On Raising a Reluctant Reader

I got a message from my son’s school the other day.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” his teacher was quick to say into the machine. “I just wanted to let you know that your son’s been identified as a kiddo who needs extra help with reading.”

Etani, though he loves to be read to and has a prodigious vocabulary, has really been struggling with learning to read.

We’re a family of readers. James is reading Kafka’s short stories now; Athena is reading the Warrior series and the Sisters Grimm; Hesperus, who has read the Twilight series three times, plows through so many books from the library that I can’t keep up; and I’m reading Wendy Mogul’s brand new The Blessings of a B Minus, Wicked, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

But Etani has been pretty adamant he doesn’t want to ever learn to read.

James and I are trying not to panic.

Two of James’s good friends were both reluctant readers.

One has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and teaches metaphysics. The other is the director of an International Baccalaureate school.

They are both among the smartest people we know.

But I am worried. What if my son never learns to read? Last year the teacher told us he could recognize a lot of words but he lacked confidence. He gets frustrated and impatient whenever we try to teach him anything about word recognition or reading. I worry that struggling with reading is having a negative effect on his self-esteem. I worry there will be a stigma associated with being identified as a “Title One kid.”

It’s counterproductive to compare but I can’t help thinking about how James taught himself to read when he was three, how Athena could write her name before she turned two, how my brother’s son (who’s two days younger than Etani but a head taller and a grade level above him in school) is such a good reader that he’s reading the Harry Potter books to himself, how Etani’s friend Moshe (who’s just two weeks older) reads English and Hebrew with ease.

Me: Jennifer, repeat after me: Every child develops at his own pace.

Myself: But–

Me: Every child develops at his own pace. Just keep reading to him and modeling how much you love books. Your son will be fine. When he’s ready, he’ll learn to read.

Will he? Do you know any reluctant readers? Were you a reluctant reader yourself? Do you have children who are struggling with reading or other aspects of school?


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