Do your kids enjoy books that you are not a huge fan of? Is there a particular character that you can’t stand, but that your child adores? Do your kids enjoy reading on the Kindle or IPad, while you prefer they read paper books? You may think I am crazy for saying it, but I believe you should let them read what they want!
But Vicki, that’s crazy! There are things out there that I don’t want my kid reading!
I totally get it and I definitely agree. Of course there are some exceptions! There is a lot out there that I don’t want my daughter reading. However, I believe that loosening the reins a little bit will benefit her in the long run.
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When it comes to reading with my daughter, the quality of books that we read is something that I think about a lot. Coming from an education background, I consider every story I read with her from the standpoint of a teacher as well as a mom. This sometimes leads me to be a little tough on some of the books that we come across.
Like most kids her age, she is also very interested in screens of all kinds. While I was very hesitant to allow her any screen time at first, she now knows how to use several of the devices in our home, and enjoys playing with her own games and books on the Kindle. All of these things made me come to a realization that the most important thing to me is that she enjoys reading, no matter what form that takes.
Surround Them with Quality Texts
One of the easiest steps you can take to encourage your children to read quality texts is to fill your home with them! Make sure that they have books, magazines or newspapers all around them. Introduce them to new characters or authors and talk to them about why they enjoy certain stories. Let them see you reading as well! If you don’t want them reading things on a screen all the time, then make sure you read things other than your phone or IPad in front of them. Kids pick up on everything, and seeing their parents enjoying books is a great start to getting them interested in books.
Since my daughter is young, it is a little easier for me to have a say in the books and texts that are around her. I’m not saying that you can or should control all of the reading that your children will do (please don’t send me hate mail!), but filling your home with quality books is a lot more likely to encourage them to read them than expecting them to stumble upon them on their own.
Don’t Fight Over Every Book
My sister is an avid reader. I’m not even sure “avid” is the right word. She reads more than anyone I know, and at speeds that I can’t even comprehend. When we were younger, I remember her rereading certain books over and over again. For a while, she insisted on reading a series over and over again that was below her reading level. My parents would encourage her to try other books, but they didn’t stop her from reading her favorites over again as well. Having studied reading in school, I now know all of the benefits that kids can gain from rereading the same texts, and I can definitely see how my sister’s immense reading skills can be traced back in some part to those days.
We had a family cabin that we traveled to every summer. There was a stack of old comic books there which became our favorite thing to read while vacationing. It became a tradition for us to pick out new Archie comic books every year, along with our travel books, before we left for our trip. While these comic books didn’t have the same educational value as some of the books that we may have been reading instead, my parents didn’t tell us we couldn’t read them, or stop us from enjoying them.
My parents realized that the joy we got from reading those comics was more important than forcing us to read something else. We still read other things while we were on vacation, and when we came home we went right back to reading books. By them allowing us to read those comics, they showed us the joy of reading for pleasure.
Look at the Whole Picture
Now I am by no means bashing comic books. I think there can be educational value found in all kinds of reading materials. Comic books teach plot and character development, and several comics that I have read have multilayered characters with values that I want my daughter to have as well. Like any other text, there are some that are better quality than others. This is where the first point comes back into play again. If your child enjoys comic books and it gets them reading, try steering them towards the ones that you find to be higher quality.
Two of my daughter’s favorite books to read are tiny board books that only have one word per page. She frequently asks me to read them to her (which can get a little frustrating when I have a whole collection of compelling children’s books!). After a while, I stopped worrying about the other books we could be reading and gave in to repeating the same 5 words every time she asked me to read it again. She now “reads” it to herself and her stuffed animals, pointing to the pictures and repeating the text on the page. She has developed a confidence in her “reading”, even though she isn’t technically reading the words yet!
The Harry Potter Effect
When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first released, I remember there being a lot of parents who didn’t want their kids reading them. My sister was in middle school at the time, and the school used the controversy to teach kids about banned books and persuasive writing. There were lots of schools and parents who were hesitant to let kids read them due to their subject matter.
As the years went on and more books were released, I started working towards my degree in education with a focus on literacy. From my vantage point, the feeling that I had about the Harry Potter effect was that kids were reading! In a time when computers and video game systems and other electronics were starting to take over the entertainment world, kids were setting those aside to devour these books! Even adults I knew who didn’t enjoy reading were able to get lost in this world that she had created.
The series took over the literary world and encouraged people to read again. Now when the “next big thing” hits bookshelves and I hear people talking about banning books or not allowing their children to read them, I think about the effect that J.K. Rowling’s books have had. Think of all of the kids who wouldn’t have discovered their love of reading if they hadn’t had the opportunity to travel to Hogwarts. There are lots of ways that you can allow your children to read these popular books while still using the opportunity to teach them.
Pre-read Reading Materials
Giving children the feeling that they have some control is much more likely to get you the results you want than arguing with them. My mother has always insisted that giving kids control can make all the difference, and I can see it even in my 2 year old. If your child finds a new book or series that they would like to read, try skimming it or pre-reading it before you jump to conclusions about it. Instead of banning something (which makes it more interesting to them), talk to them about why they want to read it, why you don’t like it, etc. Ask them what it is about the book that interests them. If the material is really objectionable, try finding something similar that you can both agree on.
Banning kids from reading things has never worked! My friend’s mom didn’t want her reading Harry Potter, so she hid them in her room so she couldn’t find them. By forbidding her from reading them, she made them even more compelling. By talking to kids about your issues with the book and opening a dialogue with them about it, there is a better chance that you can reach a compromise that you can both be happy with.
Read with Them
As kids get older, you may not spend your nights reading aloud together anymore, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy books together! Reading the same book as your kids not only allows you to continue sharing your love of reading, but also allows you to open a dialogue about the situations in the book and maybe learn more about your kids. If your child is really excited to read a new book, but you are a little hesitant about the topic or situations depicted, reading it together can allow them a little more freedom and independence while still giving you a chance to teach and parent. Accentuate the parts of the book or the values of the characters that you agree with. Remind them why the negative actions the characters take is wrong.
The world isn’t perfect. Your kids will be faced with situations, people and decisions that you will not like. They need to learn to make decisions and judgments on their own. By allowing them to make decisions about something as simple as the books they read, you are showing them that you trust their judgement. By talking to them about the negative characters or actions they come across in the books they read, you can feel confident that they understand your values and feelings about similar people and situations, leading you to feel more confident about them stepping out into the world and facing those decisions on their own.