Can Your Child Read Too Much?

You wonder if your children are ever going to learn to read. They spend all their time running and jumping around, and when presented with a flashcard that spells C-A-T, they stick out their tongues and run away.

Then... somewhat magically... it happens! It starts with "The cat sat on the mat," but pretty soon it's "The cat pounced, swiped a paw, and devoured the fish with gusto."

Hooray for reading! You are elated! And one morning you proudly declare that your child is regularly sitting and reading stories alone for up to an hour at a time. This is great because it gives you time to sweep the house.

But an hour turns into two hours. You check your email and write a long letter to your mother.

Three hours. You are starting to feel guilty about the "me time" you are getting, but you are also grateful.

A potty break and a subsequent carrot pulled out of the fridge and slowly nibbled.

Four hours.

Lunch break then more reading?

Yet another hour passes!

You quietly suggest that perhaps the two of you could do some art together. You entice with scissors. Glue. Paint. You end up drawing a stick figure dog by yourself while your child ignores you. You give up.

He runs upstairs to join you while you are folding laundry on the bed, and he jumps into the pile of laundry and giggles. You are relieved that he is up, and you feel needed! You tickle him. He jumps up and down on the bed about twenty times, and once he is all good and sweaty, he disappears again.

You find him back in the chair reading!

Finally, you put your foot down and demand that he get dressed and come with you to the playground. He refuses. You just don't have the energy to fight it any more, so you let it go.

"Spends most of her time reading"

Here's some personal perspective. My most prominent memory of Kindergarten is of the classroom library. It was a closet that was stuffed with bookshelves and pillows on the floor. 

I can close my eyes now and feel the floor beneath me, my lap piled with pages, absorbed in one fantasy after another. I spent almost the entire year in there, just reading, and to my Montessori teacher's enormous credit, she just let me!

I know this because my Kindergarten report cards all say, "Spends most of her time reading. Does not choose any works on the math shelf." Listed on the report card are some of the math lessons she modeled for me or did with me.

She then goes on to explain that those are works that I avoided like the plague. She describes my love for reading with exclamation marks. Reading these notes, it is obvious that she respected my interest and trusted that it was the right one for the time.

Secret Shame

Reading continued to be my interest, and this meant that I got much better at hiding it, as I transitioned from a Montessori school to a traditional public school. In every class from Kindergarten on, I had a book open inside my desk, hidden by papers.

I was notoriously disorganized, so there were plenty of papers available for a blanket of protection. If my teachers knew this, they usually chose to ignore it. I was quiet and studious and the teachers had much bigger fish to fry.

I was well aware that my addiction to reading was "wrong" in the eyes of the school, but I continued with my passion. My parents fed this with as many books as they could afford to buy me and frequent trips to the library.

Follow the Child

These days I have much less time for reading. There are always dishes to wash, soups on the stove, and outings to plan. Not so for my son. His days seem endless and full of free choice.

When I look at my little boy, totally immersed in the words on a page for hours and hours, I worry. Is he getting enough exercise? Does he have enough friends? Will he learn to like math as I never did? Will the fantasy life he devours pull his personality in another direction? 

Then I think about that little girl, curled up on a cushion, happiness overflowing in her lap, and I think...she turned out okay. Following the child can really be that simple. We don't all have to be well rounded, you know.