Hey, I'm "Reading" Here!
July 23, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Toddler Zizzle doesn't like being read to, but he likes to "read" books on his own. Should we make more effort to read to him, or is this okay for now?

TZ is two and a half. He had an EI intervention and was determined to have a language delay, but has all the right precursors for language and he uses two word phrases contextually and he babbles a mile a minute pretty much constantly. So he just seems to need a little help, which he should be getting soon.

I want to read books to him, and we have a lot of books for him. He loves his books, but he doesn't like us to read to him. He does like to take them and "read" them himself. He'll flip through the pages and then proudly shout, "The end!" And he'll do this for a long time. But any time we try to read to him, he grabs the book, says, "Mine!" and sits down to "read" to himself. Sometimes he clears his throat, "Ahem!" like and will clearly start to "read" to us.

Sometimes I'm able to read to him on the train during our commute, but lately he'd rather "read" to himself on the train. We also took to reading to him when he was having his bath, but now he wants to take the books in the bath....

Reading is clearly important for language, and I want to read to him --- but he'd rather read to himself. How much do we just sorta insist on reading to him whether he likes it or not? I'd much rather not make reading a power struggle, and I'm happy he likes books so much. I just wish I could read one to him.
posted by zizzle to Education (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how important reading is for language--illiterate people speak.

That said, what do your doctors say about his insistence on "reading" by himself? Maybe that's how he's learning what letters mean.
posted by dfriedman at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

My daughter who is about to turn 4 also did this. She doesn't have any language delays or anything, so I'm not sure how that factors in, but she loved to "read" books to herself and would forcefully take them out of my hands, or put her hand over my mouth to shut me up so she could "read" the page herself.

She will be 4 on August 2, and it's only been in the last week (!) that we have been able to get into a routine of me reading her a couple of books at bedtime, and she now insists on it. But she has done a lot of pretend writing and pretend reading--more than either of her brothers did, who let us read to them from infancy. She is always pretending to read signs and packages and so on. In her case, she's kind of a bossy little know-it-all who likes to do everything for herself, and I think this was probably just an expression of that part of her personality. It's fun that I can finally read to her. I felt like a bad slacker parent for awhile there! And it was hard to trust that we'd get there. But here we are, at last.
posted by not that girl at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2011

Long term, I think the most important thing is that he continue to experience books as joyful things rather than the nexus for struggle. Can you do other things, like sing together or recite simple poetry, that reinforces language? Full disclosure: these thoughts stem from intuition, not knowledge.
posted by carmicha at 7:10 AM on July 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

We have a 2 1/2 year old at home who is doing exactly the same thing right now. Sometimes he'll read to us a little, but I think it just goes with the whole "I do it myself" theme that seems to be their little jobs right now. Sneak in your reading when he'll let you, and maybe ask him to read to you to encourage his language. Yelling "the end!" is a fun way to practice words :)
posted by goggie at 7:26 AM on July 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I DID know how to read at that age. My father tells a story of how I surprised my godmother: "Auntie Ruthie, that sign says 'exit' ".

Nthing goggie.
posted by brujita at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2011

If he's being possessive about 'his' books, maybe have some books that aren't 'his' and read those? Or make up (/memorise stories from books he hasn't heard yet) stories to tell him - that way there's no book for him to snatch and if he decides to take over the duties of telling stories too that's no bad thing is it?
posted by missmagenta at 7:44 AM on July 23, 2011

Isn't pretending to read a normal thing for pre-literate kids to do? (Disclaimer - I have no children and am not around kids much at all.) One of my earliest memories is of the day I started reading for real - I was with my dad, at my grandparents' house, sitting on the floor with a copy of "Green Eggs and Ham" and I think something just clicked, like that 'Miracle Worker' moment where Helen Keller finally understands what words are. Dad thought I was just play-reading, but I read out loud to prove it, and I remember him announcing it to my mother the second we arrived home.

I agree with carmicha about keeping it joyful and doing your own reading in front of him. I don't think it always has to be out-loud reading either - both of my parents have always been voracious readers, and I'm sure that the sight of them engrossed in a book must have made me want to copy them.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:44 AM on July 23, 2011

Somewhere I still have copies of my old Winnie-the-Pooh books, in which I took "notes" in the margins when I was that age (my mom was in grad school - monkey see, monkey do!). I liked being read to but also wanted to "read" the books myself. Are there any books that are his favorites, that he's basically got memorized? Because I loved it when my mom read to me, but she'd "read" the wrong words, because then I got to shout the right ones, which made me feel like I was reading. Nthing that even just seeing you read - newspapers, your own books, etc. - will encourage him to think of reading as something that everyone just does.
posted by rtha at 7:57 AM on July 23, 2011

I think pretending to read is exactly what pre-literate kids do, especially kids who have had reading modelled for them by their parents. For language development, probably the most important thing is actually hearing language and having someone engage with them linguistically -- being read to is a piece of that, sure, but mostly in the sense that being read to is an activity than involves language, listening, and engagement. Him "reading" "his" books and preferring that to you reading them to him strikes me as a very toddler-like way to assert his own authority while taking on the task he knows you'd like him to attempt, on his own terms. So I'd say, keep narrating as you go, and let him have "his" books -- your instinct to not make this a power struggle is a good one, and I suspect (if my own headstrong toddlers were any guide) that allowing him this little piece of autonomy/control will make him much more generous in those moments when you (from his perspective) want to butt in with "Hey, would you like me to read what my book says/tell you what those words are?" or whatever.

(Also, one thing that worked to engage my fiercely independent "do it all-my-byself" toddler, who was also REALLY invested in doing things "right," was to be deliberately "silly" about things -- make a big show of picking up a book but holding it upside down and being confused about why the pictures weren't right-side up and being all "Hey! This makes no sense!"... or starting from the end and making a big show of being indignant about it being "wrong"... or holding a book normally and starting from the beginning, but "reading" the story as starting with "THE END!" That stuff never failed to engage her -- either because she found it funny, or because she was moved with righteous indignation about how "wrong" I was doing it, or because she loved being able to be the authority on the book situation and set me straight. It also allowed us to have a lot of fun with language and with storytelling, even though we weren't exactly talking about how we were doing that.)
posted by mothershock at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Our daughter has a language delay. At the same age as your son (she is 4 now) she was not speaking any words at all and not making much eye contact. She would babble sounds that mimicked the rhythm of speech but were not understandable. She wouldn't let us read to her which we had done with our sons, she'd grab the books and flip through them herself but she wouldn't sit and listen to us very often.

What we were taught in a parent training seminar (for children with communication issues) is that we had to get down and "interfere" with her even if it annoyed her, in order to "make" opportunities for her to communicate. So when she had a book we had to essentially get in her face, or in her bubble, and interact with her, to use the book as a communication tool.

The expectation is not to read a whole book at first, the expectation is to use the book to get her to pay attention to specific sounds and words, and get her to mimic our actions (pointing) and what we're saying. With a language delay you have to create communication, you have to set up scenarios that will prompt responses to get them to associate talking with actions and to practice mimicking your actions and words. So, with books - this is helped by simple books with a repetitive structure, or with interesting things to point to, or some pattern you can follow. Then you simplify (don't necessarily try to read the book, try to get in one key word per page) and exaggerate (make your voice bright and dramatic, accompany it with actions like pointing); using "fun" words like animal sounds ("Cow! Cow MOOOO") or sounds objects would make ("VROOOM! BEEP BEEP!").

For instance the book she liked most for a time was "Ten Apples Up On Top". So I would show the book to her and start reading; she would grab it from me. As she was trying to flip the pages I'd get my finger in there and point out and count "ONE. ONE APPLE" and then she'd flip the page and I'd say "TWO, TWO APPLES!" and point again. And she would squawk and try to pull away and I'd get back in there and continue. (You have to persist against the protests - my inclination was much more to leave her to do her own thing but I was told no, get in there and insist on participating.)

So all I could do with the book and her at first was count to ten pretty much. You can also use the book like, every time she had a book, we'd say BOOK! BOOK! and point to the book. Or say OPEN, and fling it open, and then SHUT, and snap it shut loudly. I'd also take her hand and finger and guide her to point at the things I was talking about in the book, counting the apples, etc. Then she started to expect my interference with that book so she'd wait longer and I could actually read some of it to her, and then she started to mimic and point as well. Finally she repeated a couple of the words.

Anyway, so I'd say right now to view his interest in books as a tool you can use to start him with one and two-word phrases that build his vocabulary, and pointing, and associating, instead of the idea that you're going to sit him down and read a whole book to him. And then build off of that until you can read and interact more and more with each book with him. He can have control of the pages if that's important to him, but you can still use that opportunity while he's sitting with the book; eventually he'll pay more attention to what you're trying to show him, because it will be more interesting than just playing with the book himself. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to discuss this more!
posted by flex at 8:06 AM on July 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't know anything about the language delay side of things, but if you've got an iPhone/iPad, your young'un might like the Dr Seuss "One Fish Two Fish" app. It's got three modes: one is all narration and automatic page turns; another is narration and the child activates page turns; the last is all child-activated. They can click on a word and the narrator pronounces it (with good enunciation). They can also click on items in the illustrations ("hat" "bed"). It's got strong rhymes and very simple plots "my hat is old, my teeth are gold..." My 2.25 year old really likes it, quotes it all the time, and now will ask to read the paper book because it's easier to skip around than in the app.

Storytelling might be a nice addition to your rituals too. My kid goes to a Waldorf class where they tell really basic stories. "The kittens go play. They jump. They find a rock. Mother calls them home for dinner. The end." The kids are riveted! Also really simple songs with basic words are a big hit: "one, two, the cow says 'moo'...". If you introduce the stories/songs first and then the book after the song is familiar, the connection might be stronger.
posted by xo at 10:19 AM on July 23, 2011

It's a normal thing for Toddler Zizzle to be doing. He's interested in books, he is emulating what he sees his people doing. It's all good.

Kids are going to learn to read in their own way. I have two great readers. One was reading complete little sentences on his own at age 4, and reading at 5th grade level going into kindergarten. The other refused learn early. Literally refused. "Mom, I just want you to read me the story, ok?" No following the finger, no sounding out words. She was all about the end result-the story. Reading it for herself was too slow and frustrating. She didn't read until about the middle of first grade, then she turned into a straight A student and her HS valedictorian. Go figure. It did turn out that learning to deal with frustration was a major theme in raising her, but it had nothing to do with her smarts or her abilities-only her drive.

The point being, of course, that TZ is different, TZ will learn to read, and you will be awed by him forever. For the time being, since he is emulating, cuddle up with Mr.Zizzle and read a story to him. Maybe TZ will want to get in on the storytime if it is not all about him being the lonely passive responder to your active reader role.

PS: He sounds adorable.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:40 AM on July 23, 2011

The thing about reading to your kids usually stems more from the "make them like books,"/"make them understand that books have words in them,"/"make them aware of the basic mechanics of dealing with a book, like how to hold it" concerns of reading education. If you're getting lots of other communication practice in, without the book prop, you should be fine. And, I mean, even from a reading perspective, your child already demonstrates most of the kindergarten reading readiness behaviors, and you have, what, two and a half more years to get the "books have words in them" part down.

And I was reading at this age, but everyone knew it because I was a little twerp who'd tell people they'd missed the exit sign or recited things from books none of the adults had read yet. The only child I know who was reading things without making that incredibly obvious is a now eight-year-old girl with autism, who learned to read and type almost as fast as I can years ago (she can transcribe movie credits in real time) but has only this last month spontaneously generated spoken sentences. For a while she was responding to her parents' spoken requests by typing "NO" and putting it on Twitter, which was highly amusing to watch from a distance.

(When I was in my personal "I can read to myself" phase, my grandma took to having me tell her stories while she wrote them down for me. This seemed to satisfy her need to do the book thing together, and my need for independence. It's probably also part of why I'm a 7-time National Novel Writing Month participant.)
posted by SMPA at 11:05 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about asking him to read to you?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2011

Sounds normal to me! :) I usually read alongside them and let them be if they're in "I do it myself" mode. If they pick up a new book, I'll offer to read it to them. Or I'll ask, "what do you think is happening there?" and point to a picture. I have a few books that are all pictures and no words, too, so that they can make up their own stories.
posted by hms71 at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2011

Sounds normal to me. All the child librarians, speech paths, teachers, and early childhood educators I've met say that holding a book, pretending to read, babbling along, understanding that the story has "order", and that there's a start and finish are all very important to literacy and also the culture of literacy. If your child is engaging with books while conveying genuine excitement, I'd say those are all good signs. And some kids take a little longer to be ready to sit down and be read to. One ECE I know told me that very young children should be doing "noisy" reading, not sitting quietly and listening. She said there is too much emphasis on having to sit and read. She lectures at University of British Columbia on this subject, so I imagine she knows that she is talking about.
posted by acoutu at 9:42 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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