Know Why Children Suddenly Dislike Reading
Parents are blamed for the things that their children do, and not do. When children do not read books, parents are told to read more books to them. And parents are questioned if they are setting a good example of reading books themselves. But, has anyone observed children who enjoy reading up to a certain stage, but lose interest in reading all of the sudden? Surely, that cannot be the fault of parents.
Some parents are quick to point the fingers elsewhere. Electronic devices are pulling children away from books. School work is too much. Children have too many other things on their plates. For one reason or another, there is simply not enough time for book reading.
Few parents, however, take a closer look at their children’s reading situation. Too often, the reason for children to develop distaste for reading is simple — the text has surpassed children’s reading ability without anyone noticing.
That causes children to feel the burden of reading, hence they grow to dislike reading.
The Joy of Reading One Book after Another
I have a soft spot for children who are labelled as poor readers. Several years ago, I volunteered to read to such children in my children’s primary school before going to work in the morning. I was told that these children did not like reading, had problems coping with school studies and their parents couldn’t help them.
I would always read a book to them animatedly, and chose books for each of them to read on their own. Without exception, these children smiled and read with joy when given books that matched their reading ability and interest.
I knew how they felt. Like them, I picked up book reading late too. I had hardly read any books outside school before the age of nine. In those days, parents worked hard to eke out a living, and public libraries were few and in-between. Raised in an environment where Mandarin and Chinese dialects were spoken, my reading was limited to English textbooks. And I lacked even a single English storybook at home.
The turning point came at Primary Three, when my mom allowed me to return home from school by public bus on my own. I started dipping into a bookstore near the bus stop. Inside the bookstore, I became mesmerised by the collection of beautifully-illustrated books (the Ladybird series) of classic stories and nursery rhymes— The Gingerbread Man, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs etc. Each day, I picked up a book, stood there and finished the whole book.
Then, I went there again the next day to read another book. Day after day, I would go to that bookstore, until I finished the last book. And after I ran out of books I could read, I searched for more books in the school library during recess. My journey as a young book reader finally took off.
From my personal reading experience, I know first-hand how children feel about reading. Whenever I meet adults who deride older kids for reading books that they deem as too easy, I would speak in the latter’s defence,
“Parents today are reading nursery rhymes to their children before the age of three. But I only started reading them when I was nine. And you know what, however easy that might seem to others, the joy I derived from reading one book after another on my own was so empowering. I felt that I could read any book of my choice! Do not take that joy of reading away from children.”
Always have children read at a level that matches their ability and interest. Not the other way round.
Two Golden Rules to Nurturing Readers
Still, many parents worry if their children cannot read books expected of their school grade. Here are two rules that have worked very well on my children.
The first rule is not to be overly-worried with catching up with school grade.
I understand parent’s anxiety completely. I had placed my elder son, Kyan in a mainstream school for four and a half years before transferring him to a school for special needs students. During those years, however hard-working Kyan was, and no matter much progress he made, the gap between the school demands and his reading ability was a rift that could never be narrowed.
Look beyond the hurdles placed by schools, and focus on the well-being of your child. For a boy who used to be restless and clueless in the library for many years, Kyan now enjoys browsing his favourite books quietly in the library. And the most dramatic progress he made is that he reads aloud with beaming confidence when given the right books.
Do not let others impose their views on your children. Just continue in encouraging your children to read.
The second rule is to make a deliberate effort in strengthening your child’s reading ability.
Like many parents who read to their children when they were young, I read the same books my children were reading, while searching for more interesting books ahead. One difference, perhaps, is I set exciting goals for book reading. I was driven by ideas like “It will be great to see my kid reading that classic someday!”
Conan enjoyed reading the illustrated versions of “Peter Pan” from a very young age. I intentionally bought several abridged versions of the same title, to the bewilderment of my wife who thought that I had mistakenly purchased the same books. We started with various abridged illustrated versions of Peter Pan by Disney and other publishers. From read-along story book with CD, to stickers, flap-ups and other interactive books of Peter Pan, Conan was enthralled by the world of Neverland, where he joined Wendy, John, and Michael on an adventure with Peter and Tinker Bell to battle the evil but hilarious Captain Hook.
I also remembered reading to Conan retold versions like the Classics Starts, which were written like a griping adventure that made fantastic reading-aloud for the boy, who laughed and giggled at every turn and twist of the story. Step-by-step, Conan successfully advanced into reading editions that were wordy and complex. He was one step short of reading the original unabridged version, which I felt heartrending to put him through, considering his tender age. That experience of reading books of the same title with incremental difficulty paved the way for him to make a quick and complete departure from illustrated books at around six years old.
Conan recounted the day that I brought him to the Young Adult (YA) Books section, “I remembered that you grabbed a few books from the shelves at the YA section and showed me. I loved those books and kept going back for more from that day onwards.”
He was barely nine years old when he “graduated” from the children section of the library that catered to children up to the age of twelve.
Be a lighthouse to let your children show you how far they can go.
William W K Tan
10 May 2019, Friday