Homeschooling

The “How to Raise a Reader” Myth

I’m an avid reader. I own a couple of thousand books, I read almost every day (for fun), and I’ve been like this my whole life. When I was a little girl, I spent breakfast time reading every box and bag in the kitchen, I read during recess at school, and I was often admonished to “take my nose out of a book” to look at the scenery on car trips.

I married a man who reads almost as much as I do and owns even more books. When we had children, they were all raised in a house full of books, used literature-based learning for school, saw their parents reading often, and were read aloud to until they were teens every single school day. We read really good books, too—fun and interesting books that everybody liked. So naturally, they all grew up to be readers, right?

Wrong.

Every once in a while I see a meme or a message from a homeschool curriculum or a quote from a teacher that basically says, “If you surround a child with good books, read to him from birth, give him access to books that interest him, and give him the time to read, you will raise a reader.” But like everything else in parenting (or life, for that matter), there is not one guaranteed formula for success, or even one definition of success. But this idea is so prevalent that there is a lot of mom-guilt surrounding this topic, especially among homeschool moms who are doing “all the right things” but may have a child who simply does not like to read.

I know many moms who are avid readers and dedicated teachers and yet have at least one non-reader child or teen. I don’t mean they can’t read (reading problems and disabilities are an entirely different subject), I mean they don’t like to read. At all. When looking for something to do, they would choose anything instead of reading. I have one child who would likely choose having a root canal over reading a book.

So for any mom who has bought into this myth and is wondering what she did “wrong,” hear this: there is no fool-proof recipe for “raising a reader,” even though it’s pushed and believed by so many people. Now, there are certainly things that you can do to encourage reading—see the above list. I heartily recommend that you do those things as much as you’re able! Enjoy that time of closeness and shared interests with your children and delight in the joy that some of them will likely find in reading a good book. And it’s true that if your children love to read, they will probably have an easier time in school, including college, since a great deal of learning is reading-based. So exposure to and encouragement of reading is a good thing, for sure.

But some kids will simply never learn to like reading, and what happens to those kids when they grow up? As moms, we worry, don’t we? We worry they may not do well in college, find a good career, or be successful in life. If we are big readers ourselves, we are baffled by their tremendous dislike of reading and wonder, how is this going to work out for my child? We might even wonder how their avoidance of reading reflects on us as a mom or as their teacher.

I personally know several adults who have no interest in reading for pleasure—and they are awesome people who are good at what they do. A love of reading isn’t a requirement to be a good person, or for success in a career. And it’s certainly not a judgment on anyone’s parenting. But I know that homeschool moms (and probably all moms) can be taken in by this myth, so I compiled a highly unscientific but still accurate and interesting list of people who absolutely do not like to read and never have … and what they’re doing today. This real-life list (from an informal Facebook poll) is of occupations that are held by real people who can read just fine, but they dislike it and have been that way since childhood. Even today they wouldn’t pick up a book for “fun” or by choice. Here is what they’re doing today:

Construction worker, several accountants, dentist, stockbroker, registered nurse, truck driver, web designer, several stay-at-home moms, auto body technician, firefighter, home builder, two or three bankers, corporate sales director, drywaller, architect, cabinet builder, surveyor, math teacher, machinist, several attorneys, electrical company worker, engineer, more than one occupational therapist, gas station attendant, car salesman, contractor, owner of a car rental company, hairdresser, police dispatcher, artist, two or three network engineers, accounts receivable analyst, middle school teacher and tutor, information technology specialist, and bank examiner.

Then there were those who were still in college, with majors in interior design, sociology, pre-med, business, and veterinary medicine.

That list should be an encouragement to any mom or teacher who is concerned or wonders what she must be doing wrong because someone doesn’t like to read. Draw what conclusions you will from this list, but there’s no denying the wide variety of successful career choices at all levels of income and amount of schooling needed. And remember that even though you may find great enjoyment in a particular activity, your child might be wired differently and won’t necessarily share that joy. They will find their own.

For years as a young homeschool mom, I bought into the “raising a reader” myth. Surely our family would raise readers! And yet … I have one older teen (see the “rather have a root canal” reference above) who greatly dislikes reading—who was raised with the same thousands of books in the home, the same frequent library visits, the same read-aloud habits, the same great educational foundation, the same attention paid to his specific interests … and he still hates to read. It’s true that school wasn’t a walk in the park for him. But he is pretty awesome in his own God-given way. For example, he can take a classic truck apart and put it back together again. I sure love to read, but I can’t do that—and I still couldn’t even if I read a book about it.

6 thoughts on “The “How to Raise a Reader” Myth

  1. Thankful for the folk (including our kiddos) who sparkle and shine in varied ways that we could never orchestrate or imagine…. whether avid reader or not. I love your last few sentences and once again, am thankful for a unique friendship that flourishes between our boys…. from bikes to music (they do have to read instruction manuals at some point- ha!)

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