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I have a 7 year old son in 1st grade. His school is rather far away, and it takes about 40 minutes for me to drive him there. We are a very busy family, and so I want this time in the car to be "time well spent."

What I've been doing for the last few years is allow him to play educational games on his Leap Pad portable game system in the car. This has worked well on a number of different levels. Firstly, he's received a good jump start learning basic math, grammar, spelling, etc. Secondly, we live in a country where few people speak English, and so the games (which are all in English) help expose him to verbal and written English. This English language exposure is very important to me because I want him to be a competent bilingual. He also greatly enjoys playing the games (note: I only allow him to play them in the car on long car trips).

However, one thing that has been bothering me is that my son doesn't like to read (he says that books are boring). I read a lot of books when I was a boy, and I would like for him to have a more positive attitude towards them.

Anyhow, the other day I told my son that he won't be playing his Leap Pad in the car this week and gave him two books to read (not in English, because he is not as good a reader in English as he is in his native language). He refused to even look at the books and just stared out the window for the duration of the trip. The the day after that I told him the same thing, yet he somehow managed to find an electric toy lying around in the car and played that instead. The plan is to remove all forms of entertainment from the car except books and hope is that that eventually out of sheer boredom he will pick up a book and give reading a try.

My question is, am I doing the wrong thing by taking something away my son enjoys so much (i.e. the Leap Lap) that has shown to be beneficial? Is it possible that this strategy will backfire and make him dislike books even more? I don't think that he completely despises books because before bed I read to him English language picture books, which he enjoys. Also, I've seen him thumbing through some of the books we've read together on his own which is very promising.

Another thing to consider is that within a year he will probably "max out" his learning potential with the Leap Pad. That is, the difficulty level of the arithmetic, grammar, etc. problems won't be challenging enough for him.

Also, I imagine that it should hard for a book to compete with an interactive gadget complete with sounds and audio? Perhaps studies have been done on this. I am worried that prolonged exposure to the Leap Pad and other electronic interactive media will make it more difficult for him to find pleasure in books in the future.

Maybe I've written enough? Given the situation and concerns stated above, does anybody have any suggestions? Continue with the book only policy? Try something different?

NOTE: While I appreciate the numerous comments and responses on fostering a love of reading, very little has been said about the use of electronic media. If I allow him to use the electronic media in the car and allow him to choose his time freely he will most definitely not be reading.

In response to comments below:

Regarding car sickness: good point that I didn't think about. However, I don't think that this is a problem because I've had him read books out loud with me in a moving car a number of times. However, that is something that I am definitely going to pay more attention to in the future.

Regarding book selection: the books I gave him to read are not English books and were picked out by my wife (the language they are in is not my native tongue). Honestly, I haven't really looked at them. He is interested in bugs, trains, cars, and, superheros. I purchased some train themed comic books in his first language but was chastised by my wife because I guess that she thought that they were too difficult? Anyhow, he didn't really look at them. I feel more confident picking out English language books. Maybe giving him non-English books to read in the car was a mistake. I have been assuming that he should be a better reader in his native language and that he is not yet ready to read English books on his own but I am probably wrong. I purchased a set of Batman and Superman I Can Read books so we will see how that goes.

UPDATE

Yesterday my son picked up a kid oriented graphic novel that we had read together and started reading it on his own! I posted this question to SE the day prior to that so I didn't have time to implement any of the ideas in this thread. So I guess maybe I was doing something right all along!

Regarding the school commute, I think I am going to mix things up a bit. I'm going to give him English language books that I know he enjoys (rather giving him books in his first language that I have no idea if he likes or not; I suppose that it is wrong to assume that a child should begin reading on his own using books in his native tongue). I'm also going to try playing educational English language podcasts in the car like Brains On! and Wow in the World. The rule was previously that the Leap Pad could only be played in the car for longish trips (maybe over 30 minutes). Maybe I'll extend that to one hour.

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    What kind of books are you offering? And what kind of stories does he enjoy? If he likes watching Spiderman Cartoons, perhaps even a Spiderman Comic would be a leap, and most major franchises, no matter what medium they are from, have something in book-form available. Of course, that will only work if a book in a moving car does not make him nauseous, which definitely CAN be an issue. It certainly is for me! – Layna Sep 7 '17 at 5:27
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    Reading in moving cars makes me nauseous too, and it's pretty common, according to this article. May be this is something you ought to consider. – sodapop Sep 7 '17 at 6:34
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    But nausea can also be an issue with electronic gadgets, not just with books. The principle (mismatch of information via different sensory channels) is the same. – Stephie Sep 7 '17 at 8:48
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    I think both answers here are great. Getting a child to "work" (read a book) is harder than an educational game. The way I started my kids on reading is that I would read the first chapter or two of an interesting book to them, then conveniently not be able to find the time for the next chapter. They became voracious readers. Just find something he likes. – anongoodnurse Sep 7 '17 at 13:53
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    FWIW, I cannot read in the back seat of a car but I can do other activities in the back seat. Oddly, I can read in the front passenger seat just fine. Nausea from car-motion is weird sometimes. – BunnyKnitter Sep 7 '17 at 16:57
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The previous answers contain some good points regarding the potential downfalls of forcing your child to read, so I will not rehash these. However, I will add to that notion that children tend to acquire a "love for reading" best when the following "conditions" are met:

  1. Modeling - Parents are avid readers and model reading behaviors during "down-time"; favoring reading over other activities such as tablet/smart phone/computer use and TV viewing.

  2. Scaffolding & more modeling - parents read to their children (anytime is fine, but bedtime is quite common), even if their children are able to read to themselves; parents expand upon concepts in the stories and follow-up at other times during the day with conversations about what the child enjoys about the story they shared (in a non-quizzical manner)

  3. topics interest the child

The factors listed above tend to be universal across cultural contexts.

Secondly, I want to address your question about steering clear of electronic devices. Electronic devices can provide fantastic educational experiences. However, if this is the only "activity" your child seems to enjoy, your concerns are warranted. There is emerging research about the effects of highly stimulating electronic devices and a blunting of the neurological systems responsible for joy/pleasure. It does not 100% address your question, so I will steer clear of the details for now unless you would like them. In response to your question (re: books as an alternative to these devices), I would suggest offering a variety of non-technology based activities such as sticker books (DK publishing has a lot of options - both for educational as well as entertainment purposes), puzzles, mazes, solitary travel games, or manipulatives.

Finally, I would like to add that it is OK for children to be bored. Do not feel guilty if you want to limit the electronics and he does not choose something else you offer him. Boredom not only allows a child's brain time to rest (in our otherwise highly stimulating environment), but has also been linked to creativity as well as original and abstract thought.

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    +1. For a long time, I read every book my kids picked out, both to know what they liked about them (good for future reference) and to be able to discuss them. I read many fun and even excellent books that I would have never read that way. – anongoodnurse Sep 7 '17 at 21:36
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    I appreciate this answer. This is the only answer so far that really addresses the use of electronic media and there are some nice ideas in terms of things to try in place of the electronic media. – wrieedx Sep 8 '17 at 0:24
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You are trying to give your son 2 boring options and hope that the boring option which requires more effort to be bored will win out. Honestly, I don't see that happening. If you want to instill a love of reading, give him something he'll love to read.

I love reading, but only when it's something I'm interested in. I remember reading a book once that was the first of a series. Many people told me the series was great. But they failed to mention that the first book was excruciatingly slow paced. I made it through that first book by sheer determination. And then I never picked up the rest. Why? I couldn't stand the thought of another book like that. Even if the rest got better (which I have been assured multiple times is the case), I have no desire to try (in fact I have a desire to not try them).

But there are books I have read (and occasionally re-read) that I just can't put down. No matter what else I have going on, if I can sneak in just a paragraph or two I will. And that's because I love what I'm reading. It's exciting, it's fun. And it requires extreme effort to tear me away from it.

So find your son something he likes. Does he like superheroes? Try something there. Dinosaurs? Mysteries? Magic and dragons? Try lots of things and try them in small doses. There is nothing that will make you hate a genre faster than feeling forced to read (what you perceive as) a tome of boring drivel. Keep going with what he shows interest in. Leave the other stuff behind and maybe try circling back for it later (and know he may just never like some stuff).

TL/DR: Give him something fun to read if you want him to love reading. Don't make reading the option of absolute last resort and just hope it works out.

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    as an add-on to this: Take him to the local library if there is one with books in his written language and get him to pick something fun. I can't remember what I read as a kid, but as a teen it was nothing but magic and fantasy (if it had dragons, that was a bonus). If someone forced me to read other stuff it probably would have killed my desire to read. Think of the tv he likes watching (if he is allowed tv). Pick something in a similar genre, or if you can, a book in the same universe with the same characters. – BunnyKnitter Sep 7 '17 at 17:04
  • I like the answer, but are you suggesting that I continue to allow him to use the electronic media in the car? – wrieedx Sep 8 '17 at 0:21
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    @wrieedx That depends largely on what your goal is. If the goal is to foster a love of reading, then forcing the issue isn't going to do that. If the goal is to just make good use of the time, remember there are many good ways to spend time and not all of them are learning formal subjects. There is an exceptional amount of value in spending time just talking / bonding with others or just playing. Learning social skills are important too. Some of my best and favorite bonding moments with my parents were on long car rides. (cont.) – Becuzz Sep 8 '17 at 12:18
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    @wrieedx (cont.) If the goal is simply to reduce screen time, then phase it out or remove it altogether. You need to figure out what you want to accomplish then make a game plan to get there. The LeapPad (and use of it) may help progress toward your goals, it may harm it or it may not affect it at all. Once you know the goal, you can decide on whether the LeapPad stays or goes. Focus on the goal, not the LeapPad. – Becuzz Sep 8 '17 at 12:25
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those 2 times 40 minutes can be quality time for you and your son. Maybe the japanese society is more demanding, so you want to prepare your son for that. But you also decide what image of his dad your son will shape.

So my european suggestion is to sing some songs, tell some stories and answer some questions. That way you can be supportive and nice at the same time.

But that depends

  • on you and
  • on your son and
  • on your parent-child relationship and
  • on the cultural environment he will have to cope with.
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This isn't going to work. A love of reading can really only be acquired by reading stuff you love. Instead of trying to force him to read, find him interesting books that he wants to read. Find out what kind of stories he likes and give him some good age appropriate books to read.

Methods like this only breed resentment. It won't make him love reading, it'll make him see books as a chore and nothing more then a chore. I suggest you stop doing this asap.

I used to be like your son when I was growing up. My parents forcing me to read 50 pages a day didn't make me love books like I do now (reading 100+ books a year, mostly fantasy and thriller). What actually got me to read is my aunt getting me a very interesting book with a nice story that I wanted to read. You can't force someone to like something.

Also, try to stop worrying about making every minute of his day about education and give him some space to enjoy his childhood and develop as a person. Remember that childhood isn't just about maximising learning potential, but also about having fun and cultivating social bonds.

  • I made a couple of edits to your post to soften the language slightly. Feel free to revert if you feel they are in error. – magerber Sep 7 '17 at 16:17
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I am a voracious and early reader as is my children's father. I, like you, really wanted my children to learn to enjoy books the way I always had. I live in Los Angeles, which means that my life is spent sitting in a car, in traffic.

When my children were young, whenever we were in the car, we would listen to audiobooks. I would made a list of chapter books that sounded interesting and I thought they would enjoy, and we would listen to them. When one book would end, we would take turns picking out the next book from the list. It was fun, gave us something talk about, and allowed me the chance to stop the tape and explain a concept that they might not understand, or relate something that happened in the story to something we had experienced, etc.

At the school they attended, they would often be given an assignment to read a book over the summer--both boys would often choose books by the same author or that continued a series that we had begun on audio.

Nowadays, both of my children are young adults. My older son, who had some trouble learning to read, doesn't devour books like I do, but does read for pleasure, and my younger son always has an audiobook AND a print book that he is reading for pleasure.

An unexpected side benefit is that both boys seem to have a really strong memory of what they have read/heard--much better retention than I have ever had for anything I read, either for pleasure or education. They also sometimes used books that we had listened to together as subjects for analysis in their academic work (comparing them with an assigned book, etc.)

I think the best way to foster a love of reading, is to introduce your child to the pleasures that come from losing oneself in the fictional world created by the book. Listening to audiobooks is a great way to teach your child to love that process-once he is hooked on that experience, his drive to pick up a book and read it to experience that pleasure should evolve naturally.

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I homeschool my 3 younger kids. My two older went through mainstream. One of the older ones hated reading, the other loved it, later that swapped and one became totally interested in books and the other lost interest. My oldest son (kid 3) really struggled to learn to read. I had a homeschooling mentor far more experienced than me tell me I was really going about it all wrong.

She said I was far too interested in him reading "at grade level" than I was about whether or not I was fostering in him a desire to do it. Then she advised me to do something I really thought sounded preposterous, but I did trust her. She told me to stop trying to teach him. She told me to read all the reading parts to him, to avoid mention of anything asking or suggesting he read something himself, and just make it a non issue. This sounded to me like the opposite of what I should do with a child who is already "behind" by almost 2 years in reading skills. I asked her for how long, expecting a month or two. She said a year.

I blew off what she said initially and continued to fail miserably at helping him advance. He continued to get frustrated and upset and tell me he was "stupid" and all sorts of things that broke my heart. It was made worse that his little brother (kid 4), who is several years younger, picked up reading on his own and rocketed way past him in skills. He was over it and hating everything about reading. So after a few weeks of thinking about what she had said, I decided maybe she was right. So I stopped and put my trust in her knowledge and experience.

About 8 months into that and seeing no progress, I thought I had totally messed up. I thought I should have trusted my gut because now we are 8 more months behind and he isn't even trying at all on his own. I talked to my mentor, again. She reassured me it was going to be okay. I agreed I would try it a little longer, but I was starting to feel like a bad mom for not actually trying to do something about his reading troubles. By 10 months, he was reading at his grade level. I cannot explain that. I do not know how it happened even. All I know is I caught him reading. I asked him what he was doing. I asked him to read out loud to me. I quizzed him on comprehension and I was blown away.

Maybe he finally had something click. Or maybe my approach was causing him push back that I didn't realize. I wasn't unkind. I was saying things like how he is smart and he can do this and it just takes practice, etc. I don't admonish my children when they struggle on studies. I am very much more of a cheerleader. But I think what I messed up for my kid was his desire to do it. I think I was too encouraging when he needed me to be more casual about it. I think I wanted him so badly to know the joy of reading that I was more like a pushy salesperson than a teacher.

I am not saying you are like me. I tell you all that simply to say, that many times if we give our children the space and access to something like amazing, fun, interesting books, and have faith, they will find their way to finding interest in them. I do not think we have to try to make that happen so much as it might seem. And I can tell you as a mom with 4 past the age you are talking, not all kids love reading. Some will, some won't, and you can't make that happen. My almost 8yr old is a brilliant reader and he will read for "fun", technical things. His father is similar. My son would rather read the manual for the new printer we got (and he has) than read a classic novel or even do a "fun" educational game. He likes facts and he likes his facts to be about how things work. Because I do think stories are good for your soul, he does like to be read to before bed, so I read him a chapter a night on a book I loved at his age and then we can discuss, etc. He enjoys that and so do I (most of the time). He can absolutely read it alone, but he won't. I know my kid. ;) Now the older one that "hated reading" and started late is reading about a book a week or so (300+pages). I never ever thought I would see that happen.

You should do what you think will help him enjoy reading. So make that the focus of whatever approach you take on it. Most people of any age naturally enjoy something less if they feel made to do it. So you either have to somehow make them think it's their idea, or find a way to inspire a curiosity. Perhaps you can do what I have done at other times (like book reports). I would refresh my memory (as most of the books I have read already at some time) and then I would tell them part of the story right up to something exciting and then refuse to tell what happens next & leave a bookmark where the story continues from where I left off. I would tell them that. I would say..

and if you want to know how he manages not to die because he is stuck hanging off that cliff, you can start reading here, on chapter three. It will tell you what happens next.

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