I remember the wonderful moment when I realized that my niece could read.
She was 6 and had come for the weekend.
It was bedtime and we were reading âMake Way for Ducklings,â the children’s classic about the mallard pair waddling around Boston trying to find a safe place to raise their brood. After many adventures, they find themselves on an island in the lagoon of the Boston Public Garden.
âNow try,â I urged.
âI can’t read,â she said.
She said a few words.
” You read ! I exclaimed.
“But I can’t read,” she insisted.
Two years later she moved in with me. Our bedtime was filled with stories: “Guess how much I love you.” âThe day the pencils stopped. Â»Â« Ramona Quimby, 8 years old. Â»Â« MadÃ©line Â».
Now she is 11 and more interested in TikTok than 12 little girls in two straight lines who lived in a house covered with vines.
And while she certainly can read, she really does not like.
As a person who comes from a family of educators and writers, it is painful for me. Much to my regret, reading has become one of our most trusted sticking points. (The other two: sugar consumption and screen time.)
âRead just 20 minutes a day,â I plead.
âI don’t want to,â she replies.
âYou have to,â I said.
“Or what?” she asks.
What I mean: “Or you will never succeed in school!” You’ll never go to college! You will be working for minimum wage all your life!
What I’m actually saying: “Or I’ll take your iPad away from you.”
âWell then,â she replies, âwhat if I read on my iPad? “
âI wouldn’t be too worried,â education consultant Lori Ann Waldinger said when I called to discuss my distress. As digital natives, our children simply have a different relationship with the written word than those of us who have come of age in the typewriter age, suggested Waldinger, who advocates for children with special needs. .
âKids do a lot of occasional reading,â she told me. “They might not like books like ‘The Secret Garden’ or ‘Nancy Drew’, but our kids aren’t wired that way.”
Playing video games is reading, she says. Watching a movie like “Hamilton” with closed captions is reading. Using a recipe for making cookies is reading.
Ann Steinberg, a seasoned educator who retired last year after teaching fifth grade English at Westminster Primary School in Venice, urged me to stop fighting over reading.
âThe fights will never be good,â said Steinberg. “You have to suck it. I know I did.
As an avid reader, she was frustrated when her three children needed a lot of encouragement to read.
âI had to let go of my own interests, desires, whatever,â she told me. âMy youngest child didn’t want to read anything other than ‘Captain Underpants’ when she was in fifth grade. What the hell? Then I thought, “For goodness sake, if that’s what she wants to read, fine.” I thought the stuff was so stupid, but she enjoyed it. (Dav Pilkey’s âCaptain Underpants,â is a series of graphic novels filled with wacky characters and so much toilet humor and violence that it’s been banned in schools across the country.)
You can’t expect the kids to sit down and open a volume of the encyclopedia like we did back then. Many have probably never even seen one.
âMedia and news are coming onto the Internet so quickly, and they’re texting all the time,â Steinberg said. “They are used to getting things compact and fast.”
Tech-addicted adults aren’t immune to the curse of reduced attention span. Unless I am deeply committed to a subject, I no longer have the patience for these too long New York stories. That tottering pile of unread books on my nightstand could kill me in an earthquake. How did he get so high? Because I read novels until I was sleepy. Now I snuggle up with my iPhone.
Online (naturally) you can find oceans of information on the importance of reading for a child’s brain development and tips for making reading more engaging (Audiobooks! Comics! Book clubs! Encourage them to write their own books!)
In her latest book, “How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio,” linguist Naomi S. Baron cites a UK survey in which high school students said they preferred reading e-books to books. printed because books are “boring.”
âPrint can tire you very quickly and get boring no matter how interesting the book is,â said one student.
âOn paper there are just too many words on the page and it’s too long, you’re confused,â said another.
âWhat are the students trying to tell us? Â»Asks the baron. She has several assumptions.
âThe print is frozen,â she wrote. You can’t really multitask while reading a book like you can on a screen.
In addition, “today’s students have the subliminal feeling that when they read on paper, they are supposed to go slower and try harder.”
And finally, given that teachers often tell students that print and digital are âeducationally equivalentâ¦ students believe themâ. How, she wondered, “can we blame students for making the choice between ‘peer to peer’ which is … often more practical but also perceived to reduce time and mental energy than they have to spend? “
I was so worried about my niece’s aversion to reading that I eventually Google searched “successful people who don’t read.” There must be a lot of wonderfully accomplished souls who hate books, right?
Up cropped up a 2017 Business Insider story. At the top of the list of names: Kanye West. âI’m a proud non-reader of books,â he told Reuters in 2009. âI like getting information by doing things like talking to people and living real life.â
Surprising, considering that her mother was an English teacher for over 30 years.
But you know what? Children rebel against their parents.
What better way to forge your own identity in a house full of readers than to reject the written word?