Don't Touch That Dial!

Don't Touch That Dial!

I’ve said it many times already in this venue. I love words, books, and reading. They have enriched my life -- every year and day of it for as long as I can remember, probably longer. But I am beginning to tire of hearing and seeing all the urging of parents to try this scheme or that to get kids to read. And then there is all the worrying and hovering over whether the kids are reading, I fear that this near obsession is likely to have a paradoxical effect, particularly with adolescents.

Some years ago, well before the current “Crunch Time” warnings about reading, we were visiting a friend whose 15-year-old son wasn’t the reader his father thought he ought to be. It was clear that a lot of nagging went on in that house on a regular basis. The young man announced after dinner that he was “going over to Jimmy’s house.” “What are you going to do there?” asked his dad. The instantaneous answer: “Read, of course!”

Not a dumb kid, as you can see; and not one who was going to succumb to parental pressure or nagging. (Postscript: he turned out okay; became a teacher of deeply disturbed adolescents and then got a graduate degree in social work. I observed him at work and was astonished at his gifts–his ability to enable severely disorganized kids to calm down, get to work, and get along.)

So we have to allow for individual differences and know when to introduce kids to the pleasures of language, oral and written. We are most likely to succeed if we make the opportunities available, but not pre-scripted. There is no one right way to read to a baby or young child. The books (carefully chosen for age-appropriateness) and parental enthusiasm are all that is needed.

I watched my 3½-year-old and 9-month-old grandsons playing this past weekend. Both brothers get excited about books. There is no better gift, as far as they are concerned. Well, the materials for pretend play, like a chef’s outfit, got equal raves from the bigger guy. But fully outfitted as Chef, with spatula and strainer spoon dangling and clanging, he brought books to me to read, and his favorite self-selected game was an alphabet puzzle. My enthusiasm and applause were certainly valuable, but he chose and stuck with the game.

The baby did what he is expected to do with the sturdy books I brought: took a few hearty bites, chortled, and waved the book in the air, with first one hand and then the other, all while sitting up — significant developmental achievements. If I had insisted that he touch this and see that, it would not have been half the fun as it was with him in charge.

But here is the best news for parents who want to encourage kids to love books. You have come to the right place. Here are some of my favorite resources right here on No need to look further; so “DON’T TOUCH THIS DIAL!”

  • Grab the opportunity to enjoy Susan B. Neuman's splendid advice about books and reading with the youngest children.
  • Francie Alexander is enormously encouraging and insightful about sharing the delight of reading, particularly with older school-aged children.
  • Don't miss any of the pieces from my fellow Scholastic blogger, "Librarian Mom" Els Kushner.

December 13, 2007

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Thanks for this post! It's hard sometimes to see kids picking up on their parents' directiveness and anxiety about reading and to feel like it might make it harder for them to really lose themselves in enjoying a book.

And thanks for the plug ;-)

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