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Ordinary Shoes

Let Child Choose Books?

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My daughter has been in school but we are pulling her out for the 4th grade. How much control do you assert over what your child reads for literature in upper elementary? All of the curricula and blogs I've reviewed have booklists that seem very rigid. 

Because my daughter was in school, I decided that if I wanted to expose her to some book that I needed to read it aloud to her. I've suggested books for her to read and have bought many of them. She rarely reads what I suggest but almost always likes the books I read aloud to her. I think school takes so much out of her that she can't dedicate much to reading for pleasure. Also in school she's required to achieve a certain number of points from taking quizzes so doesn't want to read books that don't have quizzes. 

Once she's out of school, she will have much more free time and should have energy to read more challenging books. But after years of frustration over her refusing to read what I suggest, I'm hesitant to dictate what books she reads. I also know that it will be a challenge for her to read beyond what she's read in school. This past year, she's mostly read the Boxcar Children books because they have quizzes and are in the bin assigned by the teacher for her level. I think that most books that she's read herself have been below her reading level because that's the easiest way to get the points she needs. 

Should I let her choose from a list of books or should I choose for her? To be clear, I'm not talking about her free reading. That will always be her own choice. 

 

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I have a precocious 6.5 year old. She reads whatever she feels like it, mostly fiction. She sometimes will pick up picture books way below her reading level or chapter books that are a bit too hard for her (like the third book of Harry Potter, which is DEFINITELY a reach.) 

She spends most of the day reading. For me, it's important she reads for pleasure and less important to dictate precisely what she reads. 

In terms of free versus not free reading... why does there have to be a difference? Maybe I'm not following because my daughter is so young. Do you plan to do quizzes on the books you pick for her? Do you want her to read non-fiction? 

Edited by square_25

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I choose the options and they choose from those. 

If it's for school I tell them specifically what to read. Whether they like these books or not is kind of beside the point, but it's pretty easy to find books conveying what I want to be conveyed that are at least not painful for them.

If there's something they want to read that's not in our library or on my lists, they can bring it to me to evaluate. It's usually fine.

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1 hour ago, square_25 said:

I have a precocious 6.5 year old. She reads whatever she feels like it, mostly fiction. She sometimes will pick up picture books way below her reading level or chapter books that are a bit too hard for her (like the third book of Harry Potter, which is DEFINITELY a reach.) 

She spends most of the day reading. For me, it's important she reads for pleasure and less important to dictate precisely what she reads. 

In terms of free versus not free reading... why does there have to be a difference? Maybe I'm not following because my daughter is so young. Do you plan to do quizzes on the books you pick for her? Do you want her to read non-fiction? 

I'm not going to give quizzes. I want her to start reading better literature than books like the Boxcar Children. I remember reading in TWTM that children should always read something easy, something right at their level and something above their level. 

 

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Just now, Ordinary Shoes said:

I'm not going to give quizzes. I want her to start reading better literature than books like the Boxcar Children. I remember reading in TWTM that children should always read something easy, something right at their level and something above their level. 

 

 

I guess I’d probably just leave a lot of books around and see what appeals? 🙂 But then for me enjoying reading is the most important thing. My daughter does read the Boxcar Children sometimes, and then other times she picks something that to my mind is more challenging and better literature. And sometimes she reads the toddler’s board books ;-).

Oh, for us not doing screens really helps with encouraging reading.

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I've always let my kids read what they want for pleasure, but I keep a stash of good books in addition to their choosing whatever library books they want.  Once they get to somewhere around 5th grade, I also keep a pile of books that they can read for literature during school time.  Literature gets added to the checklist a couple of days each week - usually 'out of the house' days since they easily can do it in the car or while they're waiting for somebody, but it's also good for 'curl up under a blanket' days in the winter.  We don't do anything like quizzes - sometimes we talk about the books, and sometimes I just let them read them.  My kids don't like being read to (I usually didn't either as a kid) so mostly I just move them around so that maybe they'll notice one that they haven't tried yet.  

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Well, our oldest is almost 9. I have yet to assign any specific books for reading. However, I have noticed that if I bring books home from the library, he reads them. Or at least many of them. I can't count the number of times I've started a RA, and he says "such and such is going to happen." And when I wonder how he knows that, he informs me that he already read it. As I know he reads a good variety of things under this system of me just bringing a ton of things home from the library (he, of course, checks out whatever he wants), I don't feel a need to change it yet.

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1 hour ago, OKBud said:

I choose the options and they choose from those. 

If it's for school I tell them specifically what to read. Whether they like these books or not is kind of beside the point, but it's pretty easy to find books conveying what I want to be conveyed that are at least not painful for them.

If there's something they want to read that's not in our library or on my lists, they can bring it to me to evaluate. It's usually fine.

This. 

My kiddos can choose whatever they want for free reading time, but despite being surrounded by "good" literature, they still invariably stick to graphic novels and lego twaddle they check out from the library in droves.  That is fine for free reading time (which they do voluntarily for several hours a day), but I do think it is important for them to practice reading some "real" literature.  I view reading as a muscle that they have to exercise - they need to practice tracking their eyes along a whole page of text rather than a standalone sentence or two in a speech bubble or next to a large picture, they need to get comfortable with "seeing" the story in their heads rather than having every scene illustrated for them, they need to build up their reading stamina and ability to cope with longer, more complex sentences than are typically found in casual easy reads.

Each of the kiddos has a book bin that I fill with literature choices.  I try to keep it stocked with a variety of novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, etc.  Some are short, some are long, some are easier, some are harder, but they are all "real" books that I feel will develop the child's reading skills (and expose them to "good" stories that are deeper and more meaningful than a lego superhero novelization).  The kids read from a book-bin book for 20-30 minutes a day.  Sometimes I require a narration afterwards, especially if I suspect they are skimming more than reading.  With my fourth grader, I occasionally chose a book that has a free Glencoe guide to go along with it - I really like some of the graphic organizers they include to help the child read actively and make connections.

I round out our literature study with lots of read alouds.  This is how I "force" books that I want them to be exposed to.  This is also where we do the bulk of our discussion and basic, developmentally-appropriate literary analysis.

Wendy

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I always feel like I've done something wrong because my daughter definitely does not read for hours everyday for pleasure when it seems like other peoples' kids do this. She's in school right now and they don't time to do much free reading during the day. At home she plays or uses her iPad. The latter is a problem. I know I need to crack way down on screen time once we are free of school. We limit Netflix but she's been very obsessed with Pokemon Go recently. 

She hasn't read anything today. She went to a church activity this morning and then came home and played in her room most of the afternoon and just went outside to play with the girl from down the street. 

She hardly ever gets a book to read when she is bored. 

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I am a ridiculously voracious reader.  I read non-stop as a child.  I read non-stop as a adult.  I fully expected to have kids like me, because of all the memes and articles about how if you read to children when they’re young, and live it as an example, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be readers.  

Hogswash.

I spent years upon years reading to my kids every single day until I was hoarse and they only read when I make them read (they’re 14 and 16 now.). The 16 yo only recently said that he doesn’t mind reading when I force him to, but the 14 yo still insists he dilikes more than likes reading and tries to bargain down his reading time every day (I only require 45 minutes.). The second the timer beeps for either of them, they snap the book shut and move on to something else.

So...yeah.  I ended up picking books for them.  If they started reading a book and truely hated it, then I let them move on to a new book.  I might have started out wanting them to pick, but I ended up choosing the books.  I’d take them to a library and tell them they could have any book and they weren’t interested in even beginning to look for one.  I’d pull a bunch of choices from the shelves (maybe they were overwhelmed), and they’d kinda shrug at them, no matter what I pulled.

I’m not saying all that to grouse about my kids.  I’m just saying all this to be real with you.  Your daughter might slowly change and learn to love reading just for its own sake...but maybe not.  If she does, wonderful!  If not, well, ...you’ll learn to be ok with it and you’ll be fine teaching the student you have and not the precocious child you don’t have.

Practical advice: 

If I were you, I’d show her 3 different books.  I’d read the first chapter of each book out loud to her and then let her pick which one she wants to move on with on her own.  If she likes two, she can read them both, one after the other.  If she doesn’t like any of them....I’d feel it out and maybe give her a couple more choices.  If she doesn’t like any of 5 choices, then she probably won’t like anything you give to her and I’d just pick one for her and say, “This is what you are reading for school.”  Period.  

But be sure to pick books that she has a chance of liking.  Some of the children’s literature that are on the lists is pretty boring.  You don’t want to kill any chance that she’ll love reading with a bunch of boring stuff with tons of descriptions and no action (unless she loves description, of course.). 

Edited by Garga
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For school reading I do s mixture of read alouds, “pick off of this list” and “you must read this. But th books I say she must read are all books and I’m very sure she’ll like.  Over time she has both grown in her appreciation of good books ( though she still likes a lot of fluff), and also come to trust my recommendations more, though I would allow her to not read anything she really hated.

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I think the responses to this one are fascinating :-). It's clearly true that given freedom of choice, kids tend to spend their time very differently. I absolutely agree that if kids won't read harder stuff for pleasure, it's important to practice the skill. 

I guess given that currently your daughter doesn't have much free reading time, OP, and has plenty of screen time, I'd be curious what she'd gravitate towards if those circumstances changed. Boxcar Children aren't comics, either, although they are certainly not Great Literature. So if I were you, I'd probably do the experiment where you were fairly hands off and limited screens and saw what happened. And if no reading of better quality literature happened, I'd get pushier. That's just my personal bias. 

That's what I've done, anyway: for things where I don't need to push, I don't, and for things where the learning is obviously not going to happen unless I push, I do. For example, I can't be as hands off about mathematics as people whose kids are more driven to explore mathematics independently. If I did that, I think we'd still be "discovering" how to add... 

Edited by square_25
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I did three things:

I read books aloud that I thought would be a stretch.

I assigned books that I wanted them to read for academic reasons and that I thought they would enjoy reading.

I kept a pile of books for free reading that I thought they would enjoy reading.  They could then choose from the pile.  I would regularly add books to the pile, and over time, I made sure that the reading level of the books gradually increased.

Edited by EKS
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12 hours ago, EKS said:

I did three things:

I read books aloud that I thought would be a stretch.

I assigned books that I wanted them to read for academic reasons and that I thought they would enjoy reading.

I kept a pile of books for free reading that I thought they would enjoy reading.  They could then choose from the pile.  I would regularly add books to the pile, and over time, I made sure that the reading level of the books gradually increased.

That's what I do here as well. I have a handful of books I require alternating with their choice from the shelf and I pick read alouds. Rarely, I sometimes I give a  (mostly) free choice from t h e library. I have a shelf in our schooling area for the older 2 and dd3 has a shelf in her room. Dd3 is only 6 but a good reader for her age I just have her read some everyday. I've not required any books for her yet but her choices are generally from her room so there is nothing I consider terrible in there. I have tailored the choices to classics and good books they are likely to enjoy. So my choices for the girls and d's have looked different.

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Dd is a voracious reader, but what she chooses to read from the library is pretty meh, and below her level. So I assign books that are more difficult, and from different genres from what she would choose on her own. But what happens is this - I assign a chapter or two for school, and then she becomes so engaged, she reads it at a much faster pace than what I would have assigned. The only reason I assign books for school is to broaden her scope.

As for having to take quizzes for each book she reads, perhaps you might want to consider the concept of deschooling before you do more formal lessons.

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I think you have to know your kid. Some kids will engage in all kinds of books of all kinds of level if given a choice. Others won't. I think it's okay to assign reading and to have books that are important to you to have her read. The only time I think that goes wrong is when it's too rigid and not responsive to a student's needs or closes out any time for free reading. Some kids can tear through a list of 20 books in a year. Others cannot, not without giving up their own free reading, which I think is very essential. We only did about 3-6 books required per year in upper elementary and early middle school. More would have been too much for my particular kids.

I also, at times, did the thing that Okbud mentioned where I gave them a long list, book talked the options, and then let them choose a certain number. But by about 5th grade, we stopped that. It caused drama for my kid who has anxiety. And my kid who likes to start but not finish books read the first half of all the options and didn't finish a one. So... know your kids.

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I would prefer not to push my kid to read a book I want them to enjoy.  I use audiobooks to force my book preferences, and they read what they want.  They have some constraints in terms of reading level.  If I felt my kid was not reading enough good material, I would probably force some minutes of reading a book of my choice until they came up with a better idea.  (It depends on ability - one of mine has enough of a challenge just keeping up with the textbooks and writing assignments - I'm happy if she reads one book per quarter on her own.)

I would look for a book club appropriate to your child's age, or other program that discusses or interprets books.  (For example, when my kids were younger, there was a theater program where the kids would put together a play based on an age appropriate book.)  Or have a deal where she reads / discusses the book and then gets to watch the book-inspired movie or play.

Edited by SKL
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We are similar to the others.

There are books to read for school.  These are non-negotiable.  These include a reader full of short stories and at least 3-4 books at level each year.  This year (3rd), I focused on chapter books that still had plenty of pictures: Charlotte's Web, Pinocchio, etc.
There are books I read aloud.  Also, non-negotiable.  Usually above comprehension level or great discussion books.

Both of these types of books have been specifically chosen to enhance his studies, practice narration skills, and do beginning literature.  My kid also attends a book club at our local library and they assign one easier book each month.  I tend to buy 90% of the books from these lists so that after he/we are done, they go on his shelf.  Most get reread at one time or another.

When it comes to his free time, I'm not going to micromanage that.  I may add a couple of my own choices to the book basket next to his bed but I don't force it.  Mostly they're "hey, you liked those, these are similar".  Right now he's really into graphic novels and those Diary Of A Wimpy Kid style.  I have added in some crazy poetry books, fiction with similar characters, and classic newspaper comic strip compilations.  Different, but not too different.

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The other thing that some people are alluding to - we used read alouds and occasionally audiobooks for many, many more books. So the sorts of booklists that you see for various programs were the sorts of things we read aloud for the most part.

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My fourth graders were given a big pile of high quality children's literature at the beginning of the school year. Hopefully more than they'd read in a year. There are various genres, lengths, and skill levels. They are required to read from that collection daily, in whichever order they chose. We discuss them regularly (a few times a week at a minimum). No tests or written work. 

We always had family read aloud times in addition. They always read whatever they wanted apart from school. 

I used this method with my now graduated kids and my current high schoolers. All four were very adequately prepared for high school lit analysis and greeted Homer and Austen alike as old friends. 

Edited by SilverMoon
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My child will bump his free reading "up a level" if I've first started reading books of that level out loud to him. It shows him that these books are indeed interesting. Otherwise he won't even try sometimes. He's pretty resistant to new things. 

For school reading, I've found it works better to have something else telling him to read a specific book, not mom. We're using a Moving Beyond the Page unit and seeing the book in there with activities that follow makes him less resistant. Once he gets started he reads the book ahead anyway on his own.

Otherwise for literature lists I mostly read aloud to him so we can discuss and write a narration. Once he's involved in the book I can ask him to read the next chapter himself.

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With my oldest, I let her pick from a list (actually, pick from the "school shelves"); two days were lit days, one was history, and one was science.  Sometimes I'd suggest a particular book I wanted her to read, and she'd usually give it a try.  She reads all the things, and from 3rd-6th probably read everything on those shelves at least twice, plus library books that counted for school. 

With my middle, I started doing that, but she really resisted it - wanted to stick to old favorites.  When they just start getting independent with reading, I allow any decent book at a decent level to count as a school book, but by 4th I transition to having them pick off my curated school shelves, although they can (and do) petition me to consider if a given free-reading book could count as a school book.  If it's one I want them to read, I tend to say yes, although I get stricter as they get older.  The more likely they are to read it no matter what, the less likely I am to "promote" a free-reading book to school status once they are solid readers who regularly *read*.  But when I'm still trying to establish the reading habit, I'm far more likely to allow them to read a school-quality free reading book for school reading.   But unlike oldest dd, middle dd just wasn't transitioning to non-free-choice reading.  All she wanted to do was re-read a few quality book series that she loved (plus re-read a few twaddle series), and even when her reading was well established, she still heavily resisted reading anything else.   I have seven shelves of school books to choose from, and she "hated" them all, sight unseen <sigh>.  I allowed the re-reads longer than I preferred in the hopes that time would solve the issue (plus the books were well above grade-level and worth repeated re-readings), but eventually I started forcing the transition.  It was really frustrating for both of us, but finally she asked that I just assign her a particular book instead of having her pick.  I did, and that solved it.  She reads the assigned book without complaining, and now has started occasionally picking her own books off the school shelves as well.  (She still re-reads those favorite quality series a lot, but she also has expanded her free reading choices, too.)

I also read aloud particular books I want middle dd to read that she resists reading herself.  Usually she gets hooked and enjoys it, sometimes even re-reading it on her own.  (I think there's some anxiety about new things going on.)  In general, I allow unlimited re-reading of school books for school, but with middle dd I'm having to place some limits on that, or she'd never get to new ones.

I don't do anything with the books, other than have them read them.  Sometimes we have informal discussions, and occasionally I'll ask them to tell me something about what they read for school, but mostly it's just straight independent reading. (45-60 min a day).  It's worked fine for oldest dd, who is a fast, prolific reader with good comprehension and a good memory, with a good balance of re-reads and new reads.  We'll see if it's enough for middle dd, who just doesn't have the same reading speed or reading-new-books drive.  I think there's a lot of value in the deep study of a few good books, but there's still *some* need for reading widely as well as deeply. 

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My 4th grader reads voraciously, but he has plenty of time during the day to do so, as he is homeschooled. We go to the library every Wednesday, and he brings home a good mix of novels, nonfiction, graphic novels, and twaddle. He switches between books during the day, depending on his mood.

I do assign reading for school, using the WTM and SOTW reading lists, as well as lists from LivingMath.net and science-related books. For longer literature books, we alternate between his reading them on his own, and then I read aloud the next book.

He also listens to audiobooks during quiet time every day, almost always his choice of titles. The only audiobooks that I have assigned have been poetry recommendations from the WTM, because I want him to appreciate it without having to worry about if we are reading it correctly.

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A related question:

How do you keep tabs on if a reluctant reader is actually reading assigned books?

My older boys are expected to read a book from their book bin for 20 minutes each morning.  These books are well within their reading capabilities, and I take pains to only include books I think they would enjoy if they gave them a chance, but they certainly are more challenging than the brain candy, twaddle that they gravitate toward.  Physically they do sit near me during literature time and flip pages, but I often think they aren't actually reading.  I'm not even sure they are deliberately shirking the assignment, but I just think they apply so little effort and brain power that they end up skimming and daydreaming and afterwards have almost no memory of anything they read.

I don't want to kill the love of reading - and they do LOVE reading free choice books - but it does seem like I need to inspect what I expect during literature time.

What methods do you use to encourage and require careful reading as opposed to just page flipping?

Thanks,
Wendy

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57 minutes ago, wendyroo said:

A related question:

How do you keep tabs on if a reluctant reader is actually reading assigned books?

My older boys are expected to read a book from their book bin for 20 minutes each morning.  These books are well within their reading capabilities, and I take pains to only include books I think they would enjoy if they gave them a chance, but they certainly are more challenging than the brain candy, twaddle that they gravitate toward.  Physically they do sit near me during literature time and flip pages, but I often think they aren't actually reading.  I'm not even sure they are deliberately shirking the assignment, but I just think they apply so little effort and brain power that they end up skimming and daydreaming and afterwards have almost no memory of anything they read.

I don't want to kill the love of reading - and they do LOVE reading free choice books - but it does seem like I need to inspect what I expect during literature time.

What methods do you use to encourage and require careful reading as opposed to just page flipping?

Thanks,
Wendy

 

Narration! Sometimes you have to back it up to five or ten minutes at a time. 

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6 minutes ago, OKBud said:

 

Narration! Sometimes you have to back it up to five or ten minutes at a time. 

Yeah, we do quite a bit of narration.  When I read SOTW to them, I can read a couple pages at a time and they give me awesome, accurate narrations of several paragraphs.   If they read a smurf comic book they can retell the whole story.  OTOH, when they are reading literature (pages of text with limited pictures), it is pulling teeth to get them to narrate, "Charlotte is a spider."  That is one of my clues that they are not reading thoroughly or carefully.

Wendy

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4 hours ago, wendyroo said:

Yeah, we do quite a bit of narration.  When I read SOTW to them, I can read a couple pages at a time and they give me awesome, accurate narrations of several paragraphs.   If they read a smurf comic book they can retell the whole story.  OTOH, when they are reading literature (pages of text with limited pictures), it is pulling teeth to get them to narrate, "Charlotte is a spider."  That is one of my clues that they are not reading thoroughly or carefully.

Wendy

 

Hmmmm. Would there be something that engaged them more and still wasn't exactly fluff? Do you think it's specifically the lack of pictures or they are just not interested? 

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1 hour ago, square_25 said:

Hmmmm. Would there be something that engaged them more and still wasn't exactly fluff? Do you think it's specifically the lack of pictures or they are just not interested? 

Both my older boys seem to be overwhelmed by/intimidated by/abhorrent toward big chunks of text.  They are both very proficient decoders capable of reading text well above their chronological grade level, but they will only willing read books that offer text in short snippets.  They devour graphic novels, DK encyclopedia type books, factoid books like Ripley's or Guinness world records, Basher books on all sorts of subjects, even occasionally a Who Was biography.  But try to nudge them toward something more text-y, and they run into a huge mental stumbling block.  They won't even voluntarily read a Dragon Masters or Kingdom of Wrenly book, both of which have large pictures and minimal (huge) text on every page.  If I suggest books like How to Train Your Dragon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Stuart Little, etc, they look at me like I am suggesting they tackle Moby Dick.

They certainly can read those sorts of books; the three of use are currently buddy reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and during their turns they are reading fluently, expressively and with understanding.  But it is only under duress that they will pick up such a book-y book.  If we had buddy read up until it got interesting and then I announced they would have to finish it themselves to find out what happens, inevitably they would both drop it like a hot potato and be glad the torture was over.

Wendy

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At this age, I let my child read whatever he wants. I want my child to enjoy reading, not see it as a chore.

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For free reading, I let them read pretty much whatever they want. For school reading, they choose one book at a time from a selection I have decided on.

 

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No, I do not force my daughters to read anything that they don't want to read. At some point that will have to change, but they are 9, in 3rd grade, and when I pulled them out of PS in the middle of 1st they hated reading. It caused such anxiety and tears and wasn't worth it to force my preferences on them. So I took them to the library and let them pick out what they want. It was a game changer. They still aren't the "curl up on the couch with a good book" readers like I was (and still am) but they aren't crying about it either. They read age-appropriate chapter books based on their interests. My first goal was to just instill a love, or at least a like, for reading. If that means Pony Club and Kylie Jean Basketball Queen so be it. So I agree with farar...know your kids. If you are just pulling her out, I would stick with what works first until you both get comfortable with homeschool.

As I mentioned in a post on the chat board yesterday, I grew up reading The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High and I think I turned out ok 🙂 Even as an adult my reading preferences lean towards crime and mystery novels which I'm sure equates to "twaddle" but whatever. Probably in the next year or two I will start pulling out more rich literature and let them choose amongst those, at least for school time (not free reading), but we have plenty of time for that. For now we don't distinguish between free reading and school reading because they don't just randomly free read. So they read their selected books once a day until I tell them they can stop. Sometimes they continue on their own, but more often than not they will immediately put the book down. So we still have a ways to go. 

Edited by tdbates78
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12 hours ago, wendyroo said:

Both my older boys seem to be overwhelmed by/intimidated by/abhorrent toward big chunks of text.  They are both very proficient decoders capable of reading text well above their chronological grade level, but they will only willing read books that offer text in short snippets.  They devour graphic novels, DK encyclopedia type books, factoid books like Ripley's or Guinness world records, Basher books on all sorts of subjects, even occasionally a Who Was biography.  But try to nudge them toward something more text-y, and they run into a huge mental stumbling block.  They won't even voluntarily read a Dragon Masters or Kingdom of Wrenly book, both of which have large pictures and minimal (huge) text on every page.  If I suggest books like How to Train Your Dragon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Stuart Little, etc, they look at me like I am suggesting they tackle Moby Dick.

They certainly can read those sorts of books; the three of use are currently buddy reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and during their turns they are reading fluently, expressively and with understanding.  But it is only under duress that they will pick up such a book-y book.  If we had buddy read up until it got interesting and then I announced they would have to finish it themselves to find out what happens, inevitably they would both drop it like a hot potato and be glad the torture was over.

Wendy

 

This is obviously not something I'm experienced with, because I have a first grader who's reading Harry Potter... she reads voraciously, and I've stopped reading out loud to her ages ago because she finds that too slow and always tells me not to (she'll listen when I read to her sister sometimes, however.) I think this is sort of the flipped version of our conversation about mathematics: you mentioned that you don't have to force any mathematics, because your kids just DO it. Well, I do have to force mathematics, but I never have to force reading. 

Given my general philosophy, however, I would probably do audiobooks and buddy reading for better literature and not force them to read things that they find tedious or a chore. Mostly because I wouldn't want them to think reading books that have a lot of text is boring and be put off. Just like for math, I try to focus on the things that actively engage my daughter, even though that means we're not doing anything resembling a standard curriculum.

I don't think we have the exact same educational philosophy, so I would guess this wouldn't work for you :-). But for me, my goal would be that the kids appreciated more complicated stories, and it sounded that this happens considerably more when you're reading together, and almost not at all when they are reading by themselves.  

As for whether kids need practice reading longer blocks of text... is it possible their brains just need to mature a bit more before they can do that? Could they practice with books that are more like the kinds of books they'd pick themselves? For what it's worth, I probably couldn't get my daughter to read an encyclopedia if I tried, and she almost never reads the non-fiction books I have at home or get from the library. She reads for plot, and it sounds like your kids read more for facts. But it's quite possible these things converge somewhat when kids get older, especially with good exposure to the different kinds of books there are out there. 

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