Each at Their Own Pace
As a child, I lived and breathed books. I read while I walked the dog, I read in every spare moment I had, I feigned fear of the dark so I could keep a nightlight to read by well into the night. I can remember learning to read and the moment when I was able to read on my own like my older brother. Books are fundamentally a part of who I am, and reading brings a special joy to my life.
So it is no surprise that I started reading with my first child soon after she was born, propped up in a bouncy seat. I read to myself while she nursed, and we spent many happy hours with books. She could turn the pages in a book before she could sit up, she memorized the words of favorite books, she pulled books from the shelf and urged me to read, all before she was one and a half. Now in school, she is a voracious reader, who takes as much pleasure in books as I ever did. I felt like I had found a great method for instilling my love of books.
And then came my second child. Same book-crazed mama, same book-filled house. Totally different person. Sure, she enjoyed sitting on a lap, sure she enjoyed the brightly colored images. But she shredded books, peeling board book pages open to see what was in there. Those books with textures and soft puffy fur sticking out? All annihilated as she pulled them apart to get at the stuff inside. And she would not sit still for stories. Three pages in, she was squirming, heading off my lap in search of something new.
This was a huge blow to me. Was it possible that my daughter was not going to be a great reader who loved and adored books? Had I somehow let her down by not reading to her as much as I had her older sister? I knew the studies about the importance of reading skills and academic success. Had I failed her in some way?
Thankfully, Mommy wisdom took over. As with so many other things when working with children, you have to remember the long game. Being patient and letting a child develop and explore at her own pace is almost always the better way to go.
With reading, it is critical that children enjoy reading time and have a positive association. So what if my little one wasn’t able to last through a whole story? We kept integrating fun reading time when we were doing things, for as long as her interest lasted. We spent a lot of time laughing with books and playing other games when we were waiting in the pickup line for her sister’s school, and I just kept offering reading time and keeping it light. I learned to choose different books for her—she loved photographs of machines and animals much more than artistic renderings of characters and action. She preferred books without stories or only with simple rhymes. So we spent more time with the pictures and less time with plot lines or rhythmic language stories. Sometimes we departed from the story entirely and just talked about what was on the page.
I made sure she saw me reading, and I stopped reading on a tablet and went back to paper books. I made sure she saw her sister reading and that books were always available in the rooms we spent most of our time in.
Over time, her attention span lengthened considerably, and she became more interested in stories and rhymes. She now loves books and being read to, and she can spend an hour at quiet time looking at books on her own. Seeing her big sister reading certainly helped, but I think that keeping reading fun and letting it develop at the rate she was ready for is what really did it. I look back at my worry and laugh a bit. Fostering a love of reading is a long-term project that may require patience and creativity. When we force something that a child is not ready for, we make the experience unpleasant for everyone.
What I have learned is that every child comes to reading in his own way and at his own pace. As guides and parents and teachers, we need to do what we can to make books a fundamental and natural part of children’s daily lives, to make books readily available, to pick books that interest them, to model an enjoyment of reading, and to foster the joy of reading by making it fun.
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