As parents we want to improve our children’s reading skills.
But are some of our best intentions actually making things worse for them?
Are we, dare I say it, too involved in their reading habits? And is this damaging their desire to read?
Between parents, teachers, classroom aides and tutors children’s reading is dominated by adults and as a result their own intrinsic motivation is silenced.
In this post we will examine the vital role of intrinsic motivation in helping your child to read for pleasure as well as what you might be doing to accidentally discourage them.
This is the second part in our four part series Raising Readers. If you missed part one in which we discussed the importance of reading for pleasure find it here:
Unfortunately schools usually prescribe books to children, thinking only about their ability and not their interests. This can have the effect of making children feel like they aren’t capable of picking their own books and that reading is something over which only adults have authority. Children understandably then have no personal commitment to reading.
Let your child pick what and when to read, you can curate what is on offer (see my previous post on choosing Montessori appropriate books; A Montessori Library) but allow them to have the final say over their books.
Having picked their book, looked after it, and made time to read it your child will feel more responsible for their own reading which will in turn encourage them to be accountable for their own progress. Exercising control over a task is key to igniting intrinsic motivation, when parents stops prescribing the reading material the child is empowered to become the master of the own enjoyment.
Punish, Reward and Bribe
Using external motivators (and demotivators) makes a child reliant on them and utterly undermines the child’s own drive to achieve. Rewards and bribes make reading merely a means to an end and the actual process of reading will be completely ignored.
Children will never learn to read for enjoyment when rewards are being offered because the reward will always be more enjoyable than the book. Once the reward is removed so is the desire to read. For more see this article from the Atlantic which outlines the case against rewards and reading logs.
I remember a parent telling me how their child, who happened to be a struggling reader, had misbehaved. They finished the story by triumphantly telling me that they punished him by confiscating his phone and forcing him to read for an hour! I could have wept! Making reading a punishment will naturally make children hate reading.
Setting a reading goal increases the pressure on the reader to perform to someone else’s standards. By forcing a struggling reader to read until a certain page the focus is shifted from the process and enjoyment to the finish line. Even readers who enjoy reading are likely to stop once their goal is reached.
Instead let children read until they’re no longer interested.
Ignoring the story
Not every reading session has to be a lesson. I cringe when I hear parents tell kids to “sound it out” (not least because phonics is dam hard and most words don’t sound out…but that’s another post). By forcing children to work at reading EVERY time they pick up a book we ignore the whole point of reading – the enjoyment, the journey, the escape.
Instead just say the word for your child if they’re stuck so that they can relax a bit. Reading should be about the plot and not moving up a level. I worked for a short while in a school that had transformed their students into reading by simply removing some of the burden of struggle. Children were invited to come to the library in small groups and sit quietly and read without anyone watching or keeping their nose to the grindstone. When they were stuck they could raise their hand and someone should help. No one told them what to read or how much, if they looked out the window so what?! The point was to enjoy some time with a book. And that’s just what they did. Every single child left the program with improved skills and a desire to read.
MOST IMPORTANTLY discuss the stories throughout the day. When you’re in line at the grocery store ask them about what you read yesterday – “Hey, what do you think would have happened if…” Its good to also discuss your own reading so that they know books and written info is valuable.