I saw this picture go through my feed today and it spurred a flurry of thoughts that I wanted to share. It seems like a benign enough statement, "A child who reads, will be an adult who thinks." Surely all "good" parents will agree with it, right??
And it's not exactly that I disagree with it. After all, *I* was a child who read (a lot!) and now I'm an adult who thinks (a lot!) So I'm proof positive of this sentiment, right??
Here's the thing. Reading is important in a literate culture, like the one we live in. But we've twisted this truth (that reading is important) into all sorts of other things that aren't true. For example many people believe that if a child doesn't learn to read in a certain "window" of time, then it will be very difficult for that child to learn to read later. Why do people believe this, when home-schoolers see repeatedly, over and over, and time and again that this simply isn't true? How can this be? Well, it's because school (or school like conditions) is (are) not the ideal environment for children to grow and learn in.
Anyway, I'm not saying that I have a problem with people valuing reading or books. I love to read. I love books! What I have a problem with is pushing unrealistic expectations on people - especially children - and "book worship". When reading and books are valued as more important than the actual child standing in front of us, there will be problems. What about children who AREN'T that interested in books? What about toddlers that can't sit still during story time? What about little boys that prefer to watch a video to fall asleep than listen to mommy read a book? What about children who love to go to the library to get new DVDs out and rarely read the books that are brought home?
I'm not talking about not having these opportunities (reading and books) available to children. I'm talking about pushing books on children because we've deemed them more valuable, more useful, more educational... better.
Another blog post came through my feed yesterday called, "Unschooling at Home and at Work, Part IV: Play... Where It All Breaks Down." In this article a professor talks about real conversations she's (he's?) had with students about what they like to do in their free time. The conversations that follow are pretty sad and she sums them up this way:
I’m not interested in anything.
These are people that have been through our school system. Literate people. Presumably people who read as children. People who have been exposed to our culture their whole lives. Clearly they are not absorbing the message that reading and thinking are not only worthwhile, but enjoyable!
So before you jump on the Reading = Thinking = Success and Happiness Bandwagon, rethink your strategy of how to get there. Forcing kids (PEOPLE!) to do things before they are ready will not ensure that you reach the goal.
Just yesterday Marisol read prayers to me off of a prayer dice her grandmother gave her. It was awesome. Yes, she partly has the prayers memorized from hearing them - but I could also tell that she was actively decoding each word, taking her time and really READING each one, not just rattling the prayer off. The road to becoming a fluent reader has not been an effortless one for her. She often wishes she could read NOW. But she also doesn't want to work at it and do things that bore her - like flash cards or read early readers. She definitely does not want to be FORCED to do anything (she is very clear on this point!) So instead, her skills and vocabulary have been slowly building over time. She also loves books. I want to keep that love intact, so I respect her desire not to be forced into reading and her pace of learning. I'm glad that I can do that for her.
Gerry's interest in books is slowly building over time. But he LOVES video games and the Mario games are often filled with stories and dialogue - all of which he insists on me reading to him.
Every day I model reading - mostly on the computer and my iPhone, because that is mostly where I read now.
So my point is, as parents WE should THINK before buying into something that seems "obvious". If this obvious "Truth" is causing discord in your life and stress in your relationships with your children, maybe it's time to dig deeper and clear the air between you and your child. When you see your child clearly for the amazing person they are, things will flow. Is your child exposed to letters, sounds, and printed words every day? Are they loved and are their needs being filled? Do you read to them when they are curious and want you to? If you can answer yes to these questions, they will learn to read.
As for thinking... It was noted on one of my favorite Facebook pages recently - I don't know a kid who doesn't think. It's sad that there are adults now saying they "don't think." Clearly our system isn't working for everyone. It's time for us to change our strategy.
Here are some great links to read more on this topic-
A Thousand Rivers
Unschooling and changing my perspective on the importance of reading
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.