Every week my twins come home with a sheet announcing their homework assignments and every week I cringe at the inevitable words “read aloud for at least 5-10 minutes and write a response.”
I want to scream NO! Reading should not be homework.
I know that teachers and schools are trying really hard to produce readers. Literacy rates in this country are abysmal and our educators feel the pressure. The percentage of students that are reading on grade level is a huge indicator for a lot of things. There is also the undeniable fact that it is important that our kids learn to read, but this is not the way to go about it.
Think back to when you kid learned to walk. They were pretty happy crawling right? They could get places – in the case of my twins they could get quite efficiently off in multiple directions. One day however they started trying to learn how to walk.
You remember them inching along your coffee table or couch right? Looking up at you with a dribbly grin super proud of their huge accomplishment?
Ok! That grin. Now I’m hoping it would be less drooly now – but I want my kids to feel that way about reading and they will not get that way because it is on their homework sheet to read and they most certainly will not get there because they have to write a reading response.
Why Reading as Homework is Harmful
Here are the problems with reading as homework;
- The word homework. Does anyone like to work? Webster’s defines work with words like “exerts strength” and “sustained physical or mental effort” – does that sound like something enjoyable to you? Nope. And I promise you it doesn’t sound like something enjoyable to your child either. When we make reading homework we are associating it with these unpleasant emotions.
- Reading as homework involves no intrinsic motivation. When your kid learned to walk they didn’t learn to walk because it was assigned to them. They didn’t learn to do it because they were of a certain age or grade. Babies have no clue that this is even expected. They did however see all the cool people (yup, you were cool for a while there) in their life walking and thought it looked like a good idea. Reading is most successful when the kid wants to read.
- Reading as homework equates it to learning your spelling words or doing a worksheet. Those things are not fun. Homework is the thing you get through so you can go play or do something fun. Reading should not be lumped in with this horrid thing to rush through. I have a similar issue with most library summer reading programs. All but one that we have done essentially tells children that if you slug through a pile of boring books then you will be rewarded with pizza! or ice cream! or something else other than BOOKS! Books are the reward, not the work or punishment.
Okay, you say, but they have to work (that pesky word again) on this or they won’t learn.
5 Alternatives to Reading as Homework
- Provide books for children to read when they are done with everything else. If they finish their homework and have time left then they GET to read. And psst – maybe assign less homework so they will have time – YAY!
- Encourage their parents to read aloud. Send home book recommendations for them. Maybe even loan them books or send home a library card application so it is just a teensy bit easier. Host parent or family book clubs at your school. If kids see their parents reading and enjoying it they will be more likely to want to try.
- Have book share days at school. Instead of show and telling about a random toy or super special pine cone, invite kids to share amazing books that they have read and loved. Remember those book report videos on Reading Rainbow by kids? Once a week perhaps have a time set aside for this sharing. Maybe the teacher can share one book she has read and loved and then invite others to do this too. Of course in order to share one would have to read a book to be able to talk about it with wisdom.
- Offer books as prizes. My kids are forever coming home with yoyos and sunglasses and other ridiculous trinkets from the good behavior gift box. Why isn’t that full of books? If cereal boxes and Chick a Fil can give kids little books, surely schools can figure out a way to build home libraries too, right? Obviously you aren’t going to offer the entire Harry Potter series in your gift box, but a little paperback easy reader? Earning books. Having books as prizes. This is a way to promote books as the prize – the positive – the most awesome thing in the world.
- Send home a question to answer. I read this one in another article about reading as homework and loved it for my naturally curious kids. They can look in books, online, ask an expert – whatever they can think or and of course with parent supervision – and either write or bring back an answer. Maybe you occasionally even let them think of their own questions – it’s not like they don’t have a million. This is a less direct way to assign reading and it also has the bonus of helping to point out a practical way to use this skill.
Those are just 5 ideas. I am certain that creative teachers and schools can come up with more to shift or refocus the way we think about books and reading. There are already teachers, like the fabulously bookish Carrie from There’s a Book for That, that already do a lot to promote reading as fun with their students but we need to do more.
The bottom line is this. If we want kids to read long term then they need to find it useful or fun. If we want them to find it useful or fun then we need to stop equating it with words like boring and work. Reading as homework is not the answer so we need to get brainstorming fast.