Thursday, January 3, 2013

Alex and Books

Alex reading a Harry Potter book.

Since Alex started reading when he was 5, he has been a voracious consumer of literature. He has read everything from Moby Dick, and Wuthering Heights (which he thought was too 'mushy'), to Archie comics and Spongebob. 

His real interest is in Science, though. This kid would rather read a medical journal, a book on biology, chemistry, astronomy and just about any other scientific discipline. He went off course recently and picked up a college level Sociology book which he spent several weeks glued to before bed. He gets that from me. I adore science and facts. At one time, before he was born, I envisioned a future with a PhD in quantum physics- until I realized they earned less than I did at the time. So my love for science will have to remain a hobby :-) 

I actually read Alex books on physics when he was a newborn. Yep. When he came home from the hospital, I read him things like The Elegant Universe, a fave of mine, and Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. Was I trying to manipulate his tiny little baby brain cells to be predisposed to science and math? I can't say with certainty as I don't remember having that agenda, but it's not to say somewhere on some level I didn't believe it would help in some way. 

Yes, I read him baby books, lullybys and fairy tales, too. His favorite book as a toddler was a book of baby faces with different emotions- and the face he loved the most was the one that said 'Stinky!'. No signs of a baby genius there.

But from the time he entered the world, he was exposed to science because I loved it and valued it. Before we started unschooling, we would start every school morning with a science experiment. At his 1st grade science fair, he spent an hour discussing robotics with the U of W robotics team that were visiting like he was a professor working out a theory, hands behind his back, pacing and the whole bit. He loves that stuff. I swear that kid was born a grown-up sometimes.

He also loves many other things. And he reads a variety of books, fiction and non-fiction. As an unschooler, he is free to read anything he wants. Anything. I wouldn't dream of censoring his choices. When he read Wuthering Heights I thought it might be a little beyond his comprehension, but I didn't and would never discourage him from trying. He read it all, only he said when there were 'mushy' parts he skipped those, lol. Whether at home, in the book store or at the library, every book is available to him as far as I'm concerned. If he is interested in it, the best way for him to learn about it is to be allowed to read without restriction if that is the way he wants to learn about it.

I met a family recently with a teenage daughter who says she isn't really into reading. That made me sad. My parents literally removed the lock from my bedroom door when I was that age because all I did was lock myself up in my room for hours and hours to read. I never snuck out, or snuck anyone else in, never did drugs or drank alcohol. I wasn't a total nerd- I had friends and my boyfriend was the captain of the basketball team. I just loved to read. Books were so much more interesting (well, boys were also very interesting to me then, too) to me than anything else at that stage of my life. I just couldn't fathom this young 13 year old girl not be curled up every available moment to read books! 

When I asked the girl if she liked certain topics more than others, her mom replied that the  books she wants to read are considered above her reading level, so she isn't allowed by the school to read them until she has read all the required books on the school's list in her designated level. What an injustice! No wonder reading among youth is declining! It seems so unnatural to me for a school to impose arbitrary reading requirements on students. 

People should read because they love it! Alex and I read for entertainment and for information. I'm a research addict, and a science geek, but I still like my vampire novels, too. I don't read anything I don't want to. Why would we force kids to? I'd rather my son muddle through something that is slightly advanced for him and love it, than give him simple books that leave him bored out of his mind and result in a dislike or worse- hatred- for reading because it's been forced on him. Yuck and no thank-you. 

Reading is contagious. When children see their parents and siblings curled up with books, they are more likely to pick them up and develop a real interest for them. One Summer after a camping trip, I had just discovered the Twilight series for the first time- this was just as the craze was beginning- and when we got home I couldn't put the books down. One morning Alex, who I think was maybe 3 or 4 at the time, came into my room to say he was hungry and wanted breakfast. I was already reading, having slept just long enough to recharge so I could continue the story, and I told him I'd be there as soon as I was done with 'this chapter'. I had every intention of doing just that. Several chapters later, as he had been coming in and out of my room asking to be fed for who knows how long by that point, and I, neglectful mother for the first time ever, ignored him and kept saying 'this last chapter', finally was torn from my reading to look up and see him jumping up and down in a happy dance, yelling "I found food, mommy! I found food!". He had foraged in my backpack, still on my bedroom floor where I had left it from the camping trip, too involved in my book to unpack, and he had found some trail mix and started tearing into the pack and eating like a wild animal (in his spongebob underwear) crouched down like the ferral child he was. Well, he'd found food, so he didn't need me anymore as far as I could see, so I said 'Good job honey!' and went back to my chapter. lol 

I'm so glad Alex loves reading (and doesn't think I'm a bad mom for not feeding him that one time). It's hard to inspire a child when they have no interest in books, so half my job is already done for me. I feel like if you can learn to love reading, there is no obstacle you can't overcome in life, really. To me books are still magic, and I hope Alex will feel that way when he's a grandpa one day, too.      

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