January 23, 2015

The 8 tricks and jimmy rigs I used to turn my resistant readers into book lovers.

(That might be stretching it! Lets say, "real book likers" instead!)

I'll admit it, I am not a literary aficionado. I actually despised reading until 3rd grade and then only developed the ability to tolerate it after that. Four years of college prep school, followed by four years of undergraduate school, and I doubt I read half of the books I was assigned! That is so embarrassing to admit, but it's the truth. I did whatever I could to avoid reading a book cover to cover. I became a master skimmer, I watched the movies, asked friends to summarize reading assignments, and even read...or rather skimmed cliff notes (apparently even reading those was asking too much).

As an adult, I have read a few novels, but it takes a lot to keep my focus and retain anything. On the other hand, I love learning about history, the Bible, and the psychology of family and child relationships.  Unfortunately, it requires reading to gain that knowledge. However, I am willing to make that sacrifice in short doses! Especially since reading is essential to being a homeschool teacher.

In truth, I don't want my kids to know how I feel about reading, until they have graduated high school and maybe not even then! Just like we brainwash our toddlers to believe that peeing on the potty makes them a big kid, I'm brainwashing my kids that reading is fun! Moreover, that the love of literature is essential to being successful in school.

Now I realize that a vast majority of people do love to read, but my kids were never big on reading. I started reading to them when they were just a few months old. I had heard that if you start young, your kids will grow up to love reading. So my husband and I build a great collection of kids books and would sit with stacks of them to share with our babies. However, once they were toddlers, it become increasingly difficult to get them to sit with us and read. They still enjoyed flipping the pages and looking at pictures, but reading a story cover to cover was almost impossible.

Fast forward to the last year my kids were in public school, (Kindergarten and 2nd grade) and you will see boys that felt the same way I did at their age. Every night it was a struggle to sign off on the required 10 to 20 minutes they were assigned.

The following year we began homeschooling. I longed for them to have a deep appreciation for literature. I wanted them to be those kids that curled up with books for hours. Lost in the imaginary world between the pages. I devised a plan. Albeit, not the greatest plan, but it started to work! Little by little, they started to read and that wonder in their eyes appeared out of nowhere. I couldn't believe it!


I started by buying some new books, with bright covers, from authors I enjoyed as a kid, tacked up reading charts on the wall and gave them weekly challenges. (More details below)

At first my 3rd grader wasn't in love with the idea and my 1st grader couldn't read to save his life (Kindergarten with 30+ kids hadn't been kind to him). Half-way through the year, after a lot of hard work, my 1st grader read Frog and Toad......cover to cover! And my 3rd grader finished book one from The Boxcar Children and had moved onto the Cul-d-Sac Kids series.

My husband and I were so excited. Actually, excited doesn't even define how we felt. Neither of us were readers, and yet through prayer, persistence and bribery.......we had READERS!!

My kids are now in 3rd and 5th grade. They speed through books and the challenges I have come up with have kept them going when they hit a loll. All tallied, in the 2013-14 school year, they read a combined:

14,250 Minutes


238 Hours

and finished

65+ Books
The main reason that I feel like this is a win, is because the number of times they have complained about reading, I could count on one hand. They lose track of time and occasionally choose to read more than required. Only time will tell, if this is truly a paradigm shift in who they were on track to become as readers or merely the result of a structured homeschool. I pray that this has unlocked a love of reading inside of them. It will make school, college and life so much easier on them.

My messy toolbox of tricks and jimmy rigs:

1. We skipped the library, almost all together. The kids didn't get excited over dingy, plastic covered books with rough scratchy pages. I know it sounds shallow, but at this age, kids do judge the book by its cover! If you want to get a resistant reader excited about reading, nothing helps more than a crisp new book they can call their own.

2. I shopped on-line for cheap books! I try not to pay more than a few dollars per book, but that isn't always possible. If you buy from places like Christian Book Distributors, you can get coupons for free shipping or percentage discounts. It isn't the cheapest way to homeschool, but if you have several kids, they will all read each book at least once. And if you aren't interested in building up your own library, you can resell online.

3. Scholastics has fun reading reward programs that we used our first year. They mail you some of the supplies when you sign-up and then you log-in each week, record your minutes and see where you are as a group in meeting your goals. They have fun pintables to track your individual minutes. It's set up for a classroom of kids, so we all joined in, including our then 1 year old!

4. Incentives!! We now have a sticker chart that we started last school year. Here's how it works:
  • 1 Gold Star -  For daily reading
  • 1 Red Star - For each additional hour
  • 2 Blue Stars - For writing unassigned book reports
  • 1 Skip Star - I give them a skip star each month that they can use to check off a day of reading, without cracking a book!
  • 1 Full Row of Stars (20) = A Wendy's Frosty
  • 2 Full Rows of Stars (40) = Another Wendy's Frosty (It's their favorite!)
  • 3 Full Rows of Stars (60) = A Field Trip
5. Rewards!! Although we haven't been big on rewards in the past, this was the one exception that has really paid off. Kids love field trips! I came up with a number of hours that they had to read, and when they met it, we went on a field trip of their choosing! Of course, I gave them the selection to choose from! The choices ranged from; Lunch at Daddy's work, Swimming, Ice skating, or the Movies. In total, they have earned two field trips each school year.

6. Buy more books! One of the best parts about reading in our house is that you get to go book shopping a few times a year. It is another reward for their discipline.

7. Shake it up! After they read a chapter book, I encourage them to pick some fun reads. If they get bored by a book, they put it down for a few days. I give them reading minutes for reading to their little brother from time to time. We have several quick read biographies and history books. Additionally, I've found that sometimes they get a boost when I let them go back and read a chapter book that is below their reading level. They realize how far they have come when they finish a book in one day that took them weeks a year or two before.

8. Don't bore them with classics! I know that people feel that literature integrity is essential at every age, but it isn't! You work with what you've got. If Diary of a Wimpy Kid is what appeals to your child, RUN WITH IT!!! There will be plenty of time to bore them later.

You may be thinking that this seems like a lot of prep work, money and focus to put into one school subject, but I promise you it's worth it. Reading is like the center of a spider web. From it, every subject splits off and yet still stays connected. It is essential to every subject your kids will encounter from first grade through college. Reading isn't something you pick-up along the path of education. Reading is the path.

"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him." - Maya Angelou

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