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!


  1. Great points, great article... my son is 5 and has no interest in learing to read, but LOVES to "read" his books to himself. I feel the pressure to teach him to read, but i'm fighting it :)

  2. Resist, Salena... you can do it!

    Having learned to read twice (once at 4, and again in Kindergarten... wow, that was so fresh and fun) I agree with every point you've made.

    Specifically, I'd suggested that if you'd like to alienate as many people as possible from the Great Works, it's a good idea to pick them apart, parse them, critique them and devise the meaning no author had any intention of embedding in them. Also, make people read plays, instead of seeing them. For sure, make them memorize them in a language they've never heard.

    It would be like teaching a love of opera by starting studying with the kinds of paper historically used for scores and librettos, and then delving deeply into the childhoods and social psychology of the authors and composers...and then, later, you know, after they have learned to sight read the music, and can play all of the instruments in the orchestra and have passed their grade 5 Royal Academy of Dance exams, letting them watch a brief excerpt from a properly-performed staging...

  3. Great post -- good encouragement for parents who are dealing with late readers.

    My 14-year-old son really just clicked with reading recently. I worried (my other two read at around age 7), but I kept my worries to myself (thankfully). He loves books and is proud of his new ability to read on his own. He loved being read to and still does.

    To heck with book reports. People who love to read love to talk about what they've just read - my kids reported on their discoveries without prompting.

  4. @Selena: Thanks, I'm really glad you liked this article! It sounds like your son already loves books, and will likely continue to love them once he learns to read! :-)

    @Linda: LOVE your comment! I shared it (with a link back here) on my Facebook blog page, hope that's okay: https://www.facebook.com/yesicanwrite.blog So yeah, a big thanks for sharing very eloquently and succinctly why the ways "the classics" are taught in school really doesn't make sense!

    @Suzanne: Thanks, glad you like it! I hope it will provide some encouragement for people with "late"-reading kids. It's awesome that your son loves books, and that's a good example of how reading at an older age doesn't have to mean that person dislikes or isn't interested in words or books, just that they're ready to actually learn to read at a later age than some others.

    And totally agree that no prompting is necessary for "reporting"! I loved and still do love sharing and talking about the marvelous stories I'm reading. :-)

  5. I don't think you;ve missed much. It's been a struggle for me with my daughter because I have always been a complete bookworm and she was slow to enjoy reading..she liked learning to read but then there was a huge gap where the pleasure in acquiring the skill waned and her abilities were not yet sufficient to get that unconsciousness of the act of reading you need really to be able to lose yourself in a story. I had to rein myself in not to push at her because I so wanted her to experience the pleasure of being really engrossed in a story. I did manage it though..spent lots of time reading to her and just made sure there were lots of books around that if she felt like reading she would probably enjoy. And just recently it happened. She found a series of books that she really loves and cannot put down. I don't care in the least that they are somewhat formulaic and repetitive...I love that the four main characters follow us around in her imagination and that she wants to tell me what terrible thing the villain has done now and how the heroes saved the day. I love that she loves going to bed so she can read! and I read the classics to her with silly voices and cuddles and lots of explanation...which seems to work pretty well!


  6. I recently had a friend comment that her 11 yr old (schooled) barely read and had never finished a novel. Knowing both the parent and child, I suggested a few series of books more to his liking. I sent a few samples and suggested he read a few chapters of each. The mother commented that the plots of the books were to dark for her son, the books were much too long. I suggested that she let him try.
    Two days later, she called and asked if I had the 2nd book in one series, easily the longest book with a more difficult vocabulary. She was shocked that he had read a 400 pg novel for teens in 24 hours. I sent her the remainder of the 10 book series and he read them all in 2 weeks. He had the reading skills but no desire. I suggested that she ask the school to allow him to read for interest and judge his skills from what they observed, rather than forcing him to read a cute book about an unfortunate cockroach that his class had been reading.
    I hope that the family will continue to let him choose material that interests him.

  7. My unschooled son (9) started to read by himself fluently only when he was between 7 and 8. Even now he prefers listening to audio books than reading long novels. Whereas I would prefer to read transcripts than watch videos! However, he is a great writer. He just started a blog just this week.


    He loves the social aspect of comments and replies, and of course a videogamer's obsessive tracking of stats!

  8. My youngest had some phonics in kindergarten and basic reading lessons and then we began homeschooling and I pretty much taught him nothing - we just continued reading together as often as possible - we would go to the library and I let him pick out loads of books and we'd sit together while I read.
    Then he decided (I think he was 8) that he wanted to read the Harry Potter series so he set out to do just that - he's 12 now and reads at college level and all kinds of stuff, including technical how-to stuff that makes my head swim - because it's stuff he's passionate about.

  9. I'll tell you what made my son hate reading - Accelerated Reader (or AR)! It's a program in schools in which a child reads books from an approved list, then takes computer tests which supposedly determine wether the child has actually read the books and if so, how well they comprehend them. Each book is assigned points, and the child is expected to accumulate a certain amount of points by the end of the year. What I found is that kids wouldn't read books that weren't on the list, even if they were interested in them, because it wouldn't count toward their point goal. What got my son is that he was reading a book series and after a few books his teacher said they were not challenging enough for him and that he'd have to pick harder books. I told him he could still read those books if he wanted to but that was it. We since pulled him out of school, but three years later he still rebels against reading :/

    1. I am a middle school English teacher and I use AR, but not the way most teachers do. I assign all of my students a goal of 50 points at the beginning of the year. They in turn get to raise or lower that goal once per semester. Some students get in a race and others ignore it completely. I do not grade on the points. It is just there and can be a fun way for some to track their reading. Regarding the tests, I do have students take AR tests as a formative assessment of their reading comprehension. I never make them retake the tests if they make less than 60% but we do talk about why they think they made the score. I find AR to be a simple way to hold students personally accountable to their reading. Also, I NEVER EVER EVER choose the book or lexile level for them. We do STAR testing, but only to moderately gauge their reading level. My students can choose high interest books way above their level. This actually helps them to become better readers. If it is too difficult for them, they will usually choose another book. I tel them to use the Goldilocks methods for choose a book, but above all else, choose something they like and are interested in.

    2. I am a middle school English teacher and I use AR, but not the way most teachers do. I assign all of my students a goal of 50 points at the beginning of the year. They in turn get to raise or lower that goal once per semester. Some students get in a race and others ignore it completely. I do not grade on the points. It is just there and can be a fun way for some to track their reading. Regarding the tests, I do have students take AR tests as a formative assessment of their reading comprehension. I never make them retake the tests if they make less than 60% but we do talk about why they think they made the score. I find AR to be a simple way to hold students personally accountable to their reading. Also, I NEVER EVER EVER choose the book or lexile level for them. We do STAR testing, but only to moderately gauge their reading level. My students can choose high interest books way above their level. This actually helps them to become better readers. If it is too difficult for them, they will usually choose another book. I tel them to use the Goldilocks methods for choose a book, but above all else, choose something they like and are interested in.

  10. In the two years my son was in school, I was a parent helper in its remedial reading program (they had a euphemism for it but that's what it was). All five ways were included in the experience. It was dreadful. I couldn't have contrived a more effective method for killing a child's interest in reading books. And I couldn't help but notice that, unlike when I was at school many years ago when the remedial reading class was reserved for the few stragglers who had fallen behind everyone else, half my son's class seemed to be in his school's program. My son was seven when he was removed from school and he's 16 now, his reading is excellent and he reads a lot. Just not books. He doesn't touch those. That was an outcome I wouldn't have envisaged before he started school, but what annoyed me most was that, when his school placed him in its remedial reading program in his second year, he was assigned a complete stranger as his parent helper and I was told that was because I would have been too emotionally involved. Hmmm...

    1. I completely understand. My parents read to me when we were only 6 mo old. I knew how to read before Kindergarten, however reading for content was something I still had to master. Reading was always something for me that took me to worlds unknown. When I began a teaching career it became a goal to give that student who struggled with the printed word the desire and then the skills. No one was left out because they couldn't master what seemed so easy for some. I just hated it when the Principal would come in and say "Now we are going to use this way to teach reading skills so throw away the stuff we used last year and do this." This happened more often than you know. When AR came on the scene, they thought they had struck gold. Now, they thought getting the child to be responsible for his own practice and learning was going to provide such great things. Duh! they find out the answers from others, and learn to hate to read because they always have to take a stupid test. As I migrated from teaching elementary school to the art field . I became good friends with the special reading teacher and she had the same problems with teachers wanting to use AR for its "Unintended use". She was creative, strong and helped so many escape the tentacles of not knowing how to read fluently and learn to read with joy.

  11. My daughter at age 3 was reading anything she could get her hands on. Her favorite reading is in-depth articles about animals on Wikipedia. Her twin brother loves for me to read him anything about superheros, Scooby-Doo, mysteries or fantasies. He has no interest in reading himself, though, but will listen to me read for hours. Needless to say, I'm glad they didn't go to school this year (they're almost 6) for many reasons :)

  12. Thank you for this timely post. It's something that's been at the fore of my mind recently & related to my latest post @ jasmineofthevalley.blogspot.com

  13. I'm so glad I found this article. I am unschooling two children who were previously in public school.

    I can really relate to the post concerning AR tests. After my son got through all of the Magic Tree House books, he had a very difficult time finding books which he enjoyed reading. He really likes reading the Peanuts Comic Strips and we're in the process of collecting them all. At 12, he is currently reading the biography of Charles Schulz. I can't imagine how miserable he would be having to struggle to find books that interested him under the "AR" standards. I'm so happy that he is free to read what he enjoys.

    My almost 11 year old daughter, on the other hand, is really struggling. She has autism and during her early years in public school they were forcing her to try to read when she had no desire to do so. She got to the point where she hated books. This is her third year at home and she will occasionally allow me to read one book to her in a day. I have purchased many books that I feel she will eventually like if she can ever get to the point where she wants to try reading again. I notice that she pulls some of those books off of the shelf on occasion. I had heard at a homeschool conference that if you surround your child with the resources, eventually reading will "click" for them. She often asks me how to spell words and the meaning of different words, so I feel like she's making progress. She is able to read a little bit, but gets frustrated with the words she can't pronounce or when there are too many words...it just seems to be overwhelming for her. We recently watched a movie where a little boy was reading aloud and she looked at me and said, "I can't read." I told her she could read a little bit and eventually she would be able to read like him. That seemed to make her feel better, but I'm hoping that what I said was true. I don't want to force her and cause her to hate reading. I'm trying to be patient, but sometimes I wonder if it really will "click" for her one of these days.

  14. I learned to read really early (I could read by the time I was in reception, 5 years old). As a kid, I loved to read, but then a bunch of stuff happened (including some of the things you mentioned, and my mother constantly telling me how I should be reading instead of watching TV, which is such a lazy argument) and now I don't nearly as often as I'd like. I think in my case part of it is actually that I'm quite picky, I read The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy books (except for Mostly Harmless, I had an omnibus with the first four books and when I found out the fifth one existed the general consensus seemed to be that it was rubbish so I didn't bother, I have heard all the radio series, but still haven't read Mostly Harmless) when I was about 9 or so, and that was just so incredibly good that I find it hard to enjoy a lot of other prose novels, I've read the two Dirk Gently novels as well and they were great, but mostly I read manga now, and not much of that even though I enjoy it. I'm so lacking in confidence, I'm always wondering if it's really worth reading what I'm reading, I have ADHD so even when I'm really interested I find it hard to focus, people always say "but you can focus when you're interested" but I CAN'T! I am autistic as well, and I have had so many people say that we don't have empathy and so I end up believing I'm not fully human or I'm worthless and it all sort of just goes round in circles. Sigh.

  15. I disagree about book reports and reviews. My daughter does them. We see them as a wonderful way to not just 'read' a book but really delve into it, discuss it, analyze it, etc. At times I have her do a book report on a book she'd rather not do one on. I do that on purpose. Eventually she will go to college, and she will be required to do some things, when she'd rather say, twirl her hair and bite her nails. I know, I am being inane here, but you get he idea. My daughter is a voracious reader and loves to review books. She just started her latest blog but has been slacking a bit... guess, I need to pry her away from facebook and her latest love, giving a voice to her dog.

    I loved your blog and your insight. Way to go!


  16. Mon dieu. Everything you say is just so simple, clear, and makes so much sense. I love to read so deeply, and my husband hates it so deeply, I'm very concerned and desparate for our children to love reading. So much so that I'l forcing it on them... thanks for this blog, been here 5 minutes learned a lot already!

  17. Growing up I was not very fond of reading. I was home schooled and therefore was required to read a certain amount of books each year. While there were no real limitations in terms of what books I could and could not read, the books I read were often chosen for me by my mother (because hey, I was young and didn't know what made a good book anyway).

    Now my sister, who is 4 years older than me, loves to read. I'm fairly certain that a lot of the books I read were books that she would have enjoyed at my age. I, however, showed little interest. The books were often about ponies and children going on fantasy adventures, which you'd think would delight a little girl, but with each page that I read I experienced little enjoyment and simply didn't feel involved in the stories.

    Now, as a college student, I am aware that I am rather critical of books. I'm not saying that I don't enjoy them, because every now and again I will find a book that I really get into. This is rare, however. I've found that fantasy books really aren't my forte because I often question why some authors include such seemingly unrealistic and strange events in their novels. I don't really know how to explain it... But I just know that it turns my stomach.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that, just because a certain genre works for one person, that doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone else. Classrooms treat their students like an assembly line, where each kid gets the same piece and must accept whatever is handed to them.

    I however, know that I am someone who enjoys a poem or short story over a convoluted novel. I prefer realistic fiction to hyper fantasy. But I guess I found this out because, regardless of my unwillingness to, I still read.

    I'd also like to point out that I liked to write long before I actually enjoyed reading. Maybe I'm just weird.

  18. I can't tell you how much I hate a word that goes around and around in homeschooling circles: twaddle. My kids have never been told that they can't read something and they LOVE to read. One started with the Warriors books and the other jumped from Dr. Suess to J.K. Rowling in one huge leap.

  19. I wasn't taught to read in English because it's not my first language. I had a somewhat basic grasp on grammar and simple vocab. Then at 12, I wanted to read fiction books. I then learned how to read English on my own without any external help except for a few dictionaries and reference books.