Back in the days when browsing bookshops was in a thing, and I spent hours hand selecting new books to read and try for our clubs, I’d often hear excited children asking their mothers to buy them a book.
‘What is this? Dogman? Is it on your school reading list?’
‘It’s not a CARTOON is it?! No, John, no, put it back. Go and find something more suitable.’
Little shuffling feet, downcast head, book returned to shelf, passion for reading quashed.
If we think about why we like reading as adults we might cite relaxation, learning, escapism or fun. No one is forcing us to read. We are reading for pleasure. We choose books that interest us, books we look forward to reading and even sharing. Why then do we not allow our children to do the same? Of course, there are class readers and set texts and at some point, we will want to challenge our children to reach outside of their comfort zone, but to instill a love of reading in children we first have to let them fall in love with reading. If a child is motivated to read a book, whatever we might think about that book, we have to hold ourselves back and support their interest. A child who is lost in a book is discovering reading as solace, comfort, a safe place to go when they want to escape; they are learning the mechanics of reading, the familiarity of sitting still and keeping focus; they are organically preparing for later scholastic tomes.
Reading has become something of a competition among parents. What level are they on? How does it compare to everyone else? I’m amazed at how young Harry Potter readers have become. Are they getting all the story, or just racing through to say they’ve read it? In my experience, children who are forced to read certain books don’t report enjoying the process, don’t remember the details and don’t have a connection to the story. So, pointless.
Your heart might sink when your child chooses a football anthology, but as he pores over this chunky collection of facts, realize that he is developing his curiosity, his ability to remember stats, he is forming opinions about players and teams, he is learning more about the game which he can take into his own play. He will find new words, specific terminology. He will raise his IQ while simultaneously stoking his mental wellbeing.
When we trust our children to choose their own books we show them that we respect their interests; we allow them to feel that reading is freedom and downtime; and we set them up for better reading outcomes down the line.