or smile.
And yet the other day, she stopped and asked: “Does your son still read?”
“Well, I suppose I could have given it a go. Too late now.”
Even four years later, today is still a good day to start.