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Why I Hate Dick and Jane
A woman reading to © 2008 San Jose Library | more info (via: Wylio)

Throughout the summer I'm going to be rerunning some older columns of mine that I wrote before I started this blog. I'm too busy vacationing and doing nothing to come up with new posts! But I thought you'd really enjoy this one, from back in the fall of 2003.

Recently, my husband and I met with some friends whose third grade son was dreading school. Reading for him was tortuous, and so school had become a jail sentence. The teacher’s solution to this seemed to be to “share the pain”. He was now to read aloud to a parent for 20 minutes each night.

I don’t know about you, but if I were an 8-year-old boy who already felt that I couldn’t read, being asked to read out loud at home would be a nightmare, even if it were necessary. And can you imagine sitting through that as a parent? Why not simply bang your head against a wall!

Perhaps the reason we’re producing such poor readers is because we take all the joy out of reading. Two years ago, my daughter was in senior kindergarten with a wonderful teacher. The school had an admirable goal of encouraging kids to read with their parents, and so launched a “book-in-a-bag” program, sending home a new book every night. But listen to the type of book they chose: “Look! The sun. Look! A bunny. Look! A turtle. Look! A cloud. Look! It’s Mommy!”. So kids who are struggling to read learn that reading is not only hard, but that it’s also mind numbingly boring.

Of course, today’s schools aren’t the only ones to blame for this inane level of story telling. The Boomers grew up with the infamous Dick and Jane: “See Dick. See Jane. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run.” If I had to sit through that, I’d soon be having murderous dreams: “See Dick die. Die, Dick, DIE!”

I won’t go into a discussion about why these books are structured as they are, because that’s a subject for a whole other post. Let me just say here that many kids have little incentive to read: it’s hard and it’s no fun. Let’s see how we can take the school’s two ideas—to read with your kids and to help them practise reading, too—and make these actually enjoyable for everyone. Instead of banging our heads against the wall or keeping our eyes open with toothpicks, let’s huddle on the couch together with a good book. If you want to raise a reader, that’s the recipe. It’s quite simple: Read great books to your kids. Even when they’re older.

Too often we stop reading to them because we figure they should read to themselves now, but then we miss a wonderful opportunity to connect as a family. Do you remember your favourite books when you were young? I cried when Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables, laughed with Jo in Little Women, and rejoiced with Laura in Little House in the Big Woods. As I experience these adventures again with my own daughters, it’s almost like meeting long-lost friends.

We suggested our friends go to the library and check out classic books to read to their son—like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series—and maybe some easier ones he can read himself. But some boys will always prefer the real and the gory over make believe, so non-fiction books on killer sharks, volcanoes or mummies may pique their interest better. Then we suggested our favourite trick: make his bedtime a firm 8:00 (it varies now between 8 and 8:30), but let him stay up until 8:45 if he’s reading. What kid will say no to that? As children read more, reading becomes a natural part of life and stops being so intimidating.

Some kids develop a mental block to reading because it’s so stressful at school. Sharing good books together at home and letting them read leisurely themselves takes the tension out of the activity, and lets them enjoy something for which there is no substitute. Then, when you do work on reading at home, it’s in the wider context of enjoying books together.

When your children fall into a book, they experience a world they may never be able to otherwise. Maybe if we introduce them to this magical world, they’d be more eager to read, and less likely to think of reading—and the schooling that goes with it—as an unpleasant chore.

The summer is an awesome time to read to your kids! One year, in our camping trailer, we read three books from the Little House series. When I was 14, I remember reading them on a sailboat to my younger cousins. Our first readaloud chapter book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when the kids were 4. They could handle a chapter a day, and it only grew from there. Today they never stop reading (though Katie hated to read on her own until she was about 11).

What are you reading to your kids?Tell me in the comments, and let's compare notes!

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At 9:03 AM , Blogger Lori Alexander said…

The biggest reason that I home schooled my children through junior high was to give them a love of reading. I chose good historical fiction and autobiographies for them that they loved. I would have them read in their rooms for 2 hours every day and do an hour of math. That was it and they all turned out to be great students because they loved to read, unlike most of their peers who were reading books like Moby Dick!


At 9:11 AM , Blogger Joy said…

Totally agree! My mom always read to us before bed - mostly chapter books and even when my older brothers got to the age where they were "too cool" to want to snuggle up with Mom and read, you'd catch them lurking in the doorway listening in, or sometimes stealing the books to read themselves!:)


At 9:27 AM , Blogger Megan said…

I really like your sneaky bedtime reading rule. My 3.5 year-old daughter really wants to take a book to bed with her (her first "lovey" was a book, but now she has a bunny she sleeps with), and I've been torn on the subject. We are very strict about bedtime boundaries, but I don't want to discourage her from her interest in books. Do you think this is too early to try implementing something like a 1/2 hour reading rule? I don't want to muddle her boundaries.

I make sure to read an actual, physical book on the couch every day during my daughter's playtime (most of my reading is on a kindle), and she usually grabs a book from her shelf and flips through it at the same time.


At 9:35 AM , Anonymous Nancy said…

Our favorite time of the day, just before bed. We read a Bible story and a chapter or two or three from something that the children pick. We have read Chronicles of Narnia, Sugar Creek Gang, all the Laura Ingalls Wilder. We also discovered the books about Laura's great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, and have read all of those. Many others over the years. My oldest is 13 and still loves to listen in.


At 12:12 PM , Anonymous the domestic fringe said…

Ok, I LOVE this post! I think you are SO right in everything you said. In Kindergarten and First Grade my son hated to read. It was totally the books. I had to start reading older children's books to him in order to help foster the love of reading and a good story. Now my kids read so much, I cannot possibly keep them in books. We go to the library 2 or 3 times a week. They are even trying to talk our neighbor's kids into reading. It's definitely something that you must foster. I would let my kids stay up a little later if they were sitting on the couch with me reading. It was a special time.
Great post!


At 1:47 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

My youngest daughter didn't really like to read on her own until she hit about 11. She's been devouring books all summer now. But she always loved to LISTEN. When you teach kids to love a good story, they'll always want books, and not just movies!


At 2:03 PM , Anonymous Allison said…

I couldn't agree more, Sheila! When I was a kid, my parents had the bedtime reading rule as well, by which I was allowed to read for 20 minutes after going to bed before turning the light out. Only it came with a hitch - if I wanted to read longer than that, I could do it with a flashlight. As an adult, my mom and I had a discussion about this childhood rule, and come to find it, she claims she had implemented it thinking that I'd find it wasn't worth it and go to sleep. To the contrary, I often stayed awake late (or at least it seemed) into the night devouring books.

The good part about that? To this day I can't get enough literature. My husband recently remarked, "You'd read a burlap sack if you didn't have anything else to read, wouldn't you?" And so I would. I think it's a great habit, and the earlier I can get my boys into it, the better.


At 2:19 PM , Anonymous Rach said…

Read to your kids and IN FRONT of your kids. They learn by example. I love to read because my parents always read to us. Every single day. We read everything from picture books, to novels, to the newspaper(including the funny strips). My parents also loved to read-especially Dad. When other fathers would be watching football or hockey, my dad could be found imersed in a good book. My husband grew up in an environment where he was TOLD to read, but didn't see anyone reading and when he went to the library or wanted a book from the book order, he couldn't get anything unless it was deemed worthy(i.e. he couldn't get Garfield, which is what he really wanted, because it was just a "stupid comic). My husband isn't much of a reader, but he wants our daughter to be, SSSSSOOOOOO I read, read, read like I always did and he reads the newspaper in front of her and makes a big fuss about reading the books she picks from the library. She is four now and so far she things reading is great :)


At 7:16 PM , Blogger Mary said…

Oh, yes, I grew up on Dick and Jane and it truly was boring. I learned to love to read when I went to Catholic school and we had all sorts of biographies of the saints to check out and read. My brother was a very poor reader, but learned to love it when I loaned him a copy of my book The Year of the Dream, about a family saving for a boat, having to use the money for hospital bills for one of the boys in the family, then getting money for the boat when the boy wrote a story for a contest and won the money!

Yes, you have to have interesting books! We always read aloud to our children from before they could talk. My husband read The Hardy Boys collection to them. We even read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when our boys were in junior high.

Yes, it has to be interesting! And fun!


At 11:26 PM , Blogger Koala Bear Writer said…

Amen to this! :) My parents read to my brothers and I all through my growing up years (even my dad, who is dyslexic) and I remember LOVING the books we read (we were all huge Bill Peet fans). Even in junior high, my mom kept reading to us - together, we tackled classics like Ivanhoe and Moby Dick and have great memories of that.

Sigmund Brouwer is one of my favourite writers, but he'll admit he hated reading as a boy. Today, he writes books for boys who hate to read - mysteries, hockey series, etc - trying to bring the fun back into reading.

Reading is also a great way to help children calm down and prepare for bed. I saw a study that said TVs and computers can stimulate the brain and make it hard for someone to fall asleep (I can testify to that!) but reading is more relaxing.


At 11:00 AM , Blogger Emily said…

So far this summer "Cricket in Times Square" and now we're 1/3 of the way through "Wrinkle in Time".


At 11:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Don't be so down on Dick and Jane. I learned to read with Dick and Jane and have actually sought some of these readers out for my almost 6 year old daughter. She likes reading the words she can sight read (like look, for example) and I read the rest of the book. She feels pride in her achievement and also nostalgia because she knows they are the books Mummy used to read. So maybe you can ease up, just a tad on these old standbys! Thanks.
Denise in Saskatchewan


At 4:20 AM , Anonymous uk Fred said…

So far as Dick and Jane is concerned, the best I can remember is a cartoon strip with three pictures: "This is a wall."; "See Jane jump the wall."; "Jane has defected."

For real reading, my mother read tome when I was little books that i could not yet read, but stories I enjoyed, about both fictional and real characters. My wife and I read to our children, and remember our both daughters loving "Dilly the Dinosaur". We still remember how the elder one identified with Dilly's elder sister and the younger one with Dilly. But most of all we remember her enjoyment as our elder daughter went through the series of 'Sophie' books by Dick King-Smith. How she identified with the little girl who wanted to be a lady farmer.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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