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I love to read. So do all of my siblings. Someone asked me what my parents did to get us into reading. I’m still not sure how to answer that, but here’s a thought.

Reading wasn’t rewarded at our house. We never had word walls or anchor charts or point systems. We didn’t have reading logs. It honestly wasn’t even celebrated.

Don’t get me wrong, we argued about plots and characters and genres. We got passionate about books and ideas and geeked out about topics that we loved.

But the focus was never on being a better reader. It was about learning or getting lost in a story or discovering a world. We had books everywhere. On counters, where the food stained the pages. On the coffee table. Strewn all over the floor. On our bookshelves. On our beds. Our dinner table was stained from newspaper ink.

When we did chores, we earned bookstore money and when we went to the bookstore, it felt like going to a candy store. Then, when we used up those books, we spent hours in the library.

The point is that reading was never particularly special. You know how some families leave a television on all day and you just kind-of show up and surf? That’s how it was in our house with books and magazines and the newspaper.

It never felt like we were reading all the time. I mean, we played video games. We watched t.v. We played outside often. We drew and painted and built things. But reading filled in the gaps.

Reading was like eating or drinking or breathing. It was just a part of life. It never felt elitist (probably because my parents enjoyed John Grisham novels instead of busting out Dostoevsky). It never felt unusual. It was just a part of life. We were immersed in the printed word and we never saw it for what it was: a gift.

And so, I ended up falling in love with reading in that way that you love a family member. It was just so normal and casual and comfortable to read. It was always a part of me.

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John Spencer

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

12 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    I never forced my children to read. I think what is forced becomes something children will not want to partake in. I believe that children should grow up and experience everything around them and yes that includes television and video games. If they love to read they will do it. If they do not they won't. My adult children are readers and have graduated from top universities. I do not like to read yet I too graduated from college and have done well. Parents today get too hung up on things that are in the end not that important. Give your children love and attention and believe in them. They will take it from there.

  • Court says:

    I think you've got the beginning of what works but an equally important part of the equation is bookshelves. Bookshelves that are accessible to everyone in the family. Bookshelves that are full of books. Books need to be a readily available option in the house, just like the TV and the computer and the swingset in the backyard. Children should have to ask for help getting a book when they want to read and it should be seen as an option for when they are looking for something to do. Children should have bookshelves in their bedrooms and families should have bookshelves in shared living spaces.

  • I too was part of a family culture where reading was embedded. People comment on my own children now because whilst others are asking their kids to put the iPad or other device down, I am asking mine to take their nose out of their book and show some manners!

    I have never signed off the "reading log" for school because reading is not homeWORK for my kids. Reading is something we have always enjoyed and shared. We continue to read to each other (aged 13 and 11) and talk about characters and plot twists and when the NEXT book is coming out. My attitude to buying books is aligned with that of food and household needs. I never say "no" to buying a book, its just another thing that nourishes our minds and bodies.

    I think developing a love for reading is developed through attitude, models and culture. If you treat it like "work" kids will avoid it at all costs!

  • Dan Billing says:

    Interesting analysis. Its not surprising that you became an avid reader given the home environment that you have described. But what about kids that don't have the same benefits? We promote reading to children that don't have a strong culture of reading at home. Our experience has been that offering positive incentives to these kids to read more does in fact work. Find out more http://www.irp.org.au

  • Debbie's and my experience is that some of one's passion for reading is genetic. We are both avid readers and our home is full of books (everywhere). Trips to bookstores are regular events, and we never miss a chance to delve into a good story. And yet, 1 of our 4 kids isn't at all interested in reading. He's tried and he'll do reading that's assigned, but for him it's always a chore. It never wove its way into his DNA. He has other wonderful interests and talents, but he's never going to be a "reader" as I would define it, and that's okay.

  • KKeigher says:

    I love what you said about reading not being rewarded, or even celebrated. I feel like I grew up the same way, and it's true that it was so seamless and so unintentional that I don't know how my parents did it. I want to foster a reading culture within my own children and my students, but have them be intrinsically motivated, not extrinsically. A coworker of mine, also an English teacher, is dyslexic (is her sister, mother and father). As a child, if she got in trouble, she would grounded until she read a novel (her choice) and wrote a book report about it. When she first told me, I thought "That's awesome! I wish my parents had done that!" But upon further reflection, I'm actually surprised she grew up to still love reading (and ultimately become an English teacher). While her parents' practice was clearly designed to build her reading and writing skills, I fear the negative effect a practice like this might have. I would never want my kids to associate reading with punishment or dread the task. Thanks for the reminder that something can be valued without being rewarded.

  • Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed reading this post and all the comments after. When I first began reading I thought "Ah, that's me! My house was just like that, no wonder I love to read!" And it reaffirmed for me just how important a child's home environment and experiences are to fostering reading, not as a chore or punishment, but as a pastime; reading should be something that a child can enjoy and that will make his life more fulfilling, not a chore to be dreaded or an assignment to be completed and discarded. As a kindergarten teacher, I am now required to teach reading to five year olds. They are very young and I often question if reading is even developmentally appropriate for some of them, but these are the goals adopted by my district, so I comply.
    As teachers, we look at research and, for example, discuss the importance of the "1000 lap hours" kids should be spending prior to starting school and their importance in fostering literacy. We try and reach out to parents and express to them how important it is for them to "model" reading behaviors, but it doesn't always happen. Kids come to us from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of needs. I do think there are occasions where we overemphasize the rewarding of reading behaviors, but for a number of children who don't get those "1000" lap hours, or who do not come from households where their parents are literate and read, they need to be incentivized. They need that extra push the star on the reading log gives them. Kids who find reading difficult and therefore not enjoyable often just need time to feel more comfortable and get over the hump before they become competent readers. Star charts and word walls may offer them that little extra support that they need to keep going. And reading logs provide that accountability or even just a gentle nudge to those parents who need to be reminded that reading has to be part of their everyday routine, because sometimes, unfortunately, it is not.
    I love to read, my husband does not. I suspect he is mildly dyslexic, judging by is spelling and his reluctance to pick up a book. He is knowledgeable and opinionated and enjoys staying current on news and events, but he'd much rather listen to talk radio or watch Headline News than pick up a newspaper or read online. What are the implications for my own kids? I'm not sure. One is a voracious reader, one is not (yet). Should I worry about her dad's lack of literacy? Does it make him a less competent or caring parent? This remains to be seen. I wish all kids found reading "normal, casual, and comfortable." This feels a bit like the nature vs. nurture argument. While I think that environment has a lot to do with kids' reading successes, I also think that some of it is just how a kid is wired. I hope that all of these other things that we as educators do to incentivize reading have a positive impact as well.

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