By Leo Babauta
Unschooling is a ton of fun if you can learn on your own, learn whatever you want, and basically play all day. But that's significantly harder if you can't read.
So how do you instill a love of reading in a child who isn't that interested?
My 7-year-old daughter Noelle started reading relatively late (I think, though actually I have no idea and don't care about this kind of thing) ... she just wasn't very interested. She didn't hate books, but they didn't excite her.
But just this year, not only did she learn to read small words (pig and dog, mom and dad), but really rapidly, she learned to read full sentences and now books. It's really amazing to see that kind of rapid learning. Now, I wouldn't say she's in love with reading, but she's much better at it, and I can see a love of reading slowly growing in her.
How did she do it? What did we do to encourage it? That's a complicated question, because learning happens in such tiny increments most of the time, and what parents do is just part of a complicated web of interactions. But I can share some things that I believe help.
Among our other kids, of the kids adore reading, others enjoy it but often prefer to do other things. That's OK -- it's expected that every person will have different interests, and in my experience, people often develop a love of reading as adults if they didn't love it as kids, so there's no telling where their interests will go. (See this post for a good example.)
So, here's what we do to help encourage reading:
- We read ourselves. This is crucial. We read all the time, online but also books and the Kindle and magazines. We're readers and they see it. Kids learn by example.
- Read to them. Sure, they might not care that much about reading, but if you just read a little before bedtime, they'll start to expect it, and it will become a comforting thing. Then you might read during the day too and it'll be a nice bonding thing. It's also great to read to them when they can't read, because they're learning how much fun reading can be when you read together.
- Find fun books to read. If a kid is bored with a book, find others. There are so many. Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl ... Encyclopedia Brown, the Great Brain, the Hobbit ... the Little Prince, the Borrowers, Harry Potter ... the list goes on and on.
- Find books on the topics they're interested in. If they like dragons, find a book that features dragons prominently in the story. If they like detectivework, or fairies, or princesses, find a book that weaves those elements into the story.
- Let books be starting points for further adventures. If you're reading Where the Wild Things Are, go outside and pretend you're sailing across the sea, pretend you encounter lovable monsters. The real-life adventures make the books come alive.
- Don't be afraid to combine books with movie watching. Seth started reading the Percy Jackson series after watching the first Percy Jackson book. Often a movie adaptation can be a great entryway into the book version.
- Don't make reading a chore. It's not something hard to do that they have to do. It's something fun to play with, like Legos and yoyos. It's like building a fort and pretending you're in a battle, except you're playing where the pages of a book and the realm of your imagination converge.
- Keep at it. They might not like it at first. That's fine. Not everyone likes reading at the same time. Some of my kids loved it early, others didn't until they were 7, or 9, or 10. Some might lose interest for awhile and then get back into it later. Just like us.
- Be enthusiastic. Passion and excitement are contagious. Of course, this doesn't mean faking it ... it means finding ways to get yourself excited about what you're reading with them. If you can't get yourself excited, how can you expect them to get excited?
- Turn off the media sometimes. Computer, TV, iPad and video game use aren't bad, but they can get in the way of reading and other activities. If the electronics are off, kids tend to play and be more active, and might be more receptive to books.
Reading is not the only way to learn -- there are countless other things you can do for fun as an unschooler, from art to music to building with Legos to making robots to creating computer games to cooking and blogging and pretending you're pirates. But reading is one of my favorite things, and because of that, I think it's one of my kids' favorite things too.