Tag Archives: Raising kids who want to read

Parenting Researchers: Check Your Privilege


Zero-To-Three just ran this summary on their Facebook page MIT language study and I felt so sad.  For everyone.  For the umpteenth time in the past few years, I am in the awkward position of agreeing with “experts” that kids learn language skills best with face-to-face interaction that expands language, but I also appreciate why some cultures don’t interact with children like MIT researchers want them to.  My concern is that the  researchers can’t seem to see beyond their bubble of middle class privilege.

Because I have the good fortune to treat children in their homes, and have family and friends that span every economic group from barely-getting-by to (almost) Richie Rich, I have seen a lot of parenting styles.  A lot.  Here is what I see:

Parents teach children to behave so that they will succeed in the culture their parents exist in and the world they hope their children will access.  How parents interact with their children is also affected by how stressed they are.  No parent thinks about this consciously.  But there are huge differences, right from the start.

What I think the MIT folks haven’t realized is what goes on for those parents who come home after working two jobs, who worry about which bills to pay now and if they will have a job this time next month. These good, hardworking folks don’t have the extra bandwidth to chat with their children in the same way that a less stressed parent does.  Maybe the researchers haven’t thought to ask, maybe they assume that what they see in an interview tells the whole story.  But they haven’t seen these families in their own homes and how they live their lives.

When that proud, super-stressed, working-class parent thinks about their child’s future, they see a job with benefits, a job that can’t be outsourced, a job that has automatic raises.  Many of the jobs they dream about for their children are government or union jobs.  These jobs require obedience to rules and to supervisors.  In these positions, telling your boss that he or she is wrong could cost you your job.  Staying out of controversy and following the rules gets you to the next rung on the ladder.

When their child questions a request, they aren’t going to have a heart-to-heart with him about why they don’t want to unload the dishwasher.  A parent wants it done because they need to do three loads of laundry immediately and won’t be done with it until 2 am tonight.  Everyone in their family has to help to make tomorrow a possibility.  And they want their child to know that refusal to follow a supervisor’s order could mean that they could be out of a job and maybe out of a home.

Someday there will be someone at MIT that learns more about these families, is brave enough to say what they think, and maybe even publish a study.  That will be something that I can’t wait to post on my blog!

NPR’s Interview With the Author of “Raising Kids Who Want to Read” Raises Questions As Well

NPR posted an interview with Daniel T. Willingham, the author of “Raising Kids Who Love to Read”, and I will read his book with excitement for more details and suggestions.  I am wondering if anyone developing education policy is thinking about this issue in the same way as the author.  My takeaway message from the interview was that parents who display a love of reading, and actively express the belief that reading is an enjoyable way to spend time and gain knowledge, will raise children who love to read.  It may be more effective than increasing the the amount of books in a home, and maybe more important than the overall quality of the books.  I personally know families of modest means that manage to send the first message, and wealthy families that do not.

Sending this message to children is subtle and takes time to impart, but I think the author has a great point.  Children watch and learn from actions as well as statements, and their family values will stay with them for a very long time whether they are spoken or unspoken.  A family that values reading and lives that value actively could support even a child with learning differences to persist and thrive in the world of books.  On the other hand, a family that sees reading as only necessary to get good grades or gain status, but is not done for enjoyment, is going to send a very different message.  And families that are scrambling to just survive might have books in their home but struggle to model how they fit into daily life.

I intend to write a full review once I have read this book, and I am interested to see if the author has some practical suggestions to support literacy in the most vulnerable families.