It’s that time of the evening. Much like the many days before and the many days to come I need to mentally prepare, gather my strength and brace myself for the inevitable struggle that’s about to take place. A struggle which demands patience and unwavering willpower.
Reading time. With an eight-year-old boy.
I should disclose that I’m not actually a parent, just a part-time nanny. But the after-school routine has become second nature to me over the last few years of picking the kids up and looking after them for a few hours until their parents come home from work. I have tutored maths, played games, cooked dinners, bandaged scrapes, weathered tantrums and cuddled away tears.
However, the quiet time between homework and dinner when things are winding down and the mood is perfect for settling into the couch and helping to hone an essential life skill with a child during a crucial stage of his intellectual development.
There’s an inevitable high-pitched whining noise that emits from this boy when he sees me choose a book for him to read aloud. It makes me dread the coming ordeal as much as he does, but I can’t let that show or the battle is as good as lost before it’s begun.
His go-to strategy is speed. He’ll try reading as fast as possible, cramming at least two sentences into a single breath at the cost of words like “and”, “with”, “the” or whichever other words he deems unnecessary. Punctuation and pronunciation are also sacrificed for the cause of what he believes will be a quick and painless end to his troubles.
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It’s like a chess player using the same opening move every time, despite repeated failure.
“No no no, stop. Go back, read each word clearly and pause to take a breath for commas and full stops.”
He huffs and rolls his eyes. Cracks form in my mask of enthusiasm. We’ve had this exact exchange twice this week and it’s only Wednesday.
He’s yet to realise, despite frequent explanations, that if he paces himself from the start it genuinely will be over much sooner. I think he believes it’s a trap.
I get it though. He’s a young kid filled to the brim with energy to burn, of course he’d rather be playing games or running around outside. Which is why my preferred tactic is negotiation.
“If you read with me first then you can have free play until dinner’s ready,” or “Sure you can play outside now, but only if you read with me when I say time’s up,” are favourites.
Some days this works like a charm and I want to sing my own brilliance from the rooftops and bask in the triumph of a swift victory.
But other days? The ‘pulling teeth’ cliché springs to mind.
“But we read yesterday!” he’ll exclaim with horror, as if the very notion of reading for two consecutive afternoons was somehow a surprise.
“Well guess what?” I respond with exaggerated excitement.
He eyes me apprehensively.
“In life we all have to read at least something every day!”
Cue the grumbling.
But he can be very sly for his age, so sometimes he’ll bide his time and argue the following day that he already read at school, so he shouldn’t have to read anymore afterwards.
I silently curse his lawyer genetics and counter with what is essentially emotional blackmail.
“But you haven’t read with me and I love reading with you, I look forward to it all day! Do you really not enjoy spending that time with me?”
It’s also a shameless half-truth. But not a complete lie.
J.K. Rowling (the woman who instilled a love of reading in me at the age of six) put it best: “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” So I’ve been working really hard with his parents for well over a year to find that one mythical book he might actually enjoy.
To our delight, we’ve actually found a few.
Laughter’s proven the strongest tool as he’ll joyfully power through an Andy Griffiths novel or an instalment of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. He relishes the weirdness and gore of Horrible Histories so much that he forgets he’s actually learning (god forbid!). And best of all, last week he actually asked me if we could read Deltora Quest together before I even had the chance to think about it.
Despite the frequent struggles of actually getting him settled and focused on a book in the afternoons, it’s completely worth it for those rare times when we actually do enjoy reading together. When he wants to know what happens next and the story actually engages him. I’m so proud to that he seems to be enjoying it more and more often.
He’ll definitely be getting more books from me this Christmas.
Do you struggle to get your son to read?
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