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Signs You’re Raising a Reader: Looking Beyond Test Results

Doing the work to raise children who are readers can feel complicated. Some moments are warm and content, like finishing a well-loved book together while snuggled up during bedtime. But some nights, you may feel tired and worn out, when all you really want to do is run a bath or sleep. It can also be frustrating, especially in those early years when your child is misreading every other word. And the conversations and debates about what to read, how long to read, who will read, etc., can be incredibly draining. We get it. 

The cure is to stop periodically and notice successes, both small and large. It is important for both you and your child. Think beyond the test scores, the grades, the reading levels, and the Accelerated Reader goals (yuck). These indicators can feel heavy, especially if your child is considered to be behind. And a child reading above grade level can also present concerns, like finding challenging yet appropriate books. This is exactly why it is so vital that we stop to appreciate the many moments when we can find comfort that we are raising children who are readers. 

Start by remembering the definition of a reader. Someone who reads or, even more simply for our youngest friends, someone who looks at books. But moreover, a reader is someone who understands that words have power, whether we are reading them or writing them. They understand that reading and writing can be used for entertainment, persuasion, or information. They begin to wield this power and use it to live a better life. 

You’d never find this information on a report card.

We’re going to give some real examples from our four children, who cover a wide range of reading abilities, that have shown us we are raising real readers.

  • 13 year-old: After a heated argument with my son, we agreed we needed to retreat to our rooms to do some thinking. After a few minutes, I composed a text to my son, summarizing my thoughts about ways we could both improve. I knew if I texted him, he could keep it and review it, where he might not be ready to listen to the words he needed to hear. (I was also worried I hadn’t cooled down enough and if I shared my thoughts, I might get upset again.) But before I could hit send, my son knocked on the door and handed me a letter he wrote to me. It was incredibly thoughtful, and not just a blanket apology. It was clear he had really been thinking. He dug deep and found some reasons why he might have been acting out, things I hadn’t thought about. (With my teacher hat on, I was happily surprised that he used many writing conventions to help convey meaning, such as parentheses, ellipses, and even a semi-colon!) He later confessed that he knew that writing down his thoughts would be easier than saying them because he thought he might cry if he said them aloud. This is a HUGE milestone, y’all. He is using his ability to write (whether he used grammatical conventions or not) to help communicate. 
    • How did he come to this? We have had our kids write thank-you notes over the years to family and friends. Our kids have also heard us read emails and notes aloud to each other to make sure our intended meaning comes through. We also read aloud notes, emails, and cards we receive from others that are important.

  • 11 year-old: This is a child who would be the least likely to tell you that reading is a hobby for him. He puts up a stink about reading at any other time other than long rides in the car or for 20 minutes before bed. And even then, he sometimes complains. He’s also very particular about what books he is willing to read. If it’s not a biography of a famous athlete or historical fiction about troubled times, he is very likely to snub his nose at it. And yet, he can often be found scouring our local newspaper when it comes on the weekends, or pulling up websites to get more information when something has piqued his curiosity. And he asks the deepest, most heartfelt questions based on things he reads, especially about historical events or people who have been through difficult circumstances. 
    • How did he come to this? We are a family that often discusses current events, and we make a pretty conscious effort to inform our children about suffering in the world and throughout history. He doesn’t realize this, but for my son, reading is his access to this information that he craves so much. He feels a strong pull to learn more. It is obvious in his choices of what he reads, and his desire to discuss it with others. For him, reading is a way to expand his horizons. He may scoff at the idea of reading for pleasure, but it’s pretty clear he will use reading as a tool for learning throughout his life.

  • 10 year-old: This 10 year-old loves a project, from adding art to her walls or baking a cake. Recently she asked to borrow my computer so she could make a PowerPoint presentation. Um, ok! I didn’t ask what she was working on, just handed her the computer, happy that she might be entertained for awhile. Later she asked me to think about the books we had read together recently. I rattled off a few and went back to my task. An hour later, she brought me the computer and to my surprise….showed me a presentation about her favorite books we had read together in 2020! My mouth nearly dropped! 
    • How did she come to this? This project showed me she values our time together, but that it can be fun to rank and organize her favorite books. She knows that I track my reading on When we finish a book together, I always ask her how many stars she would give the book, knowing that is the review I will give it. Her opinion means something.

  • 9 year-old: Let the youngest of our bunch be the example that you should never, ever give up on the idea of your child being an avid reader. This was the kid who aggressively tossed board books and picture books as a toddler way more often than he sat to flip through them. He never once sat through an entire story time at the public library. He was late to show an interest in learning his letters. But in second grade, he fell down the rabbit hole that is the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. And now he is the kid that often passes up an opportunity to go play outside because he’s too deep into a book. I’ve even started to notice that when he feels frustrated or upset, he’s turning to quiet time spent reading to regulate his emotions (without me suggesting it). And while at first he maintained he only loved Dog Man, and read those books over and over and over again (and over and over and over), he now happily reads lots of series and authors and genres.
    • How did he come to this? We never gave up on the idea of him being a reader, even when he defiantly (and sometimes violently!) showed zero interest in books. I still got him books as gifts. I still handed him books when he got fussy or bored in the car or on a plane. We tried to never say things like, “Oh, he’s just not into reading,” because comments like that can very quickly define a child. And when he would only read Dog Man, we treated those books like treasured friends and over time, just gently tried to nudge him toward other books, never forcing it. And eventually, he found his way to them.

Look at these as stepping stones, leading down a path toward an adulthood that includes the use of words used in powerful ways: communication tools, relaxation, or a hobby. Perhaps these stepping stones will lead to raising readers in the next generation of your family. 

In a world of education that often seems to want to categorize, track, and label, remember to look for these authentic, genuine signs you’re raising a reader. They may not be quantifiable on a spreadsheet, but they are qualifiable in the heart and that’s what matters. 

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