Reading for Pleasure versus Reading for School
Reading can be an essential part of a child’s life, especially when unschooling or homeschooling. Some children read at age four, others may not look at a book until age eleven, but literature plays an important part in the lives of many. Be it a novel, poetry, or a book of facts, there’s not much you can’t learn about from a good old book. Because of this, it is imperative that we encourage younger generations to embrace reading. Unfortunately, mainstream schooling can sometimes do the opposite. Reading a book pre-assigned by school is a completely different experience to reading a book you have chosen for yourself, and what it brings to a child’s learning experience can differ hugely.
Connecting with Fictional Characters
When reading for pleasure, children learn to empathize, to become aware of the issues faced by a character that also exist in real life, and learn to imitate traits they admire in their favorite characters. It gives them a genuine love for characters that they will carry with them their whole lives, who become a source of comfort to them, and to whom they will return time and time again. From the time I began to read Harry Potter at the age of seven, I began making fictional friends that I think about to this day. I started to understand that friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice were things I wanted to incorporate into my own life. I learned that being smart was a good thing, and that women were every bit as strong as men. When reading for school, characters become titles with list of traits, relationships, and themes beneath, instead of complex people who are so real to you that they leap off the page. But a strong connection to the characters is vital to appreciating and identifying with a piece of fiction.
The Issue of Choice
When a child reads for pleasure, he choose what he reads and therefore learns to see books as enticing. He recognizes books as adventures to lose himself in. On the other hand, reading for school takes away that choice and can create a resentment for books that could stay with the child forever and discourage reading completely.
Good books of all genres, thick with pages stained with dirty fingerprints, should be stacked around your house available for your children to reach for. Easy readers labelled by grade and age are another breed entirely. Some people choose to refrain from limiting their children’s reading choices, allowing the child to read anything she comes across. This depends on you as a parent, and your views on permitting a child to read material that may be considered too mature for her. Reading is not something that can be forced. Your child may not show any interest in the classics, and that’s fine. If she enjoys reading, there’s nothing to stop her picking up Shakespeare in twenty years and falling in love with it then.
Analysis Instead of Natural Understanding
When reading for his own amusement, a child subconsciously becomes aware of the themes of the story, storing them to think about when he comes to a natural pause in his reading. This naturally awakens a child's moral consciousness, for example on the issues of racism or sexism, as he reads. On the contrary, reading for school is purely analytical and constantly interrupted by a request to underline a word and give an "explanation" of what it represents. The natural flow of reading is broken, therefore so is the child's concentration, and his interpretation of the book becomes that of his teacher's, not his own. My experience with the novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a good example of this. I was raised in the UK where this novel is not on the curriculum, so I read it when I was somewhat older. I learned so much about racism and the civil war without realizing it, and I never had to open a single textbook.
Opportunities to Learn
Reading for pleasure means reading slowly and at your own pace. It means having the time to be able to stop and think or even look something up. I learned most of my history from novels by the likes of Philippa Gregory and history books that read like stories. Reading for school hinders this learning because students are busy preparing answers for possible questions that may come up on the test, meanwhile missing important aspects that might interest them or enhance their learning.
For me, although things like the author's intentions and the representation of imagery are interesting, had I concentrated on these elements alone I might have skimmed over lots of knowledge that would have led me to pursue other interests. My cousin fell in love with the play Romeo and Juliet at a very young age, and was allowed to watch it many times. Because her love for this was encouraged and not pushed upon her, when the time came for her to study the play at school, she had no apprehensions. She knew it word for word, and passed her exam with flying colors, purely out of passion and not due to hours of torturous study. My point is, she succeeded because she enjoyed it, and she lived in an environment where her curiosity was allowed to flourish and so lead her to other things.
This is not to say that reading for school destroys the enjoyment of reading for everybody. Some schools do a wonderful job of encouraging reading. However, the restraints caused by standardized testing, grades, and the different “hoops” children are required to jump through at different levels in their schooling can damage their appreciation of literature.
Free reign over reading choices, an abundance of books, and a natural reading pace can do wonders for a child’s learning development and give her a love for reading that will stay with her forever.