But apparently it's not. Kids don't even read anymore.
This will be my third summer at the library. I used to hear horror stories about summer reading time. Tables up, carts full, books coming in every which way, and nothing we could do to keep up. In just the two years that I've worked there, I've seen it drop to practically nothing. Summer was barely busier than any other time of year.
Circ numbers are dropping like crazy. The books are going out less and less in the kid's department. It's just sad.
We could blame any number of things. New e-reader technology. Education cuts. Too much tv. ADD.
I won't say that those things don't have an effect, but I didn't learn to read at school. I didn't start loving books because of Goodnight Moon at kindergarten. I learned that stuff from my mom.
(Gotta love the 80's)
The mom who has wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling book shelves in the bedroom. The one who kept the complete collection of Charles Dickens for herself when our family got it as a present. The one who read The Chronicles of Narnia to us as bedtime stories. The one who devours a 300 page book like it's just a snack. Bring on The Count of Monte Cristo.
(Which, by the way, is fantastic. Really, really, really long, but good.)
Reading was so much a part of our growing up that I learned to read before my long term memory kicked in. I don't even remember not being able to read. More than that, I don't even remember not being able to read full length novels. (My very earliest memory of reading on my own was 101 Dalmatians. Not the disney picture book. The actual Dodie Smith novel.)
In third grade, I already had a post-high-school reading level. And no, it's not because I'm smarter than everyone else. My IQ isn't drastically above average. My high school GPA was 3.56. My college GPA was 3.01. I got a D once in my AP literature class.
No, my reading level was high, because reading was important in our family. And just like with everything else ever, practice is the only way to get better.
You've probably caught on by now. Yes, I am blaming parents for this dramatic downfall. Like I said, other things can come into play too, but by and large, what the parents do with reading affects everything else. (Read this article by Mem Fox. It's a little long, but there are several good stories about parents and learning to read.)
When you work at a library, you overhear a lot of really random stuff. Some of it's funny. Some is creepy. Some is just sad. And some makes you angry.
(These are true stories.)
A mom with a 7-10 year old son comes into the kids section. They ask the librarian for a few suggestions. The kid doesn't like reading. He does like this hobby, that hobby, and this other subject. What can we find for him?
The librarian takes them on a brief tour. (Btw, the kid's librarians at Provo know everything. Seriously. Get them to take you on the give-me-suggestions-to-read tour. It's pretty impressive.) She suggests a few things, and then leaves them on their own to browse.
Mom: What about this book? It looks interesting.
Kid: No. *Wanders away down the aisle looking bored.*
Mom: Oh, here's one. It has sports in it.
Mom: We are picking out a book for you. Get over here and choose something.
Kid: *trudges behind mom starting to look desperate for a chance to escape.*
Mom: Come on. Help me pick something for you.
Kid: Mom, I want to read Harry Potter.
Mom: No. It's too hard for you. What about this book?
Did you see what just happened? Did you see what SERIOUSLY just happened?
Kid hates reading. Kid doesn't want to read anything. Doesn't even want to be at the library. Kid says "I want to read Harry Potter."
And the mom says no.
Ways that this mother has just made reading even harder for her son:
A) Library time for this family was obviously a boring, stressful, fine-let's-get-it-over-with chore. Neither of them wanted to be there. As Mem Fox points out so well, when reading time becomes a chore, nothing happens.
B) Micro-managing. I realize that this has to be done to a certain degree. But there are times when it is extremely inappropriate. And this is one of them.
Maybe he doesn't have a very high reading level, but if he WANTS to read it, you're already past the hardest barrier. I don't care if it was Sun Tzu's Art of War. Let the kid read the frigging book.
C) Quality time. Is there a problem with helping him read? Is there any reason on this green earth why you can not be bothered to sit with him and help him on the hard parts? It's clear that the mom doesn't care about reading much more than her son does. She wants him to read, but she's not willing to sit down and help him with it?
D) "You think you can do these things, but you just can't, Nemo!" Did we learn nothing from Pixar? Or do we still think that running our kids down is a good thing?
Every time you tell a child "you can't", it sticks with them forever. There are still things that I feel like I can't do, because someone told me that I was terrible at them when I was little. And the weird part is that I'm actually pretty good at those things.
Mom and two toddler age kids walk through the picture books. 2-year-old picks up a book and looks at it.
Mom: No! No, No. Don't look at any books until mommy sees them. Mommy has to check them first.
What did she do to destroy her kids' future reading?
A) I understand some censoring. You don't want your toddler to pick up erotica. But this is the picture book shelf at Provo City. It does not get any safer than that. Anywhere. And when it is safe, you HAVE to let your kids express their interests, opinions, and preferences.
If not, the only things that these kids will ever read are the ones handed to them by other people. They will never choose things for themselves, and they will almost certainly never enjoy it. It's human nature to hate the books we're forced to read. Even I did, and I'm a read-a-holic.
B) See D in the previous story. Just think about the effect of hearing "no" every time you touch a library book.
Mom with two sons and a daughter are in the library.
Mom: Okay (daughter), do you have your 2 books? (Son 1)?
Son 2: I only have one, mommy.
Mom: Okay, find one more.
Daughter: Ooh, mommy, what about this one? Can we get this one, please?
Mom: You already have two.
Daughter: But please, mommy. It has princesses on it.
Mom: No. You can only get two. If you want that one, you'll have to put one of your others back.
Son 2: Mommy, I like both of these.
Mom: No. You can't have 3. Two books only. Pick one of those, unless you want to put your other one back.
(This went on for some time.)
The main problem here?
A) We don't have a 2 book limit. We don't even have a 6 book limit or a 12 book limit. The only limit we do have is on dvd's Therefore, this 2 book limit was entirely self-inflicted.
Do you know how much time, energy, stress, and family harmony could be saved by not worrying so dang much about whether it's 2 books or 3?
B) At any rate, how long will 2 pictures books last? All of 10 minutes. Maybe 20 if they're by Dr. Seuss.
Forcing your children to only take two picture books is limiting your child's reading time to a mere .2% of their week. I can't think of a better way to subconsciously reinforce that reading isn't important.
Give me one reason that could possibly be good enough to inflict reason B upon your children. Makes it easier on the mother to keep track of only 2 per kid? Fine. You can play it that way. But when your kids can't read their own high school diploma, just remember that you sacrificed their reading level for your personal convenience.
There are so many more stories I could tell. I've heard it all. But they really just come down to the same few things:
1) Parents keep making library time a chore and a stress-inducer.
2) Parents aren't letting their children have enough room to even enjoy reading.
3) Parents don't care about reading themselves, and yet they expect their kids to start.
4) You just can't, Nemo.
So what do we do about it?
Every library worker that I've asked has told a similar story to my own. They love libraries, and love working at one because of the fond memories of when they were kids.
When we were little, we got excited to go to the library. We had our own cards, and got to check stuff out for ourselves. We went to our favorite sections, and checked books out by the stack. The librarians always had to ask if we needed bags to carry everything out in. And we always did.
When we were little, our moms didn't hover over us, making sure that we checked out a certain number of non-fictions along with our novels. They didn't have to, because without the pressure, we checked out non-fiction in scores.
They didn't follow us around telling us that we had too many books, or that the ones we picked weren't in the reading level that school told us we should be in. They never told us that we could only read 2 books per week, or that they wouldn't help us read the harder stuff.
Our moms didn't do any of that because they were off in their own sections, checking out their own stacks of books, and needing their own grocery bags to carry them.
If you're not a reader, it can have a strong, negative impact on your kids, and you might not even know why. I guess it's one of those things that's really hard to understand unless you've experienced it yourself. I have. And I've also seen it every single day at the library. So trust me on this one.
If you're not a reader, and you can't figure out why your kid hates reading so much, take a look at those examples and see if you're doing any of those things.
To Do Tips: Just do the opposite of those up above.
1) Make library/reading time fun, cozy, comfortable, exciting, etc. If you're stressed about it, your kids will be too.
2) Yes, make sure they aren't getting inappropriate things, and yes, make sure they're occasionally getting stuff that challenges them to become better, but in general, let your kids choose what they want to read. Wanting to read something has a HUGE impact on how enjoyable it is.
3) You don't have to play it fake, and pretend to be a huge reader if you're not. But take time out for them. Help them with words. Read with them. Let them see by your actions that it's important, and not just by you yelling at them over it. Remember, it's their future. Will you sacrifice that for your own personal (and temporary) convenience?
4) Never, ever, ever tell a kid "You can't do that." Even if it's beyond their reading level. Just don't do it. Ever. You could say "that might be hard for you" or "I'll have to help you with that one" or "I'm not sure you'll like that one very much" or "Okay, but let's also get something you can read on your own." There are so many choices that don't involve destroying a child's confidence.