As an only child with intellectual parents, I loved (and continue to love) reading. Once a week, my father would take me to the library and I would roam the children’s aisles, picking up any book that looked interesting and reading what I could. I was part of the aforementioned RIF program, though their emphasis was on the FUN part of the word. With bookcases filled with books at home, some solely devoted to children’s books, and models of parents who love to read on Shabbos when they get the time, I never thought our children would have any issues with reading.
You, my astute readers, can see where this is heading…. My oldest daughter struggles with reading. I’ll admit things are improving, baruch Hashem, through a surprise revelation I’ll get to later. But for the longest time, she did not want to devote any time to reading. It is hard to force a love of reading on someone, I guess in the same manner it is hard to force love on anyone in general. Teachers begin to expect a certain amount of reading outside of schoolwork as a matter of course and it is hard when that becomes another additional form of homework, rather than a desired activity on the part of the child.
As someone with no expertise in teaching literacy, I’ll admit some of our rules of reading have begun to beguile me. When you think about all the crazy exceptions to the exceptions in our language that children are just supposed to know…it makes you wonder how do you learn all of this? Let’s take as an example that word from the last sentence: wonder. Now, we tell our children that O either sounds like octopus or like phone. But then we have a word like wonder, or even the word word. Ok, so we add in the rule about OR. But WORD doesn’t really sound like wORd. So, the rules from school plus lots of repetition seem to be the key. But how do you get children to keep on reading when all they see are confusing exceptions. We try to allure them with beautiful pictures with their favorite characters.
Here is another departure from when I was little. I loved the classics and am not even sure other books existed. Now, thanks to great advances in computer illustration, the colors really pop and pictures seem much sharper than I remember. That’s all well and good but the storylines seem to have degraded in a sort of inverse correlation to the pictures. I think publishers feel they just don’t need a story to be great as long as they have lots of great pictures of Barbie in it. And they’re right; it sells. At first I resented these books, feeling the classics are where it’s at. Then out of desperation, I turned to these books to get my children to read anything. Now, even my daughter has expressed to me that she wants more “interesting” books. She may not read well but she is very astute and she seems to have caught on to the same issue I have regarding the storyline quality. So, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Both of us want her to read better books, but she doesn’t have the capability yet.
Now, onto that recent surprise development. A few months ago, my daughter decided to stay home from shul on Shabbos. As long as it didn’t interfere with my nap, I didn’t mind. We spent some quality time together. And wouldn’t you know it: when I woke from my nap, she was on my floor, books surrounding her lap and she was eagerly reading one after another. So she needed some quiet, alone time to read. That’s why my love of reading during my only child days did not transfer onto her. She’s almost never alone and loves playing with her brothers, sister, and friends every minute possible. Now, I’m not thrilled with having her miss shul, especially to read secular books. But thankfully, this episode seems to have given her “the bug” and she actually chooses times, especially at bedtime, to read to herself. Baruch Hashem. Maybe I can stop being MENTAL about this whole thing.