The REAL Reason Johnny Doesn’t Want to Read

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

“Look at this book I am reading! Did you know that Godzilla was in a short movie for the first time in 1910?” This conversation about his latest find in my stack of new books began just after 7 am.

How do we help reluctant kids learn to love reading? What if their resistance is a cry for help? A way to become visible. A way to send up a flare to get someone to notice them?

Johann Herbart as the “father” of educational psychology believed that a student’s interest in a topic had a tremendous influence on the learning outcome and believed that teachers should consider this interest along with prior knowledge when deciding which type of instruction is most appropriate.

How do we help children master reading well enough to follow their interests?

We need to take a constructivist view of education, which means that we must assume students must be actively involved in their learning and concepts are not transmitted from teacher to student but constructed by the learner.

How do we get children actively involved in learning when they are resistant to reading, a skill that is required for many types of learning?

Resistance is that internal dialog that keeps us from doing, growing, and being all that we were created to be. It is as present in educators as it is for the students that they are trying to reach. There are cases of developmental challenges that need to be addressed in learning, but resistance is at the root of many students reading problems that do not have a developmental problem.

Where do we begin to unravel resistance?

We go back to the beginning. We observe how our children learn and take in the world around them. Every child will have one natural intelligence that is stronger than the other. A child who loves numbers and logic might struggle with a language based intelligence such as reading at first unless they are allowed to experience learning in a way that is supported by their strengths.

For example, the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Steps is a method that would resonate with a child with high spatial awareness and ability to recognize patterns. They would do well with this method. As you open the pages, it presents phonics and phonemic awareness in the way of symbols – much like mathematical equations. It is a step by step logic approach will draw in a logical thinker in a way that a linguistically based method would most likely frustrate them. It also provides that all important emotional connection between a student and a teacher. This bond helps form the basis of their intellectual development.

A child that has a high intelligence in language and linguistics will thrive with phonics apps and sound-based methods because it avoids the symbols and sequencing challenges as it builds on the strength of sound awareness.

Seeing the natural strengths in children begins with observation. It also avoids the misunderstanding of resistance. Often resistance to learning is misunderstood as defiance when it is often a defense mechanism to shield a child from the anxiety of failure.

4 Ways to Turn Around a Reluctant Reader

1. Read to your children A LOT!

We read a fiction novel to our children every night. We take turns, and all hang out to hear the latest antics. We have read through Harry Potter series, BFG, and now are working our way through the Phantom Tollbooth.

2. Have your children learn another language online

Duolingo is an excellent free tool for language learning. It also requires students to translate phrases back into their mother tongue by typing it into sentences.

What language should they learn?

Let them try out several different ones and choose for themselves. It is not about mastery, but about exposure to language and reading in more than one way.

3. Give your children access to books at many different reading and interest levels. Get to know your public librarians. Allow your kids to spend time exploring and encourage your kids to get to know the library staff. They can explore and have a feeling of connection with others who love to read and learn.

Our children have a unique opportunity. Their mother is an educational consultant for a book distribution company. This means that there are books everywhere!

Seriously, I had my husband building more bookshelves yesterday for our front hallway. They also have a mother who loves to read, and they see me reading. That is where it begins.

We need to get past labels and begin to see our role as detectives. Why are they resistant? As they start to experience small wins, they will become more confident and with any luck run to you excited about a new book they found.

We Are Always Learning

“Why do you put on yoga music to do yoga, to do meditation, to relax your body?” asks my son as he was drifting off to sleep in our bed. He wanted to snuggle, and I needed to shake off the day.

They notice so much more than we think. I was influenced by my own parent’s habit of movement. My mother always enjoyed riding her bike around the neighborhood, daily calisthenics, and now walks. My father went jogging every evening without fail after a long day at work and into retirement. He continues to walk when he is able. It is their practice in movement.

Why DO I do yoga? I think the question is why did I start practicing yoga.

I began when I was searching for ways to slow the pendulum of mood swings and grab some peace and stability. I thought I could eradicate the mood swings all together until I realized that mood changes are a normal part of living. It is how quickly we find our equilibrium that matters.

I read a study somewhere that said that yoga was good for mood disorders and bought a yoga DVD and a mat. I would move onto taking classes online, and connected with one instruction in particular. David Magone was as much a truth teller as a yoga teacher. He would guide me through the subtle shifts in awareness that made finding the proper alignment possible. He would speak of intention and to stay with your breath. I followed along for a long time before I understood what any of it meant.

Change is like this.

We have to get out of our comfort zone and just begin somewhere. Just write, share, sing, or move, in whatever channel was given to you when you were born to express yourself most freely. It is where you can begin. We have to start if we ever want to learn.

Learning is a moving target.

I have been reading a lot about Curative Education. A healing practice that originated out of the work of Rudolph Steiner and then further developed by Dr. Karl König. Dr. König went on to found the Camphill Movement in Scotland in 1940.

“The world speaks to children through their class teacher if the teacher has first permitted the world in its abundance to speak to them.” Kevin Avison & Martyn Rawson – Towards Creative Teaching

One of the most powerful things that I discovered about Waldorf teachers is the focus on the foundation of the teacher’s inner life. As we started homeschooling on our own, I was looking for a guide. A daily what to do type of thing.

The problem is that my children and your children are evolving. They are always in transition, so a step by step plan just doesn’t flow well. The curriculum is the child, so we must learn to flow through it with them.

As I began this path of learning how to help my son, I was frustrated by my lack of knowledge of how best to begin. I followed my connection to nature and found ways to soothe us all in the connection there.

It would be my education of my inner life that has led to the awareness needed to help him. As I began to understand my inner storyteller and the false dialog, my new knowledge spilled over into parenting. As with any moving target, there are days when I do better than others.

That is why I do yoga at the end of the day. It is about acceptance that I must continue to stretch and find stability in myself to guide myself and my children through life.

They are paying attention, and we are always learning. Our life begins again each day.

The Art of Paying Attention

“What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random are just patterns we can’t decipher.” ~Chuck Palahniuk

Paying attention is the first step to intellectual development. It is what all of our outdoor school days have as their foundation. Paying attention is not about listening to a teacher and following rules, but for us, it is about a conscious awareness of being in and of nature, and how that is experienced in each child and the adults that guide them.

Our last nature school day for the academic year took place at Beck Lake Park. I wanted the kids to experience the Braille Trail in Cody, WY. Being in nature should be a time of play and discovery, and as nature guides, it is our mission to pay attention when this time of play and discovery is interrupted.

I know for me as their guide that I learn much more through the art of paying attention to and from them.

I chose the Beck Lake Braille Trail today to remind the children that we can see with our senses just as those with challenges of sight allow their other senses to “see” nature.

The Braille Trail was one of my first nature walks with my family when we moved to town. It’s accessibility with a smooth concrete path, and trail markers allow anyone to experience nature. There are bathrooms, and shelter from the sun.

NaturehikeWe began our nature experience with an exercise I call Soundscapes.

Soundscapes are the process of paying attention to your sense of hearing. I brought quilts for the children to sit or lay on so that they could drop into their hearing sense. As they lay back and close their eyes, I give them gentle prompts.

  • What do you hear above your head?
  • What do you hear below your feet?
  • What do you feel on the ground?
  • What do you sense in temperature and movement above you and below you?

The last question is asking the children to feel for vibrations and the wind. We have already explored how animals communicate in a previous outing, and how animals or humans can experience the vibrations. This dropping into the senses of feeling and hearing are the basis for the Soundscape exercise.

We could take this soundscape further, and ask the children to draw the sounds on a map, but that would wait for another day.

After we experience the sounds, we ask the children what they know about Braille. A discussion that leads to a curiosity of reading by touch takes off. That is our cue to begin our walk through the Braille Trail. I do recommend smaller groups for sensory walks and hikes. Ideally, 3-4 children max per adult is best. Smaller groups are better because you can stop and pay attention to everything around you. Wagons are great for any tired little ones on the trail.

Before we started down the trail, I talked to the children about patterns in nature. I asked them to notice patterns in the bark of trees, rocks, leaves, and anything else they could see. I also reminded them of their felt senses, and we talked about the patterns of the wind at different points on the trail.

The children discovered a small snake in the grass just off the trail. I reminded them to observe, but not intrude on the snake’s sense of space. The lessons of the language of senses in nature are always within reach.

As we completed the trail, we returned to the tables, and we broke up into groups. One group began work on a Zentangle. I reminded the children of the patterns they saw and showed them how to create their coloring patterns. This is an enjoyable activity with many therapeutic benefits including self-regulation and paying attention.


Some of the children got up from the table to explore the nearby nature and then began drawing their repetitive patterns. A Zentangle is a type of doodle created by filling in sections of an image or shape with designs. We chose our models in nature.

As children learn to self-regulate, they often need to find a way to escape their circling thoughts or actions. A Zentangle station can be a place of refuge for a child and only requires some paper and pens. Keeping a tote bag with pens and paper in the car is a great on-the-go tool.

Our other group began a project of paying attention through touch. If you have mixed ages with you, have your older children gather 3-4 similar objects, such as twigs, rocks, or leaves.

Mark one of the objects in each group with a marker, and then have each child get to know the object. As they explore the objects, let them know that they will be asked to identify the one that is marked without seeing it. This activity was great fun and a challenge for many of the kids. The art of paying attention was taking hold, for them and for the adults with them.

The last exercise was a gloved experience, and the children that were attracted to do this activity took part. Now that the children have experienced their heightened sense of touch, they were asked to put on a pair of garden gloves. Touching nature through a glove creates a barrier between you and your senses. Not unlike, not being able to see the forest or the trees.

We had a beautiful afternoon filled with tree climbing and some lawn games. The key to any outdoor school time is to allow the kids to explore with their senses and redirect them when their stronger senses might lead them away from the group. Doing this as a family is one of the most rewarding ways to pay attention to your children. We learn so much by following their lead, challenging them, and helping them expand what they have learned through their senses.

Children all have unique abilities, and it is up to us to see the patterns in the chaos and guide them as they grow.