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Why You Need to Let Children Choose Their Own Books

On the last day of our summer vacation, I told my kids they could each pick out a souvenir from the national park gift shop. They chose the $7 grab bag of fake gemstones. Literally something we could buy at our local dollar store, and had no significance to the place we’d been. I was sure the stones would end up at the bottom of our toy bin. I cringed while I made the purchase and handed over the tiny drawstring bags to their eager hands.

But the lesson learned here is that the only poor judgement in this situation falls entirely on my shoulders. Because my children have played with those darn faux rocks for hours and hours over the past week. They sorted. They traded. Now they’ve opened a restaurant, serving up rock appetizers and gem salads and quartz coffees. They’ve written up menus. Calculated the cost of the countless 7-course meals they’ve served.

This same lesson plays out over and over when our children choose their own reading material (books, websites, magazines, etc.) We adults are quick to scoff at the graphic novels (or what we used to call comics), the potty humor books (I’m looking at you, Captain Underpants), or yet another princess series.  We often see these books as unimportant, something with little potential for high impact. Trivial, even.

But we MUST stop judging a child’s book selection, even if it’s the hardest thing and requires you to fake it until you make it.

Children that have positive experiences reading and interacting with books, no matter their age, will want to do it again.

And when they do it again, they might choose the same book, author, genre, or they may choose to experiment with something different. The key is that THEY are the ones doing the choosing.

This is true for adults, too. Let’s say you’ve just started to learn to cook. You’re enjoying experimenting with Asian stir fries or new pasta recipes. There is the occasional burnt chicken or soggy bread, of course, but you remain motivated because it is new and interesting to figure out what to make next. Wouldn’t that experience feel different if someone told you the proper order of dishes to prepare? Or worse, said that your spaghetti wasn’t good enough? It would no longer feel like a hobby, but rather a chore you must complete under intense scrutiny.

We do this to our children ALL the time when we roll our eyes when they choose reading material we deem less than worthy, or maybe too “above or below” their reading level.

Remember when they were babies and you were sure they might suck that pacifier straight through ‘til high school? We promise you they won’t read Diary of a Wimpy Kid forever. (Although I will miss that family’s high jinks when they stop!) After all, are you still reading Sweet Valley High?

I desperately want my 9-year-old to start getting into some of the phenomenal novels that are perfect for his age and reading ability. But he clings to his Sports Illustrated for Kids each month when it arrives, and reads it over and over again. I’ve realized that my frustration is with myself: I want to impress upon him MY reading style and preferences, instead of celebrating his unique interests. So I’m learning to let it go and just appreciate his desire to learn and read each day. Those novels aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be waiting for him when or if he’s ready to put down the Sunday sports page and the home page.

The books your child chooses may not be important to you. Or to their teacher. Or even their friends. But something about that book captured your child’s attention. So stop worrying about length, page numbers, lexile scores, AR points, and let your child choose the books they want to read.

Chances are, much of what they read during their school day is directed by curriculum or the teacher: so make their time at home self-directed.

It is one of the simplest ways you can inspire your child to love reading.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


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