Literacy is not a spectator sport(Send this to someone you think might care to know it.)

What does that mean? In a country where the majority of our free time gets spent watching somebody do something, whether on TV, at the movies, or on a computer screen, we seem to have developed an aversion to doing things ourselves. Whatever is easiest and takes the least amount of effort. Could that be why reading seems to be so unpopular?  Why read the book when I can watch the movie in two hours? Why read to my children when I can put them in from of the TV to hear a story? Why spend time helping my child learn to read, when I can send him to school so the teacher can do it?

Why? Because what we are doing isn’t working. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If you have read earlier PTR posts, then you know that reading test scores haven’t improved in forty years, and that our kids are giving up on reading and school as early as first and second grade. Many studies point to the importance of parents reading with their children. And yet we continue inventing computer programs or classroom methods which suggest that the parents aren’t needed for a child to become a great reader. Besides the fact that two out of three of our students above fourth grade are unable to read proficiently, those same NAEP reading tests tell us that only 6% of our children are considered excellent readers. Only 6%.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve done a very unscientific survey. I ask people if they like to read. Of the people who say they love to read, I ask one question. “When did you learn to read?”The answer was almost always something like this: “I don’t remember.” “When I was four or five.” “At home before I started school.” “My mom/my dad read to me all the time.”  I bring this to your attention, not to suggest that our schools are the problem, as so many want you to believe. Yes, our schools have problems, but they are not the cause of our reading problems. The problem is that we are missing out on the window of opportunity to turn our kids into excellent readers during the time when they can learn the fastest, and while they still want to do it. But, most importantly, I believe the message of my unscientific survey and all the studies which point to the value of parents tell us the necessity of relationship. Relationship is what makes marriages work and businesses prosper. Relationship is why people do much of what they do. Most people prefer going to movies and restaurants with others. This relationship thing is so much a part of us that we worry about people who want to be alone all the time.

The principles of Point to Reading and the reason some kids become great readers all depend on relationship. If you want to buy your child one of those computer reading books, do it with him instead of telling him to do it alone. Invest the time with them while they are around, and especially while they still want to have a relationship with you. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when your fifteen year old doesn’t want to talk to you…about anything. We earn the right to talk to our children by spending time with them when they are young. Add some great stories from excellent books and you will end up with a teen who likes to talk to you, and also happens to be an excellent reader and student. If you instead make literacy a spectator sport by expecting somebody else to do it with your child, don’t be surprised if your child becomes one of nearly 50% of Americans who never pick up a book after they graduate from high school or college.

PTR cover - for website

Henry Skinner-Larsen is the author of Point to Reading and Point to Reading the Bible. The principles of Point to Reading™ are  based on the belief that our children are smarter than we imagine and can learn way faster than we allow. We can best help our children by building a love of reading in them through a one-to-one relationship. The key is locking in the love of reading while they are still young, and before any number of challenges can steal it from them.


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