Reading Should Be Like Chocolate Cake, Not Spinach

Reading should be like chocolate cake

Most parents know that reading benefits children — a lot. It helps them do better in school, fosters social and emotional growth, and provides a foundation for lifelong learning. Knowing this, many parents naturally conclude: My kid has got to be a reader. Since reading is so important, I have to ensure that my child reads.

What happens next is well-described by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, editors at The New York Times Book Review and authors of the book How to Raise a Reader. Children get the sense that reading is an obligation — something they need to do because it’s good for them, and something they have to do in order to stay in the good graces of their parents and teachers. They come to view reading as more like spinach than chocolate cake.1

This is a huge problem because few people of any age love to do what people tell them they have to do. So, what happens is that most kids never get a decent shot at falling in love with reading. 

They may do their duty, and many will end up liking reading well enough, but that doesn’t do the trick, because when people only like reading, reading almost always loses out to the many other stimulating activities that surround us everyday, like social media and Netflix. That’s why the average American high-schooler reads a grand total of six minutes per day for pleasure.2

So what’s a parent to do?

The answer is to create a household culture that maximizes the chances they’ll fall in love with books and reading. This way, when they’re older they are more likely, at least sometimes, to choose reading over other attractive activities. For your children, reading should be like chocolate cake, not spinach.

Ask yourself: what practices and mindsets can I bring into my home that will support my child falling in love with reading? 

Do: Read to your child regularly, even past the age when they can read themselves, and focus on telling the story!

Don’t: Reward your child for reading. Kids don’t expect rewards for things that are pleasurable. (You’d never say: “You did such a good job eating those gummy bears, I’m going to give you a dollar.”) If you reward your child, you’re subtly telling them that reading is NOT pleasurable.3

Do: Put books everywhere around the house.

Don’t:  Worry about whether your child is reading “the right” books. Worry about whether they are enjoying books!

Do: Read yourself, and make sure your child sees you reading. Share the insights, delights, and personal growth you are experiencing from books, in an age-appropriate way.

Don’t: Let your child see you using your phone more than they see you reading.

Remember, from your child’s point of view, reading should be like chocolate cake, not spinach.

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Reading Should Be Like Chocolate Cake, Not Spinach
  1. Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers, The Atlantic Magazine, September 19, 2019.
  2. Daniel Willingham, Raising Kids Who Read, p. 1.
  3. Willingham, p. 124.