Moms and dads everywhere–especially homeschooling moms and dads–want their children to be readers.
We come up with everything conceivable to encourage, force, or bribe them to read. Some parents trade television (or gaming and computer) time for reading time. Others have removed the television and/or game console completely. Some parents pay their children for the time they read. Others will give their children–especially the boys–the most disgusting, bathroom-humor-filled books they can find if that will make them read. Never mind that there is little to nothing redeeming about such ‘literature.’ I’ve always believed–and still do–that my children will read on their own and in their own time by virtue of two things: having books readily available in the home and by seeing an appetite for reading modeled to them by mom and dad.
However, if you are afraid none of these things will work for you, or want something more soul-satisfying instead of utilitarian as a method to arouse within your child a voracious appetite for words, then consider following these three easy steps.
1. Create Contradiction. The human mind doesn’t like contradiction. If someone says to me 7+3=11, I will instinctively want to correct that. Even if I know the person knows the correct answer, I will still want to correct it. I refrain from doing so only by actively persuading myself that it is unnecessary in that case.
2. Persuade Commitment. Get your child to stake a claim and commit to one side of the contradiction or the other. If we were talking about The Scarlet Letter for example, get him to commit to whether Hester Prinn should have kept the identity of the child’s father a secret or not.
3. Debate the Claim. Take what you know or can remember from the story and debate the opposing side of the claim your child has made. However, rather than arguing with proofs for your side, ask questions about the proofs your child is offering. Draw him into the story with more and more questions.
As you practice this process, you will want to ask questions (in step 3) that are Socratic in nature. You want your child to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful as he or she thinks on the point he has claimed.
In addition, it is okay if your child stakes a claim very early in the book because this is the very tool we will be using to encourage him to read the entirety of the book.
It should also be okay if your child’s commitment is wrong. At this point, we merely want this to motivate him to read. Having committed to something so early with so little knowledge of the facts of the case, your child should be willingly corrected as more facts are gathered. Furthermore, your child will have an incentive not just to read the book, but also to read it closely for greater understanding of what he is debating. When he’s finished the book, then he and mom or dad can discuss the virtue of the point.
One final note, this method works not only with children but also with adults. Having gone through this exercise with Moby Dick, The Iliad, and The Scarlet Letter, I have been encouraged to read these books again (one of them for the first time: The Iliad.) There are contradictions that I must resolve: Should Ahab have pursued the whale? Did Achilles love Briseus? Is Hester Prinn a Christ-figure bearing the sins of another?
Prepare to enjoy some great books and some great conversations with your children!
By Matt Bianco