Confession: As a kid I was not a reader (audible gasp!).I did not love reading. I did not devour books, and I actually hated library because I would just wander around the room trying to find something to read and winding up picking out a book that did not interest me.
Later on in school, I learned to enjoy stories. On occasion, I'd be assigned a book, poem, or short story that interested me, but it never caused me to want more. As I got older - high school aged - I recognized that I excelled in literature classes and writing, so in part, I began to enjoy reading more because I got good grades in those subjects...how weird is that.
It wasn't actually until I graduated college (with an English degree!) that I realized I loved to read. And you know what turned the tide? I got to do it for fun.
It started with my students. As I brand new teacher, I lacked an in-depth knowledge of books my middle grade students were reading. After all, I spent the last four years with my nose buried in Shakespeare, Frost, Melville, and all the other white men of "the Cannon." I did not yet get to meet writers like Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Creech, or Linda Sue Park. I felt like I'd be a better teacher if I knew what my kiddos were reading and what might interest them. So I borrowed a couple books from the school library and read.
At first, I was trying to read as many books as I possibly could, cramming in chapter after chapter like some kind of literary maniac. That's what I'd done in high school and college in order to keep up with the workload. Then one day it occurred to me: no one is making me read these books. There is no test on them, no paper to write. I don't even have to keep reading crappy books if I don't like them (although now I always do - there is just something very wrong about leaving a book half-read). I could pick and choose what I wanted to read, when I wanted to read it, and how fast (or slow) I had to do it.
In the words of Braveheart: "FREEEEDOOOM!"
You guys, can you believe that for the first time in my life, AS AN ADULT, I finally had autonomy over what I read so that I could read for pleasure??? In a society that is not saturated with content, I find that idea mildly absurd.
As educators and parents, we want our kids to develop a loving of reading, but my own experience teaches me that we may go about it in the wrong way. Assigning text, packing kids schedules, and even setting aside mandatory "reading time" with prescribed texts and titles may actually achieve the opposite effects.
I believe we need to create an environment around reading that excites and empowers kids. When I was in elementary school, I always picked crappy books because I only had a 10 minute window in which to choose and if you didn't pick something before you left you got in trouble for "wasting" time. Hello Babysitters Club (apologies to those who are fans).
Instead of limiting and dictating reading choices for kids, we should be encouraging them to explore, providing the space and time kids need to develop a taste for reading. The rub with this method is that it can't be tested and takes time. In the modern classroom, with the pressures of high stakes testing, even the most amazing teacher struggles to create this genuine experience for kids.
But while teachers need students to show reading progress in the classrooms, parents do not. So legal guardians, this is your moment to shine! Don't worry about what kind of book your kid is reading, just encourage him or her to find something they enjoy. My kids are 12 and 10 - avid readers - but often their favorite things to look at are illustrated kids' books or comic books. Don't get me wrong, they definitely read fat novels too, but I think the most important thing is they get to choose.
When kids get the say-so in what, when, and how much they read, I believe they develop an authentic enjoyment of reading that lasts long past an assigned essay.
As for me, I'm currently reading two different books and listening to a third online. I can't get enough...but I definitely get to make that choice.