Speaking of trying to read books to children (see the previous post,) while I always pictured that I would cuddle up with my kids in the evenings and read classics together, I’ve gradually had to admit to myself that I actually don’t like reading aloud. It’s a very slow way to get through a book, makes my throat sore, and takes away from my precious internet time. Fortunately, I’ve heard (the source was the book “Freakonomics,” or at least its writers whom I heard interviewed on a radio show) that reading aloud to kids has not been shown to be predictive of kids’ reading well. Other factors that are more predictive include having books in your home, and, (I think,) the parents’ liking to read. My mom even heard of a study in which illiterate fathers were told to hold a newspaper and pretend to read it. Their children’s reading ability improved. I also once knew of a mother who fastidiously read to her child every day, but then I overheard her confide to another mom that she herself hated reading. I couldn’t help thinking that the latter trait would probably have a more powerful influence on how the child would feel about reading than would her dutiful reading aloud (since children can read minds and always ferret out every little weakness in their parents.)
And thus we come to my system for teaching kids to love reading: You have to like reading so much that you’ll ignore your child while you finish a page — or chapter — or whole book. When children see that for sometimes lengthy periods of time, you love a book (or, ahem, an internet page) more than you love them, they’ll become curious, want to know what is so great about the book or website, and will likely develop a lifelong passion for reading. They may even teach themselves to read.
Although I’ve often given this theory as a joke, my experience is that it actually does work. With Mabel you could maybe give some of the credit for her reading ability to a good preschool or kindergarten, but Isaac was home schooled through 2nd grade, and the only formal instruction he ever had in reading was our teaching him the alphabet and helping him sound out a few words. And now he’s a faster reader than I am — and he is always trying to read over my shoulder when I’m online, or to quote entire Dilbert comics to me.
So, there you have it, folks. Ignoring your children can be a powerful teaching tool.
(An unfortunate corollary: so far, Dean and I don’t have any children who are passionate about sports. Well, Ike was passionate about basketball until about age three or four, and Henry still loves any game involving a ball — but I’m afraid it’s likely to wear off once he learns to read. And I guess Mabel and Ike do like soccer quite a bit, so maybe that counts for something. It just didn’t come about through The Envy System.)