Reading as Torture

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I finally — finally! — signed my kids up for swim lessons. It’s been a good year and a half, at least, since anyone has had a formal swim lesson because, well, when you have four kids at four different skill levels, scheduling is a devilishly tricky thing. The last time I looked, I would have been at the aquatic center every single night, all week long, just to get each one in. No thanks!

This time, I was lucky. All four boys have lessons on Tuesday, so last night, I was one of many parents congregated in the center lobby.

As always, I was impressed by moms’ on-to-go mothering skills. There were moms with picnic suppers. Moms with games. Moms helping kids with homework. We might have all been stuck aquatic limbo, but that wasn’t stopping anyone from doing what she needed to do.

Which, in many cases, appeared to be helping young kids with reading homework. From what I saw, it didn’t look like fun – for anyone. Generally, Mom was annoyed and/or frustrated and the kid was either bored, frustrated or defeated.

Somehow, I don’t think Mom scolding, “Read it again!” while the kid says, “But I read it three times” is very helpful. Maybe the reading wasn’t smooth. Maybe the kid missed some words. But forcing someone to read something over and over and over? Something that probably is intellectually way below their level in the first place? (Most easy readers are too dull for toddlers, in my opinion.) How is that going to inspire someone to read?

I saw the same scene repeated, over and over, all around me: Moms browbeating children into doing their assigned reading. It was horrible. “Reading,” as I saw it last night, contained no fun, no interest and no promise.

Why do we do this to our children? I understand that reading is an essential life skill. But when we take an essential life skill — especially one that can be so enlightening and rewarding — and make it nothing but work, who wants to learn? Why not, instead, nurture a child’s natural curiosity? Read him stories that light his imagination? Read together, taking turns? Answer him when he asks what something says?

After what I saw last night, I’m not surprised that so many boys hate to read.

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