Why Reading Is More Important Than Tennis

When I was a young mother in my thirties, I had a dear friend who offered to teach the game of tennis to me. I didn’t have a cute tennis outfit so I showed up in jeans and hiking boots, which I imagined looked similar to tennis shoes. After klutzy attempts and many missed balls, my friend pulled me off the courts and said, “Barbara, you don’t even dress right for this game.” Thus ended my budding tennis career.

Through the years, I wished that I could play tennis. My husband plays and it would be great if we could share this sport. Yet, my life has gone well even without tennis. I raised the children, got a job, and functioned in society. No real trauma evolved over my lack of tennis.

Most of us know at least one child who does not read well. We send five year olds to school with the anticipation that they will learn to read. Most show up with eager and excited little faces. Unfortunately, for some, it does not happen or it does not happen easily. It’s as though they don’t dress right for the game of reading.

Although there are many reasons for reading disappointments, the result brings embarrassment and shame to a child. Some develop attitudes. A few pretend not to care. Behind that façade, the child experiences frustration and self-doubt. “Maybe I’m not as smart as my parents think.”

Reading, it turns out, IS a big deal. Every other subject relies on a child’s ability to read. After second or third grade, the emphasis on “learning to read” shifts to “reading to learn.” If you parent a child who does not read well, I urge you to take action sooner rather than later. Initially, you need to know what aspect of reading does not work well.

If oral reading causes humiliation, you can comfort yourself and your child by remembering that very few adults need to read aloud on a regular basis. During the school years, you can support your child by asking teachers to avoid putting your child on the spot. In previous blogs, I suggested ways to make oral reading less embarrassing for a child. Please share these ideas with your child’s teachers.

If the challenge is understanding or recalling ides, you face a bigger but surmountable challenge. The next time I write about literacy, I will describe a way to develop comprehensive thinking. In the meantime, please follow the steps below.

  1. Divide reading into short passages. Less is more.
  2. Before reading, guide the child to make a prediction. “What do you think this paragraph (or page) will tell us?”
  3. Set a purpose before reading. “Read this section to find out . . .”
  4. Following reading, ask the child, “What did you learn?”
  5. When detailed recall is important, ask the child to write, draw, or even act out information immediately after reading each short section.

If your child continues to lack understanding, shorten the passage even more. Experiment to learn whether the child gains better understanding if she or he reads silently or aloud. Is comprehension better if you read to the child?

Whether the challenge is oral reading or comprehension, do everything you can to dignify klutzy reading by responding with the following types of responses.

  1. “Close. I can tell you are thinking.”
  2. “I understand why you said that. However, let’s read this section again.”
  3. “This is a challenge. Many children have trouble understanding this section.”
  4. You can even say, “It’s ok not to know. It’s not ok not to think.”

An attitude of indifference does not tell the true story. Failing to read well, unlike playing tennis badly, carries significant impact. Do all you can to protect a child’s self-esteem. You must be an advocate for your child at school and a source of enduring love and acceptance at home. Reading well matters a lot!