A few months ago, we traveled to India. Yes, with the kids. Of course with the kids. In packing for the trip, I put a lot of thought into what to bring to entertain K, the first grader. We were lugging a lot of baby gear, and couldn’t bog ourselves down with the usual multitude of games and toys which we tend to drag along with us on more local trips, and which, honestly, are hardly necessary since we’ve seen with our own eyes K entertain herself with a stick and a handful of acorns for hours on end. Anyway, I came up with a small selection of chapter books, activity books, a travel journal, a few small games and a bunch of pens and colored pencils, feeling proud to be so parsimonious. I showed these items to K, bracing myself for her to announce that she couldn’t possibly survive for two weeks without at least half the contents of her room, but she shrugged and said: “I don’t want to bring anything.”
Me: “But? Really? We’re going for two weeks. There will be looooong plane rides. Time spend just waiting. Are you sure you don’t want anything?
K: “Nah. Well, maybe these two books. And something to write with. And my tooth box, in case I lose a tooth while I’m there.”
A week later, at our hotel in Goa, as the baby napped and we took some time out of the sun, I witnessed a marvelous sight: K curled up on the bed, fully engrossed in one of the books. It was a Magic Schoolbus science book, called “The Search for the Missing Bones.” Over the next couple of days, K took every opportunity she could to read a few pages. Sometimes she did so aloud to us. Sometimes softly to herself.
As soon as we returned home, I purchased three more books in the series. For a couple more weeks, K seemed to relish reading and I was giddy at the thought that she’d discovered the sheer pleasure of immersing herself in a book, of savoring words and encountering new stories. (Not to mention visions of my being able to do a bit of reading myself, uninterrupted, while she devoured pages up in her room.)
And then, something changed. She no longer seemed interested in books. When she dragged around the house at a loose end and I suggested reading, she groaned and flopped onto the arm chair as thought I’d suggested cleaning her room. (Which I eventually would suggest, simply to play my part in perpetuating the eternal dialogue between mothers and daughters, kind of like suggesting that she brush her hair every day. Which I also do.)
Now, I can’t say this for sure, but I have a theory. I believe she started feeling lukewarm about reading about the time that her teacher introduced the Reading Log. (Please note, this is not any criticism of the teacher, for I know Reading Logs are the norm at this stage.) At first, this was simply a sheet of paper with each day of the week on it, and K was responsible for filling in the title of the book she’d read, either in full or partially, and turning it in on Fridays with a parent signature for every day. The first Reading Log was sent home on a Monday with a note to the parents speaking loftily about parents and teachers working together as partners in the education of the children, blah blah blah. Parents were instructed to make sure that children read for a minimum of 10 minutes per day, and to sign the form after each reading session. After a couple of months of this system, the assignment became more involved, requiring the children to use one of six “strategies” to fill in a few lines about what they’d read. The “strategies” are noticing, picturing, figuring out, guessing, connecting and wondering.
Do a quick Google search for “reading log” and you’ll immediately encounter the rants of many fed up parents. So I suppose I’m merely adding my own. Kind of like being the 1875th person to write a review on Amazon for a baby swing. One might ask: why bother? I’m not sure. Perhaps because I’d like some advice on how to handle this. Perhaps for some families, the Reading Log does help children read, and in that case, great. No doubt the parents ranting online are those who come from various positions of relative privilege. I’m not going to delve into the socio-economics of parental involvement in education here. From my personal perspective, for my own family, the Reading Log is a major drag. It makes reading a chore. It sucks the enjoyment out of just picking up a book and losing oneself in it. Every afternoon (for I quickly learned not to leave the reading assignment for bedtime as all it did was drag out the bedtime routine and end the day on a cranky note for both parent and child) I nudge K to do her reading log, and it’s all I can do to refrain from adding “to get it out of the way.” Because I feel this way as much as she does. I am reluctant to let her realize this, for then she might be even less motivated to do it. But, I mean, really? I am supposed to make her read at a specific time, and hover over her to make sure it happens, and then pester her to think of something to write that uses one of the “strategies?” It feels all wrong.
I hear from other local parents that I should expect reading logs every year. We’ve ridden out this year, but I’m very tempted to institute an alternate system next year. Some kind of honor system. To let K just read when she feels like it, and where she feels like it, any time during the week, and to sign the log as long as she tells me that she did read, and that she did what she needed to fulfill the requirement. In the meantime, I plan to fill her shelves with good books for her to pick up at her leisure, and I am SO looking forward to a full summer without a Reading Log. I did hear some rumor that in September she’ll need to turn in a list of books read during the summer, and that she is to read “at least 10 hours,” but I have no intention of actually keeping track of any of it. We’ll figure it out at the end of August. I’m hoping that by not applying any time pressure, the 10 hours will be a breeze.
And, for those looking for recommendations for 7-year olds (mostly for reading on their own, although a few may benefit from some adult involvement), here is a list of what some of my friends have suggested, along with some additions of my own, just to get started:
- The Magic Treehouse, by Mary Pope Osborne
- Judy Moody, by Megan McDonald
- Rainbow Magic Fairies, by Daisy Meadows (I’m not big on fairies, but these seem to be a hit)
- The Magic Schoolbus Science Chapter Books
- Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park and Denise Brunkus
- Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald
- The Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton
- The Secret Seven, by Enid Blyton
- The Five Find Outers, by Enid Blyton
- Encyclopedia Brown, by Donald Sobol
- Catwings, by Ursula Le Guin
- The Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Hardy Boys, by Franklin Dixon
- A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
- Diary of Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
- Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume
- The Borrowers, by Mary Norton
- The Cricket in Times Square, by George Shelden
- Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
- Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
- Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
I welcome any and all additional suggestions.