Books are like food for the mind and, in general, I'm totally against junk food. I'm that annoying mom who only lets her kids eat cake at birthday parties. I even go so far as to only let them pick out 10 pieces of Halloween candy from their trick-or-treat bags before we donate the rest to a local charity. (That's actually a thing. You can check it out here.) But when it comes to books I have a very different philosophy: Let Them Eat Cake! Silly cat books. Comic books. Books made from tv shows. Whatever. In my house if you can handle it, you can read it, no matter how much it looks like junk food.
The answer to that is simple. It really doesn't matter what you're reading. It’s more important that kids develop a love for reading than develop a taste for high literature. As a parent, I want you to find something you love to read, no matter how awful I think it is because once you do, three things happen:
1. I no longer have to make you read. Let me tell you that I can think of way better things to do with my time than cajoling children. If children are allowed to read what they want to, they’ll read because they want to. And isn’t that the name of the game? The Mecca? The Holy Grail? Children *wanting* to read books.
2. The more you read, the easier reading gets. Reading builds fluency. In this case fluency is a smooth, easy understanding of the written word that doesn't feel like work. Repeat after me: reading should never, ever feel like work. If you’re having to sound out a gajillion words or struggling to understand what was happening when you get to the end of the paragraph, it’s too hard. You’ll start to associate reading with unpleasant things like punishment or castor oil. Castor oil pretty much is a punishment so I was being redundant there, but seriously, who wants to do something that feels like work all the time? Not me. When reading feels smooth and easy you’ll naturally enjoy it more and associate it with pleasant things that you want to do-- like eat ice cream or hang out at the beach. The more you like it, the more often you will do it and that leads to…
3. Building reading stamina. Reading for extended periods of time builds stamina. Yes. Reading is like a sport. Just because you can run doesn’t mean you’re in good enough shape to run a marathon. The same is true for reading. Just because you know how to read doesn’t mean you’re in good enough shape to read War and Peace or Harry Potter. It takes time to build up enough stamina to read for long periods of time. But the truth is that you don’t have to read really heavy stuff to build your stamina. Reading about Ninja Farts (also a thing) will do just as well. And the stamina you gain from ninja farts and other silly stuff will still be there when you’re ready to move on to something more serious.
If you like what you’re reading, you’ll read more. If you read more, you’ll become a better reader and you’ll be prepared for the tough stuff when it comes your way. So just this once, go ahead and give your kids permission to eat dessert first.
For more (hopefully not misguided) tips on growing readers, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.