Step Away From the Books!

Boy Climbing TreeImage courtesy of Prawny at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Promoting reading and insisting parents should take every opportunity to get their child to read to them is all very well when we have a child who is willing and able but what happens when our child flatly refuses to try and the more we persevere the more their inventive diversion tactics frustrate us rather than entertain us? We ignore that growing grimace of course as we instruct our curt demands over the blubbering tears and our patience teeters dangerously close to being non-existent. Then we hit that ultimate test. The wailing; the incessant banshee wail that both grates on our ears and pounds at our heart as we’re left feeling like the cruellest parent that ever lived!

There are very few parents who cannot identify with this scenario at some point. It may not necessarily be related to reading but if it is something like reading it can be particularly hard when we are constantly being bombarded with information on how important it is for our child’s development and future success. Letting our children down is probably right up there as one of our greatest fears as parents. So what’s the answer, keep going no matter what, get stricter with our regime and get firmer with our expectations?

Oh no! Step away from the books! Do something completely different. Ironically cutting out the expectation to read can be the first step towards a love of reading.

It may sound like a contradiction but having a break from something which causes anxiety can be a way of recharging the batteries and learning how to look at things from a different perspective. The school holidays are the perfect excuse to do just this. Take away the pressure, forget about the targets and lay off with the demands, get outside and focus on having some good old fashioned fun. We don’t usually have to go very far, maybe a nearby beach or playground, a wood or field or even our own back garden is bursting with opportunity for adventure and exploration. But what does this have to do with reading? The key is experience.

My husband and I had a good reminder of this over the Easter weekend. We were in the front garden trying to salvage our previously drastic approach to gardening (ripping everything out to start over again) by installing some new fencing and pretty flowers. Our two boys were happily cycling round in circles from the front to back garden. Later I go in to make dinner, husband starts painting fence and boys continue their circuit – or so I thought! I call for dinner. No response. I call for dinner again. I can hear some chattering in the garden and my eldest comes bounding in with the biggest grin on his face followed by a slightly pale looking stunned father clutching his phone and handing me a photo to look at. OMG!

The photo was of my eldest at the top of the tallest fir tree in our garden which is about 25 foot tall! I flashed him a glance so my brain could compute that he was actually in one piece. Realising all arms and legs were still attached naturally my next concern was how he got past all the spiders nesting inside the tree (and maybe even a few zombies) then as I slowly relaxed I heard a WOW drift from my mouth.

“Feel how hot my hands are mum. It’s really brown in the middle mum. I climbed up the spine as the branches were thicker there. I could see right across the field mum.”

What happened here was that he hadn’t just read about someone else climbing a tree, instead he had felt what it was like to climb it, the strength it took and what it looked like on the inside and how far he could see from that height. No amount of reading can replace personal experience but personal experience can encourage reading. How? Because experience is how we find out where our interests lie and an interest in what you’re reading is paramount for it to remain enjoyable. Find out what excites them, what makes them feel proud, what keeps them motivated, what gives them a sense of achievement. Sometimes we need a reason to read and only then can we appreciate what merits it can hold for us. It may be as simple as finding a book about trees, the best trees to climb, being a lumberjack or the science behind why our hands get hot when climbing.

So let’s rewind this scenario and pretend it was me who found him up the tree. Can I honestly say the result would have been the same – I’d like to think so but probably not – it’s more likely that panic would have turned me into a caterwauling maniac! Not unlike the frightened wailing banshee child struggling to read!

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