Can you turn a non-reading kid into a reader?

Can you teach things to people who don’t want to learn?

What if we just left them behind? Let those who wanted to learn advance and those who wanted to stay stagnant remain where they are?

Is this possibly where parenting comes in?

I’m pretty sure that if you really try, it’s possible to close off your mind and learn nothing. Although I’d bet that your brain, which is something like a sponge and wants to gather up as much information as possible, would even learn something while you tried to learn nothing. Maybe it would store the information until you came to your senses and wondered what you actually learned during that period when you tried to learn nothing.

I want to teach people who want to learn. I want them in my classroom because they want to be there. This is where I struggle with most kids. They’d rather be somewhere else. Why is this? When does it kick in that they become innately curious and actually want to learn? I think it must be around age 37.

But it’s even on the basketball court. More often than not, they don’t want to practice, they want to play. They don’t want to get better, they want to be better.

If I’m willing to let natural forces play their role and let those who don’t care to engage and learn and listen and experience, does that mean I am also OK with that for my own kids? Well, no.

I specifically remember my mother helping me look at universities and helping with applications and basically lighting a fire under my butt to get a move on. But also, the male brain in its teen years is a pile of unorganized Jell-O and needs a little help. At least mine did. I remember a friend who had the same grades as I did, similar financial situation and opportunities and he didn’t go to as good of a university as I did. Why is that? I’d say it was his parents helping — or not helping — guide the way.

Reading is the second most important factor in learning.* — Bradley Charbonneau

I have two boys. Some of you know them well. One is a voracious reader. The other, well, is not. One reads books while walking down the sidewalk downtown. The other must be coerced, bribed, and then still can’t read more than a page or two without daydreaming.

What’s the source of this? My theory is that it’s just plain curiosity.

But that might be oversimplified. People take in information in different ways and at different speeds. I’m a slow reader and in the past few years, I prefer to consume my content audibly. Walking with the dog in the forest and my headphones with an audio book and I will gobble that up.

I’m hungry for information. I want to learn, improve, explore. I just like it.

But what about those who aren’t hungry? Who would rather expend the energy doing something that, ahem, required less energy to expend?

If you know me at all, you probably have an idea of where I’m going with this. Although I can’t say that at the beginning of writing this, I knew where I was headed (which, hint hint, is one of my secret tricks of learning through writing), but I can’t think of a better path to head down than my not-exactly-patented program of Every Single Day.

What if said son read a page per day for a week? Then two pages per day for a week. Then three, then four? Is it possible that he learns to like it? Maybe he learns something and is excited about gaining that knowledge?

Let’s take that apart. Why do people want to learn? Is it truly that they want to be more well-rounded and just smarter? Is there a goal? In my case, I want to learn to be a better writer and I also, frankly, need to learn how to better sell my work to pay the mortgage. But I also like learning because I’m just curious and I like learning things.

I bet my son who likes to read just likes to be entertained. But it can be nice when he knows something from his reading that no one else knows. That’s just plain fun, right?

I can’t deny it. When my other son, the one who doesn’t like to read, knows something that no one else knows, he’s proud to know it. But that can’t be all there is to it? It’s not just a party trick or an ego boost. So why should he try to learn?

  1. Because he has to (his parents say so).
  2. Because he’s supposed to (his school requires it).
  3. Because he’ll look dumb if he knows nothing (peer pressure).
  4. Because it might broaden his horizons.
  5. Because it might open doors (that he didn’t even know existed).
  6. Because it might be fun.

Granted, 4, 5, and 6 were my additions. 1, 2, and 3 are what I imagine he thinks. I bet #5 could be an incentive to learn, to read. That’s fun, right? Not too scary exploring what you don’t know? Or it is exactly that: it’s scary because it’s unknown?

The word confidence keeps coming back to me here. I’m confident in an area unknown to me because I want to learn it — I’m not scared of it, I’m just not familiar with it yet. I’m a firm believer in the growth over the fixed mindset and any knowledge that I don’t have is only knowledge that I don’t yet have.

Maybe it’s a case of slowly building up the confidence to feel comfortable in opening up a new level of knowledge and understanding. But where can it start? If you’re stuck in the fixed mindset and think that this is it and this is far as I go, then yes, it’s going to be an uphill struggle.

But if you could find the tiniest of victories, the smallest of advances, a smidgen of fun and a sprinkling of the excitement of exploration, might that not lead to wanting more?

I dare say that Every Single Day holds true. A tiny drop of energy costs relatively nothing, yet over time can grow to become a powerful river. That’s really it in a nutshell.

It can apply to kids. No, it especially applies to kids.

A page a day. Reading. For a week. It can’t hurt. The paper won’t cut you. The words won’t jump off the page and blemish your skin. It’s a tiny start, but maybe tiny is exactly where we need to begin.

I started off this post with a photo of eReaders. We have the tools. We just need to use them. Even if forced, coerced, and unwillingly, even against those odds, we can make progress and then, maybe with a little dusting of magic, even enjoy it.

* The first is experience.