Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Ways to Help Someone LOVE Reading

I've written about some ways to encourage a hatred of reading, but now I'm moving on to something different: ways to help someone LOVE reading! This is something that's close to my heart, as despite being a "late reader" (or perhaps because of it, as there's never been anything negative in my life associated with reading), I am a very avid one, and have been since first I cracked open a novel to read myself. So how did this happen? What things in my life (and things I've seen in others lives) have contributed to this deep love I have for the written word? Here are a few of the ways I think can help foster a love of reading...

My father loves reading, too.

1. Read aloud. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother and sister and I curled up together with a good book. Long before I was was reading myself, and apparently even before I was born, my mother would read aloud. Thus, long before I could read myself, I loved listening to others do so. If you don't take much joy in reading aloud yourself, audio books are another great way to listen to the written word, either alone or together with your kids (or your parents!). They were a big favorite especially on road trips!

2. Go to the library. A lot. Ah, the library. Growing up, we'd make weekly trips there, spending hours between the isles, flipping through countless books and piling those we decided we wanted to bring home onto a table we'd claimed as our own (a table placed there for studying, but to us is seemed far more useful as a surface to cover with stacks of books). I remember how excited my sister was when she turned five and could get her own library card! She'd regularly max it out at 50 books, way more than her petite self could manage, leaving her mother and older sister to wobble out the doors with rows of bags filled with heavy books on their shoulders.

3. Talk about books and stories. Being able to share something with others almost always adds enjoyment to whatever it is you're doing, and reading is no different. I remember my mother commenting on multiple occasions that she didn't really get he point of requiring book reports, since she heard verbally all about whatever books me or my sister were reading! And we still do that: tell each other about the stories we're currently involved in, talk about characters and where the plot might be going and things we like or don't like about the writing style. Talking about books and stories is fun.

4. Build a home library I counted bookcases in our house once, and lost count in our very cluttered basement after number 16 (seriously, I'm not kidding). Science-fiction novels share shelf space with cookbooks, tarot reading manuals, books on the history of locomotives, horse breeds, and a huge variety of other subjects. I'm lucky to have grown up in a house were my parents had already been collecting books for years, and to have been a part of continuing that collection through going to new and used book stores, garage and library sales, asking for books for various holidays, etc. Not everyone has the space or money for as large a home library as we do (I'm not sure we have the space, either, to be honest, but we fit them in anyway), and regularly going to the library can serve almost as well. But having a home library, collecting books on various subjects, can create such a wonderful environment for reading.

5. Surround yourself/your kids with a variety of books. Check out a new section at the library, pick up a book at the neighbors yard-sale on a subject or in a genre that you've never read before. Bring home books you think your children might be interested in. Books lying around about all different things are exciting, and can be a wonderful introduction to new things, new worlds, new ideas.

These are just a few (very much overlapping) things that I truly believe can contribute to a love of reading. However, seeing as people are ultimately individuals with different passions, interests, and ways they enjoy spending their time, some people will grow up with all of these encouraging-a-love-of-books-things in their lives and just not be very into reading, while others will have none of this yet become voracious readers. 

I'm sure I missed some good ones in my list, so please, comment! What are some other ways to help someone love reading?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Held Hostage by Small Metal Implements: a Guest Post by Kelly Hogaboom

I'm delighted to present a guest post by my friend and all 'round awesome person Kelly Hogaboom!  We've all experienced similar questioning and reactions from people as school-free learners, and I greatly enjoyed hearing Kelly's take on the experience of "being held hostage by small metal implements." I hope you'll enjoy it too!

Getting talked at, while pinned down.
Today, the dental hygienist: "Do you have the day off of school?"
My nine year old daughter Phoenix: "No. I don't do school."
Hygienist: "Oh... do you homeschool?"
Phoenix: "Yes."
Hygienist: "So it's just like school, but at home!"
Phoenix: "Not really. It's quite different."
 
If you delve into almost any alternative education blog (homeschooling, unschooling, life learning, or any other related variation) you'll soon find author(s) discussing the seemingly endless querying we practitioners receive. Strangers, family, and friends regularly ask us not only to explain why and how we do things differently, but to in fact justify our life choices in a way seldom required of compulsory education adherents. More surprising still, although I admit I should no longer be surprised, many of these questioners will listen very little before proceeding to tell us how education really works, regardless of our perhaps relevant experience. Confirmation bias runs rampant and deep: often in these outsider assessments of our family life, children who give the appearance of excelling (by their manners, displayed intelligence, or skill acumen) are often labeled as "exceptions" (or "smart" or "bright", etc); while children who display any different-ness or perceived social faux pas are taken as proof that such alternative methods Don't Work (and of course, you rarely hear the compulsory schooling model being blamed for the sum and summation in the reciprocal case of a schooled child with "behavior problems", etc).
 
This is familiar ground for any family who has, with confidence, been navigating the alternative education or life learning waters.
 
We're a life learning family; radical unschoolers, if you will. For us, this means our children do not go to school and are not required to perform curriculum at home. In other words, we do nothing approximating "school at home", unless the children want to play a "school" game, which I'm just now realizing they haven't for some time. Our children are also not required to sleep at certain times or eat certain things (or forbidden others). They are not punished nor grounded when they make mistakes. They are not forced to do chores. They live with as much freedom as their father and I can afford them in safety, and any difficulties that come up are discussed as a family - and each voice has an equal say.
 
Obviously you can see this type of family model extends far beyond the scope of "education", although as many astute minds have pointed out, each of us is learning all the time, every waking (and possibly sleeping) moment. Family life is part of our education, of course.
 
So look - some time ago I gave up trying to argue why I think this is one ideal and perfectly lovely way to raise children. I am at peace with our choices; we are learning every day. Like everyone, we make mistakes and (hopefully) grow from them. My children continue to thrive emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I'm hearing daily, in relative order, how "smart", "good", "cute", "well-behaved", etc. they are. And I guess those who have negative opinions are keeping them to, or amongst, themselves.
 
So yeah, I've got nothing to prove. I'd be happy most days to just go about my thing - and let other people do theirs.
 
But you know what? The number one question my children and I hear when out and about during daytime hours is, "You have a break from school?" And every time we get that question, in some form or another, these murky waters of JUSTIFY YOUR LIFE get stirred up.
 
We have options, of course, when asked this question. We can just say "Yes." We can say we "homeschool" and let people have their imaginations (this usually involves me being perceived as doing a Lot of Work to cram information into the children's otherwise thick, clay-like noggins). Sometimes I say we "unschool". That nearly always elicits an alarmed response. Sometimes I say, "My kids don't go to school," which is usually assumed as "homeschooling" - but also, occasionally, seriously rattles grownups. I have yet to meet someone who jumps to the correct conclusion: autodidacticism, but I know some day that will happen.
 
I should point out these are the reactions I get from adults; I notice other children seem to quickly understand what our life is about. These kids have, to a soul, enthused quite a bit about a new possibility. Some children have taken a request to homeschool ("homeschool") back to their families; and a handful of these have reported on their parents' opinions of our lifestyle (probably not something those parents would be happy to know got back to us, because many times their opinions were expressed in a very Meany-Pants way).
 
I let my kids field the questions sometimes. As you can see from today's example, my daughter handled the hygienist's questions (and assumptions) quite well; but later in the day I stopped at a spa for $15 worth of a treatment I hadn't had in a couple years and within minutes, on the table, I was once again cornered. "Oh you homeschool... how fun. My sister in ______________ does it too. I know how much WORK it is. You know, kids don't just learn on their own..."
 
Ugh.
 
You know what lady? They actually do. They really do just "learn on their own", just like you and me - like regular people, almost!
 
No. Scratch that. "Uh-hmm," I say. Just please finish grooming those ferocious eyebrows of mine. Thank you.
 
It's not that I am shy about our lifestyle. I've accepted some people get upset if we mess with their worldview, just by living our life. It's that SOMETIMES I am a little tired out and I just want to have a Normal Life. "Hey Bob, how's the wife and kids?" "Fine, Jim."
 
It's tricky enough that by being a minority in this country; our lifestyle's a bit cramped as it is. A life learning advocate and mentor I respect very much describes the life learning experience as "living as if school doesn't exist". I think I know what she means by this, but of course that is not possible in the United States. Even if you didn't have strangers, friends, and family quizzing you (or outright pressuring you in hostile fashion), the 98% (or so) rate of by-rote institutionalization of children, often since infancy, has major environmental effects. Many adults don't really know how to handle kids and have all sorts of (authoritarian, Scarcity Principle) ideas. Social life is skewed in the most child-segregationist manner: other people's children are not available during the day, and due to intense scheduling, often not available for much during the afternoons, evenings, or weekends, either. When I take my children out and about, I am discouraged from having them enter public spaces - either implicitly or explicitly (I have dozens of examples in my life; here's one - in Olympia, Washington, the closest "city" to my small town, restaurants that serve alcohol - that is most of them - disallow any children to enter after ten PM, even when accompanied by their parents).
 
It's not really possible to "live as if school doesn't exist", because so many depend on it existing and do not question the order of things. And you know, a lot of days that whole business is tricky enough without the pressure of WHY WHY WHY, EXPLAIN YOURSELF.
 
My son Nels, with a post dentist-visit treat. I love we get to have special dates frequently during the week.
 
So yeah, as breathlessly lovely as it's been to be exposed to, learn about, and thrive by life learning, and as excited as I am to share our journey (you can read my blog if you'd like to know more), I do sometimes get weary of being reminded we're black sheep.
 
And please don't, as my aunt once said, tell me I'm "naive" to think if I do things differently than most, I'll get treated differently.
 
You can't really say I'm "naive" when actually, No I Actually Very Much Know What It's Like to live as a minority in this way.
 
It's like - but sometimes? I. Just. Want. To. Get. My. Brows. Waxed. Or Whatever.
 
Kelly Hogaboom is a 34-year old wife, mother, seamstress, writer, volunteer, and social wellbeing activist living in lush and verdant Hoquiam, WA, the United States. She enjoys daily life with family and friends, sobriety, B-movies, and lots of snuggles with the kids and the four kitties under the roof. You can read her blog at kelly.hogaboom.org, her social wellbeing site at underbellie.com, add her on G+, and/or follow her on Twitter (@kellyhogaboom & @underbellie, resp).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

5 Ways to Help Someone HATE Reading

I've often heard complaints and worries, from a wide variety of people, about how many people, especially youth, don't like to read.  Blame is placed on a variety of things, from texting on cell phones to uninvolved parents to class sizes in school.  But rarely is the actual way reading is taught and approached and looked at brought into question the way I think it needs to be.

I positively love reading, and have since I learned to read at 8 or 9 (and before that I loved being read to), so perhaps I'm not the best person to be writing this.  Maybe someone who actually hates reading should be writing this, instead.  But then again, people who hate reading often hate writing as well, so would probably have no interest at all in writing about why they hate reading!  Besides, I know all the things that I think  were done right to foster my own love of reading, so I figure I can just think of all the opposite things that could have been done, instead.

1. Regulated reading.  When it comes to things to read, there's an overwhelming variety.  Comic books and magazines and poetry, novels and non-fiction books and instruction manuals and textbooks.  Yet usually the only types considered Important are actual books, not magazines or video game manuals, and within the category of books there are ones considered far more respectable and important than others (for instance, fantasy novels and non-fiction books on fashion are not generally considered important to include in A Comprehensive Curriculum).  There's so much out there to read that it's virtually guaranteed everyone can find something they enjoy reading.  Yet if someone is required to read only a certain type of book, only the type of reading deemed most "educational" and "worthwhile" the one doing the requiring is infringing on whatever relationship the learner could find themselves with the written word.  Coercion breeds resentment, and deciding what someone else should be reading will likely just create resentment against both the enforcer of that should and against reading itself.

2. Required reading.  Similarly to the above, requiring people to read certain amounts or at certain times of the day or for certain reasons is a great way to make reading feel more like work.  If something can feel fun instead, that's always what people should be aiming for!  As with any forced teaching or forced "educational activities," making reading mandatory doesn't make it something fun, it makes it something to resent.

3. Book reports.  So often growing up I heard homeschoolers discussing the book reports they required their children to write upon completing any book they read.  A forced book report (something often a very unappealing thing to write even for people who usually enjoy writing) looming at the end of every completed book, is not a very good incentive to do more reading.  If you want people to like reading, it has to be something positive and enjoyable, and anything that's done to make it feel more like work is really not conducive to people learning to enjoy reading for it's own sake.  When people are most likely to not mind doing things that feel like work is when that work is freely chosen, and when it feels meaningful and important.  Book reports?  Don't necessarily feel very meaningful!  Critically discussing books can be (almost) as interesting and enjoyable as reading itself, but that discussion can happen verbally or in many different written forms (discussion groups and chat-boards, blog posts, Amazon reviews, essays, or yes, book reports) and is of course only enjoyable when the reader has freely chosen to do so.  It's also important to remember that it doesn't signify a lack of comprehension if someone is happy reading without doing any type of break-down or discussion afterwards.  Different people learn and process things in different ways, and deciding everyone is best served by writing book reports is just going to, once again, breed resentment and negativity towards reading.

4. Shaming reading choices.  Maybe a parent doesn't actually regulate as such what their children read, but exclaims upon seeing that horror novel or Superman comic in their children's hands "you're reading that??," with a healthy helping of disdain.  This can be a very passive-aggressive tactic, or it can just be a knee-jerk comment made without thought, but either way, it's not pleasant.  People want approval and support from those they share their lives with, from the smallest choices and quirks to the biggest life decisions and goals, and even those smallest comments can be hurtful.  If reading is something they have to anxiously wonder what their parents will think and say about it, it's not going to be nearly as much fun (not to mention how harmful that type of interaction is to the relationship between parent and child!).

5. Focusing on reading skill.  I say this as opposed to focusing on reading enjoyment.  Reading skills are certainly important, and certainly influence reading enjoyment (if the act of reading itself is a struggle due to learning dissability or some other reason, it's obviously not going to be very enjoyable and needs to become less of a struggle first). But when you're purely talking about reading enjoyment, as I am in this post, I'm going to say that as long as someone is able to basically read without extreme difficulty, I think it's really important not to focus on individual reading skills, and instead on enjoyment. If someone is being tested regularly, prompted to read faster, asked regularly to read aloud (as a test of ability, not for fun, since reading aloud together can be really fun, no matter what age people are!), or otherwise has a parent focus strongly on reading skills, they're turning reading into something to feel anxious and possibly inadequate about. If someone enjoys reading, that's what's important.  And if someone enjoys reading and wants to do more of it, improved skill in the activity will naturally follow!

Of course, some people will face some or all of the things on this list, and still come out as passionate and voracious readers.  This list is simply some things I think are a lot more likely to harm than help!

How is your relationship with reading?  Do you think I missed anything that should be on this list?  Chime in in the comments section and share your thoughts and experiences!
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