Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | October 25, 2010

Should You Make Your Kids Read?

While we were on the beach recently, our idyllic moments were interrupted by a particularly unhappy child. Okay, let’s tell the truth, she was a whiny and annoying child. She and her brother, perhaps ages 7 and 9 or so, were sitting behind us while Mom and Dad had pulled their chairs down to the water, far, far away from the kids. Couldn’t say that I blamed them, hey, this is supposed to be vacation and these kids were probably on their last nerve if the whining and arguing of today was any sample of what was going on all week.

“Mommy, Mommy, Todd is kicking sand on my blanket.” “Mommy, Moooommmmm, Todd got sand on my towel.” “MOOOMMMMM!!! Todd got water on my chair.” It went on, got louder with each complaint, and eventually began to drown out that lovely sound the ocean makes that is normally so calming and soothing.

Needless to say, we needed this to stop. Apparently, so did the mom, who finally, called out, “IT’S MANDATORY READING TIME!” Todd was none too happy about this, “Are you kidding?” “No,” Mom answered. “Do I have to?” “Yes,” mom replied.

And, here’s the part I couldn’t believe. He took out a book and started reading. The little girl ran down to Mom and had some private words and stayed there for a while. I don’t know if she read or not.

My girls and I looked at each other and we wondered, “Is this okay?” Should there be “mandatory reading time” on the beach? Or ever? I’m not sure I like the sound of it, “mandatory reading time.” It sounds… so, well, regimented. But, I’m all for parents encouraging kids to read, so I’m conflicted.

Our three girls all learned to read in their own time without mandatory anything. Alexis didn’t learn until the summer after first grade, but from the moment she did, she’s loved it passionately. Shira learned a bit earlier and also loved it. Tamra learned to read at the beginning of first grade, but didn’t learn to love it until several years later. Throughout her childhood, she loved listening to stories, but she would rarely take out a book and read for fun. I was disappointed that she didn’t devour books like the rest of us, but figured that as long as she was capable of reading, the choice was hers to make. Eventually, almost into adulthood, she developed a love of reading so I guess I never had to worry.

Overall, though, while I appreciate that mom’s desire to help her kids learn to read, I think beach time shouldn’t involve mandatory anything. Maybe that’s what bothered me. What do you think?

Alexis Writes:

A not so wise man once quoted the band My Morning Jacket and said “BAD IDEA!!!!” Reading should never be mandatory, way to ruin something that should always be done for enjoyment. Trends in reading instruction now all point to the theory that if there is one way to get kids to NOT be interested in reading it’s to make them do it. Kids should be motivated to read, either to learn or enjoy a story. That mom got it wrong, folks. The beach is for fun in the sun, and if your fun involves reading, then great, but for most kids it’s playing in the sand, swimming in the ocean, building sand castles, and flying kites.

Tamra Writes:

Totally bad idea. I think it’s fine to have some reading time set aside for your kids, but it shouldn’t be “mandatory reading time.” Perhaps the kids could pick a time they would like to read each day, or a few times a week. First you’ll have mandatory reading time, and next thing you know, you’re having your children sign out to go to the bathroom. At some point, parents need to realize that not every minute of every day needs to be regimented and scheduled.

It really sounds like mom needed “mandatory stop bothering me time,” which is totally different.

Shira writes:

I think that  mother went the most wrong by calling it “mandatory reading time.” That just sounds like a punishment. Every teaching professor I had in college repeated over and over never to give work as a punishment. Reading to your kids or taking the time to find books about things that they are actually interested in is the best way to get them excited about reading. Yes, it will take more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to put in the time, you probably shouldn’t have had kids.

“Mandatory stop bothering me” time, on the other hand, is absolutely allowed. Get your kids some sand toys and leave them alone.


Our mandatory beach time looks like this!



  1. I’m conflicted, too. My oldest, a girl, is a fantastic reader – and loves to read. But, in 8th grade she still has a “reading log”. Which, I think for her is just demeaning. My second, a boy – hates it. He wouldn’t read a word if he didn’t have to. My third, another boy, is an excellent reader, but is too busy to stop and read unless he is told to do so. However, our school requires the 4th grader to read 30 mins a night and the 1st grader to read 20 mins. Does this happen every night? Heck no! But, for them, mostly the older, it’s a good way for them to relax and work on their reading skills.

    • I know from my teaching years that a lot of boys don’t enjoy reading until much later in life. Parents often struggle to find “boy” books only to find that none of it matters, their sons just don’t choose reading as a leisure time activity. Don’t sweat it. I heard a famous and successful author admit that he didn’t read a book until he was 35. He got through school reading book jackets! Now he reads and writes books, two of which were made into movies. Honestly, I think the best thing parents can do to encourage reading is to model the behavior by reading daily and then talking about what you read (or at least mentioning it) to your kids when you come across something interesting. Thanks for commenting, though. It’s always interesting to know how other parents deal with issues.

  2. I agree – no Mandatory reading time! Reading is what you do because you love it, not as a punishment!!!
    Reading is a great way to escape whatever. I do enjoy some reading time on the beach (and so do all my kids). Even if the mom wasn’t using it as punishment mandatory reading time doesn’t work to instill a “love” of reading. My kids were not athletic so in the summer when I threw them out of the house they more than likely ended up under the tree or on the porch reading.

  3. A summer day spent on the porch reading sounds like heaven to me! Your kids are lucky to have an understanding and supportive mom.

  4. I’d gather that, “Mandatory reading time” was much appreciated by the people on the beach who were previously having to listen to those kids act bratty and ruin the peace of the beach for everyone surrounding them. Sounds like the kids needed something to settle them. Maybe mom knew best. Perhaps she knew that reading would distract them from their mood as well as restore the peace for everyone including herself and all those trying to enjoy the beach. Why are parents so worried about telling kids what to do? A bit of mandatory reading won’t kill them and I doubt would make a kid hate reading later in life. I’ll bet you’ll never find a young adult in prison or big trouble of any kind because their parents gave them mandatory reading time. If they are now an adult who hates to read they probably would have been an adult who hates to read anyway.
    The mother of 5 well adjusted kids

    • Appreciated by others or not, “mandatory reading time” certainly seems like a much easier way of parenting than taking responsibility for your children. In that situation, it may have been effective for the mother to say “Your behavior is not appropriate for a public place and if you don’t leave each other alone, we will leave the beach.”

      • If only all parents actually cared about how their kids’ actions and behavior impacted on other people. Alas, not everyone is as good a parent as the readers of this blog. (Yes, they are discriminating and talented.) I don’t blame the mom for wanting to enjoy her beach time, too. I just wish she had found a less punishing way to do so! Maybe if she had even said, “Todd, I’m in the middle of a great book. Give me about a half hour to enjoy it and then we can build a sand castle together. Why don’t you read, too?” That might have worked.

  5. I suspect you are right about the number of folks in jail from “mandatory reading.” Well said, no wonder your five are well adjusted!

  6. This is a very tricky question. As a teacher, I think assigning work as a punishment for behavior is always a bad idea. “Stop talking or I’ll double your homework” might as well be translated as “I want you to hate practicing as much as possible.”

    I feel that time should be set aside for reading, either as a family, or as individuals. Instead of having dinner and sitting down to watch Big Bang Theory, or Jersey Shore (which is tantamount to a visual lobotomy) a family could light some candles, make some tea and sit and read together.

    If a child sees their parents enjoying reading and making it a part of every day life, they are more likely to enjoy it themselves. They could end up associating reading with comfortable family togetherness.

  7. I love, love, love the idea of setting a reading scene at home — the candles, the tea — fabulous. You must be a terrific teacher, too.

  8. While mandatory reading wasn’t a problem for me as I read as much as I possible could, it was a struggle for my brother. He ended up reading for 20 minutes each night in a different location to try and make it fun…That didn’t work out so well and he still hates to read. My parents tried everything they could to get us to learn our multiplication tables, which we wouldn’t do, even when we were offered ice cream if we finished our set of math problems.
    I think agree with the comments that mandatory reading time becomes a punishment. The negative behavior could have been redirected in a better way, and both should have been disciplined for their poor behavior…time out or something of the sort.

  9. I agree that “beach mom” probably should have separated her annoyance and handling of that from her desire to have the kids read. So, I’m guessing you guys finally learned to multiply,right? I wonder in looking back what you think your parents could have done differently to motivate you to follow through with all the school work more happily?

  10. I agree with the mom. Geesh, I think I always do! 🙂

  11. Of course! Mother is always right!

  12. I think you should encourage your children to read, for sure. Nowadays there are so many formats in which you can do this, besides just the traditional book. There are educational computer games, hand held devices (and today’s kids are growing up to be little tech mavens – why not use the technology available?). I always tell people that I’m as smart as I am because of reading, and it’s true! Never went to college, but have done well in life and have run two successful businesses all on my own. I began trying to read at the age of 4 when my Dad first taught me the alphabet. It was the smartest thing he ever did!
    I have always loved books, and am all the smarter for it! When I come across people who don’t read, I’m sad for them. They are missing out on SO much! You not only get to learn through books, but you also get to travel and expand your world far beyond any borders by reading. If you can figure out how to get your children to love reading, you will be doing them such a great service that will enrich them for the rest of their lives!!

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  14. Excellent post! Continue the good work.

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