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My son is in third grade. He is quite intelligent, and he loves to spend his time reading. However, this is sometimes a bit of a problem, both at home and at school. Rather than paying close attention in class, he will apparently sometimes sneak out a book and read it. At home, he often tries to avoid homework by reading. (It's not always easy to recognize whether he's read what he's supposed to for his assignment and needs to move on to answering questions about it in his workbook.)

His teacher is aware of the problem, but she cannot keep a constant eye on him, to make sure he's on task. If she catches him with his nose in a book when he should be completing something else, she will try to redirect him, and we do the same thing at home. However, there is no way to eliminate books from his environment. Our house is full of books, and I think it would definitely send the wrong message if we took them all away from him (if that were even possible).

So I'm trying to figure out what is an appropriate way to impress on my son that some times he needs to be doing work, rather than reading for pleasure.

  • Are you able to sit with him while he does his reading homework? – Reed Rawlings Nov 18 '15 at 16:33
  • We try to sit with him, but there are often other things going on with the other kids that may need attention. Having somebody looking over his shoulder sometimes may make him combative and difficult. Moreover, he has the same problems at school, and his parents aren't there to oversee his work and keep him on task. So I'm hoping to find a more general way of impressing on him the importance of keeping to his work. – Buzz Nov 18 '15 at 17:11
  • I don't mean to suggest they sit over his shoulder. But merely set him up with his other work before his reading work (his pleasure). Have his test scores or other assignments been suffering because of this? – Reed Rawlings Nov 18 '15 at 17:17
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    Congratulations. Many parents struggle to get their kids to read at all. Whatever you do, make sure he doesn't lose his love of reading. Every hour a kid reads is like an hour of homework. The problem is not reading, the problem is that he is not doing what he's asked. – dave Nov 18 '15 at 23:08
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I remember in third grade, we were often given an exercise to look up words in the dictionary - practicing alphabetizing. I was always slowest... because I would get distracted by reading the dictionary.

If school is so boring or unchallenging that the kid reads to escape, then they are wasting the kid's time when he could be learning something. I'm not sure it's a great idea to make the kid experience school as a boring frustrating place where he's not allowed to learn.

If it were my kid, I'd make a deal: First, pay enough attention to learn everything in class, as shown by grades on quizzes (e.g. over 90% or even 95%) and ability to answer the teacher's questions when asked. Second, class is for learning, and any book read in class should be useful. (My wife, who's a teacher, says for a 3rd grader any book at their reading level is useful!)

For homework, have conversations about work habits and whether it's better to interrupt work with fun or get it over with. Again, if the work is sheer repetitive drudgery with no intellectual reward whatsoever, then maybe it's worth escaping.

In fourth grade, we had self-paced workbooks for all the subjects. We were intended to take about a month per workbook. I found spelling so easy that I was doing several per week, and not spending enough time on other subjects. They pointed out the problem and made a deal with me that I should hold it down to one spelling workbook per week. I saw their point, thought this was quite reasonable, and was happy to comply. If they had tried to limit me to one a month I would have been very frustrated.

Richard Feynman's high school physics teacher, seeing he was not challenged by the class, gave him a calculus book to read in class and said he wasn't allowed to speak up in class till he had understood it. Writing about it later, Feynman was glad that this had happened.

Bottom line: Figure out a plan that respects your goals and his goals (if you want to accommodate the teacher's goals, at least one of you should actually value those goals). Discuss the plan with him. Make sure your plan accommodates his desire to learn and achieve. You will probably find that clear discussion of goals and purposes will lead to an agreement he will be happy to follow - and you may find that that agreement includes some reading in class.

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What Dave said is very accurate. The problem in this situation, or what it sounds like, is that your son is refusing to follow along with the rules set out for him which is a perfectly acceptable thing to put restrictions around.

When you're having the discussion about "over reading" make sure you have a clear distinction between the behavior of not doing what he is told and his love of reading.

I had a single fifth grade student with this issue, she would often read during math lessons, but would truly find any time during the day or week to read. For her I set out very clear expectations of when reading time was and wasn't. I let her know that I loved her love of reading and found it to be great way to engage discussions with her, but that it was very disrespectful to be "ignoring" the teacher and that she might be distracting those around her. Our expectations were set around the following.

  • Follow along with the class while we take notes on other subjects
  • Answer your reading questions, don't just try and explain them as I pass by picking up lit HW.
  • For now, you can only read during reading time.

Then we set up some rewards, which would have to be tailored at home or to the school. Make sure that some rewards are easily accessible at first, so that the immediate trade-off of following along is met with a slightly delayed positive response (Reading at dinner once a week, an extra trip to the library, a choose your own book purchase, a parent/son reading segment. Whatever you think can best motivate him). Her and I used,

  • You can read once a week during lunchtime as long as you eat your meal
  • You may read during brain breaks (15 minute break time)
  • You can assign your own current event article once a month

This whole talk was followed with another reminder that I cared about her love of reading, but that her not following the rules was setting an unfair example the other students. And, because of the second fact, I would have no problem limiting her access to books in our classroom or even taking a book from her for her mother to pick up (more like a cell phone).

I'd suggest you set similar guidelines. Also, where is he getting the books in class? I'd suggest a guideline could be not sending him to school with a book, or that he has to surrender it to the teacher upon arrival so that she is more in charge of when that reading happens. At home, make sure the guidelines are doubly set, that his school work comes before reading just as anything "for pleasure" comes after your other children school work. Sometimes, especially at first, you'll have to follow through and take a book(s) away from him. But, and I am beating a dead horse here, in that moment of punishment deeply emphasize that this is not about reading it is about following along with the expectations at home.

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