Raising Readers: A Tale of Two Boys (Guest Post)

Jan 4, 2016

I have mentioned Erica of What Do We Do All Day at least a dozen times on this blog. She is one of my go-to resources for book recommendations, math activities, and game suggestions, and today I am so pleased and thrilled to welcome her to Sunlit Pages.

Erica is the mom of two boys, both of whom approached learning to read in very different ways. At one level or another, I think this is something most parents can relate to, and so I asked Erica if she would talk a little bit about how she embraced and and encouraged these different styles of learning. Her advice is both practical and applicable, and I'm pretty sure you're going to love it.

Sunlit Pages // How to encourage readers with different learning styles (guest post from Erica of What Do We Do All Day)

Reading aloud to my kids has always been a mainstay in my parenting toolbox. It is my go-to activity when my kids are annoying, fighting, tired, needy, upset -- essentially all those kid behaviors that I find very difficult to manage without losing my mind. I can always diffuse a difficult situation by picking up a book and starting to read aloud. My kids will stop what they are doing and come right over. The lure of stories is much greater than the lure of annoying one’s brother. You might argue about the merits of this parenting technique but one positive result is that both of my boys, ages 7 and (almost) 11, adore books.

(Not) Teaching My Kids To Read

Even though I read aloud to both boys as much as possible they each took very different paths towards learning to read. Whereas my approach to reading aloud was “do as much as possible”, my strategy to teach reading was exactly the opposite: do almost nothing at all.

Kid #1: Early, Often and Everything

My older son surprised me by teaching himself to read at the tender age of 3.5.  Of course I attributed this to my totally amazing plan of reading aloud all the time! Okay, not really. He just has the kind of brain that picks up systems really easily. As soon as his brain realized that decoding text was a system, he figured it out.

From that point on my entire job was to find appropriate books for him to read. I had only to set a stack of books in front of him and he would sit down and read them all. Six years later, even though he now chooses his own books, my son cannot see a book without picking it up and reading it. Non-fiction, fiction, short, long, easy, challenging – if it contains words, he reads it with zero coaxing from me.

Let me tell you that having a young child who loves to read independently is wonderful when you need a break from the daily grind of parenting.

Kid #2: Late, Rarely and Selective

My second child took a much more typical path to becoming a reader. Although I read no less to him than I did to his brother, he did not show signs of sounding out words until the age of 5, neither did he express any desire to learn to read. I wrote about how I decided not to force him to learn to read and some of the alternative strategies I employed but mostly I was hands off. We are lucky to be in a school which exerts zero pressure on kids to learn to read before they are ready. (I know this is not the case in many schools.) All his teachers confirmed that his skills were age appropriate, and all I needed to do was continue to read aloud.

So, that’s what I did.

It took about 2 years of very, very slow progress, and he now reads at a level appropriate for his grade. But can I put any type of book out and expect him to read it on his own?

No way.

I have had to make peace with the fact that my youngest son primarily reads Star Wars, superhero and Pokemon books. I had a small success with a few others, but not much. For now (and probably forever) I will let it go, allowing him to pick his own reading material, no matter how much I cringe at the quality. Instead of bringing home books for him to gobble up like I did for his brother, I rarely choose reading material for him. He knows where his favorite books are in the library and he heads straight for those shelves. I’m okay with this and the main reason why is that I get to choose our read alouds. I bring home piles of wonderful picture books and read aloud novels that have nothing to do with intergalactic war or superhuman strength. And he loves them. Our favorite novels this year were books like Apple Blossom the Possum, The Perilous Princess Plot, and Little Dog Lost (a book written in verse, no less!). I’m curious to see where his reading path takes him but for now I’m just letting him find his own way.

My (Non) Advice for Raising Readers

I don’t claim to have any wisdom beyond the standard about how to raise voracious readers because honestly, looking back, I took the path of least resistance. I read aloud more than the average parent because I am too lazy to engage in more challenging activities, and I did almost nothing to formally teach my kids to read. This, of course, won’t work for everyone and I readily acknowledge that! I enjoy hearing about what other families are doing to raise young readers. What are your strategies?

Erica chronicles her ongoing parenting adventures on her blog, What Do We Do All Day? where she shares weekly book lists and easy learning ideas. She has outrageously ambitious plans to teach her children to love and memorize Shakespeare in 2016. Wish her luck.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank YOU, Erica! It is always a treat working with you!

  2. I am such a big fan of Erica's wonderful book lists! I, too have an oldest who devours books and a seven-year-old who can be read to for hours by only wants comics and graphic novels for his read-alone time. They have two younger brothers, and time will only tell what their preferences will be - but I would be willing to bet they too will love books of some kind or another! Thanks for the great post!

    1. Erica's lists are a treasure trove! It sounds like you are doing a fantastic job with introducing quality literature to your kids while still giving them the freedom to pursue their own interests. That's wonderful.

  3. My younger sister was never very into reading for pleasure, but was always on grade level. Now she reads for fun more than many people I know!

    1. So interesting! I think when kids are encouraged but not forced, they don't develop a distaste for reading.


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