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My kid hates to read and the world isn’t ending.

My middle son hates to read. He’s 11. He likes playing guitar, listening to music, skateboarding, building stuff, and being with friends. He’s not the kind of kid who sits quietly for extending periods of time. He gets decent grades and we never get notes home from teachers with any kind of warnings. He’s a caring kid who will jump out of a plane for you, or even just for fun, and when his younger brother’s hamster died he showed the kind of deep compassion every parent hopes to see in their kids.

He’s a good kid.

But he hates to read. I know! My child! You probably haven’t been inside my house, but there are more books here than spiderwebs and that’s saying something. This child has been surrounding by books since his time in the womb. He sees his parents and two brothers read often. We talk about books (and current events) at the dinner table. I get his opinion on covers we’re considering for books at Nomad, since he’s smack in our usual audience age group. This kid can’t bounce a basketball in the kitchen without a stack of books falling over, and yet…he hates to read. He tells me every night when I remind him it’s time for screens off and books open.

This year, it’s the worse it’s been. His teacher, like all teachers, is a fan of reading. She has her students set a goal of reading 40 books during the school year. When my older son had this teacher two years ago, he blew the goal out of the water without trying. I don’t think he even recorded half the books he read, just enough to get the grade. Luca is a different story. Luca not only hates to read, he’s a slow reader. He agonizes over this goal. Last week, the school hit the halfway through mark and students were required to take stock of their progress toward their reading goals: Luca has read eight books.

My poor kid. I hate that he hates books more than ever now. I don’t see a way back from this. Maybe, I hope, he’ll discover books that he can’t help but read in great big gulps, all day spent sprawled on the couch with a book to his face. But honestly, if that never happens, I don’t really care. He’s got great stuff in his life. The things he loves don’t have to be the things I love. We have plenty of other stuff to talk about.

Like teaching practices and how they can both help and harm a student’s progress.

I am tempted to write his teacher an email letting her know that my son won’t be reaching his reading goal this year and that’s just fine. I’d like to point out to her the damage this unobtainable reading goal has done to his relationship with books. I am a pro-teacher kind of person. I am almost always on the teacher’s side, because they’re the ones who’ve studied how kids learn, right? But this… My husband and I have already told our son that we don’t care if he doesn’t reach the goal, we don’t care if he fails reading because he didn’t read enough books. I’m thinking she needs to know, too.

I suppose there’s a request for advice in here. Do I tell this teacher we’re adjusting his goal to a more reasonable number? That he will read 20 minutes a night and if that means he finishes four more books by June, so be it? Or do I admit to my kid that sometimes teachers don’t know best and that it’s okay to be pleased by progress she doesn’t appreciate? Maybe there’s a valuable lesson in that very approach.

I think I need to read on it.

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6 thoughts on “My kid hates to read and the world isn’t ending.

  1. Yes, tell his teacher. If there is one thing I have learned about teaching, it is that no strategy works for every child. I learned this the hard way with upset students who couldn’t get what I was teaching and parents who were just in despair. Hopefully, she is an educator who is willing to continue learning. Isn’t life long learning what we are all after? Mike, my dh, seldom reads a book but he reads two newspapers from page one to the last article on the last page of the last section every day. He will often pick up papers at the store that we do not subscribe to, to further his newspaper addiction. He is worried that our papers will be discontinued someday because of the electronic life we live now, non-computer person that he is. When we go on trips, he brings back newspapers from every city/region we were in. Last fall, I went to Columbia SC with a friend for a few days. What souvenir did I pack into my suitcase? Newspapers. When I buy him books for Christmas, they are the type that have short journal type articles. He has no interest at all in novels or fiction of any kind. When we go to donate platelets, he takes a history of German UBoat attacks (Hickman, I think) on the USA coastal shipping. He has been working on it for over a year. So, that means he reads for about an hour every two weeks. (He has a huge platelet count and donates fast!). My sons love to read but are both very slow readers and John is dyslexic, so it makes it harder for him to read. Neither has the time to read, to spend hours ensconced in a chair with a wonderful novel to take them far away. They both have employment where 70 hour weeks is not unusual.
    You and Mike have the right idea. Luca is not the only child fighting this battle. There are many who will not read the 40 books, but will lie about it or read Cliff notes to get by because they want to be left alone on this topic. I loooooove to read. The world slips away. My fears and worries vanish as I travel a different world, and I wish that everyone could enjoy that incredible world of fiction and fantasy, but maybe it is better that they don’t. Haha. Nothing would get done if everyone had my ability to marathon read. 🙂
    What are the ramifications if he does not “pass” reading? or this reading goal? What are his reading levels on what ever Godforsaken test instrument is used in NH to “prove” that NH children are succeeding? Find out if the teacher would be open to an alternative proof of success. Would Luca prefer to read newspaper articles or journal articles in whatever topic is his favorite right now: music, guitar masters, skate boarding geniuses, how does snowboarding connect to skateboarding, architecture, builders magazines etc? Would his teacher accept articles rather than full books? Luca may need a better more practical reason to spend time reading than an arbitrary goal set by a teacher. Read, learn, do. If the goal is to get a child to read, modify the goal to fit the child.
    In the mean time, do what you are doing. Support his choices. Let him know that he has a choice.
    My mother gave me hope one night when I called her at 2 am with a colicky baby who had been screaming for hours and hours even with me walking the floors with him. She told me: 1. Tie a knot in your tail and hang on. 2. Keep reminding yourself that this is not forever. This will end. So, tell Luca that this is one fairly small aggravation in his life and is in no way a measure of his worth. He is ok the way he is.

  2. Andi,
    I just this minute finished listening to an interview between Tami Simon, Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur on the Sounds True program, Insights at the Edge. This interview was on intellectual diversity. It hits upon this very topic of different thinking and learning styles and also brings up the point that there is a lack of respect and accommodation for this within our educational system. I remember reading Dawna’s book How Your Child is Smart years ago when my kids were small. Her work is truly enlightening and she has a couple of PhD’s to back up her expertise. You may already know of her, but if not I think you would find her a great resource in advocating for Luca. If you’d like a link to the interview, let me know. Don’t know if I have your current email.
    Luca clearly has his own gifts and should be recognized for these, not made to feel inadequate because he, and most children, can’t fit into the one size fits all mentality. Good luck.

  3. Absolutely tell the teacher. He needs a goal that fits him and makes him feel a sense of achievement, not some arbitrary goal that the teacher doesn’t seem to recognize is like an unclimbable mountain to some kids. The point should be encouragement for really trying, and celebrating that achievement. Even kids who love to read don’t always thrive with this sort of assignment. As we know well, the number of books isn’t the point. Let us know how it goes?

  4. I think everyone agrees here – talk to the teacher! She is managing a whole classroom full of kids and trying to find solutions for all, but no one knows your child like you do! If this isn’t working for him, have that conversation with her. I think she’d like to know that you are aware of what’s going on, how it’s impacting him, and that you are working with him to encourage reading in ways that work for him. Good luck.

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