Should You Force Your Child to Read Over the Summer?
By Camille Di Maio
When I was in school, I traveled extensively. From the English countryside to the tunnels of the Opera Garnier in Paris, from urban Iran to cattle land in Australia. It wasn't all across oceans. Sometimes I spent quiet time making currant wine with Marilla in Avonlea or corn husking dolls with Laura in Wisconsin. I saw the inside of a KGB charm school in Russia, and fought Rodents of Unusual Size with Wesley and Buttercup.
I did so with the help of magic - our turquoise linen couch with a dizzying floral pattern and a flashlight if my escapades took me into the night. There was no incantation, just the gentle crack of newly opened binding or the delicious musty scent of a novel found in the pile at a thrift store. That was the spell - a newly acquired book.
My childhood was one of extremes. My father worked in sales, on commission, and during the good years, we really did cross oceans. In the bad years, we hunted Goodwill racks for things that fit or could fit by rolling them up. But I was equally comfortable in either place - the good or the bad - because books were my constant companion.
The years have passed with speed, and I find myself with four children - the oldest of which is entering high school, and the youngest who is not nearly finished with potty training.
Regardless of age, there is a nagging question that well-intentioned parents debate: Should I require my children to read during the summer?
Should I introduce them to other worlds, other times, other cultures? After an intense school year full of dark mornings and alarm clocks; afternoons with hours of homework and activities shouldn't I let their brains take a break for three months?
Absolutely not. Imagine a diet that goes like this: Nine months of whey smoothies and dripping sweat on the treadmill. You look great! You deserve a break. Follow it up with twelve weeks of chocolate, pasta, wine, and remote control juggling and indulge in the sweet relief of a break from all the craziness. How do you look then? How do you feel?
Reading is no different, and the brain is a muscle to be exercised. What better gift can you give your child than a few semesters at Hogwarts or to hear someone else's name called out for the games in Panem?
The gift of reading does not have to be tasteless. Sure, some of the school-required lists have selections that can seem decades and even centuries behind the times. And they should be - we need that sense of history. But summer reading can be whimsical and current and exciting and addictive. In fact, it should be all of those things.
Scores of people agree with this. From theme parks to pizza joints, grocery stores to libraries, summer reading programs abound with promises of tee shirts and passes and rewards. As a parent, you could come up with your own incentives, or demonstrate by word and example that the expedition into the pages is prize enough. Whatever makes it fun.
Reading can also be a way to speak a new language with your teen. I have devoured all seven of the Harry Potter books, pummeled through The Hunger Games and sacrificed a weekend to get through the Twilight saga. Um, yes. I did that for my children's sake. Pat myself on the back. I've discovered that Young Adult fiction is indeed good entertainment and somehow qualifies me, at least in my own mind, to be considered a...well... a young adult.
My teenage daughter, who wears black like some kind of personal uniform, delights in book talk with me. And to be fair, she has read at my insistence the time-loved classics Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice. She doesn't know that I know it, but she's read Jane Eyre three times.
Like my dad, I work on commission sales, and in the good times, we hop on an airplane and live an adventure. In the slow times, I introduce them to my magic machine. A brown chenille couch with a subdued paisley pattern. But the flashlight remains in my husband's sock drawer, a dinosaur if there ever was one. Because now there's an app for that, too.
By Melissa Romo
When I worked in advertising, we always talked about the two ways to get a consumer to do what we wanted: push them or pull them. 'Push them' meant we blasted them with coupons, discounts and media buys that were the marketing equivalent of a sledgehammer. 'Pull them' meant we attempted to influence them through word-of-mouth, and woo them with the recommendations of savvy mavens. Our goal in 'pull' was to make them want something they didn't even know they wanted, and then want it in a huge way. Creating a successful 'pull' is, for marketers, the Xanadu of selling.
It's funny how often the 'push' and 'pull' approach to advertising has influenced my tactics as a parent, especially when it came time to get my kids to do something I really wanted them to do: read. But I've learned that setting goals for pages read or time spent with a book is one of the worst things a parent can do. It's pushing in every sense.
I have two sons, a 7-year-old who is now a voracious reader (but wasn't always - I'll get to that) and a 6-year-old who still doesn't want any part of it. As for the younger one I tell myself it's OK. He's just not there yet. He still needs to be wooed.
I was not always this Zen about reading, believe me. I'm a writer, and about the time my oldest was pawing his way through Pat the Bunny with disinterest, I was working on a historical novel. It was difficult for me to keep my hands off my son as far as reading was concerned. Writing was a big deal for me, so reading had to be a big deal for my child. I pushed and I pushed. But he pursed his lips every time I asked him to read. He was digging in. He'd rather build a bookmark with his Legos - which he would then either crush with a fist or turn into a pretend rifle - than ever use it to mark a page in a book.
I finally had to lay down my gauntlet: Kid, your mom is trying to be a novelist. It will really make me look bad if you are illiterate. I became anxious. All my mom friends were in a methodical and steady course towards their children's reading excellence. Their kids all had Leap Frogs and Vtechs and Hot Dots. I'm not a gadget person, so all my son had was a mom in a downward spiral of bribe overload, egg timer in hand, setting goals for numbers of pages read, minutes with a book open, number of stories finished. Blech. He read, but every page was a drag. It was a drag for both of us.
The clouds parted when I realized that I could 'pull' him into reading just like I pulled moms into buying Jif peanut butter - one of my first accounts - because what mom doesn't want to be "choosy"? On the reading front, I realized that I myself was the most influential maven of all, a choosy reader if you will. But I wasn't modeling my choosiness and reading where my kids would see it, and see me enjoy it. Ironically though, I was writing a lot, it was rare that I would just plop down onto the couch with a book, especially not with the kids around. If they were around, nothing about me was in 'plop down' mode.
So I decided to take a stand against all that frenzy and just plop down. Every night, the minute I felt like the dinner routine was contained and homework was mainly done, I slid off to the couch with a book. It always took them a few minutes to catch on. Hey, where's mom? Why isn't mom here? Dad, what did you do with mom? Once they found me (those little homing pigeons), they found me reading and deeply enjoying it. Some almighty force stopped Mom in her tracks and they wanted to know what that force was. After a few nights of this, my oldest started to join me on the couch. We huddled under the blanket together and touched toes and read, me with my grown-up book and him with his just-starting-out book. He would tell me what page he was on and ask me mine. My progress was always two pages behind his, even if it wasn't. His little face glowed with satisfaction.
This winter, my oldest and I have started a new tradition. We pick an afternoon during a quiet weekend and we take the subway a few stops to Broadway and 8th Street, just below Union Square in Manhattan. We stroll through the The Strand bookstore - 18 miles of books! - and treat ourselves to something new. Then we share a gelato at a place near Washington Square Park, quoting parts of our books that we really like. This is what I wanted for my child. Not to read with an egg timer staring him down. Just to read - as if it's the most wonderful thing ever invented.
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