Strong Reading Muscle Comes from Practicing Choice…and Good Coaches

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Part of rearing lifelong readers is ensuring children grow up eager to fearlessly explore new books. Another part is letting them make poor choices about what they read. A young girl might be eager to engage with a book because the adults in her life are convinced it will be too challenging. A young boy might already have read and enjoyed several books just like his newest choice, so it’s a safe bet. A little one might bring you that book you’ve already read aloud at least a dozen times and your first thought is, “Oh no! Not that one again!”

Children make lots of choices each day. Learning how to choose is part of learning how to be independent. And many of the choices they make—about books or otherwise—actually need to be poor choices.


Because accepting the result of one’s own decisions provides the laboratory for a child for making ever-better choices in the future. It’s part of growing up.

Specific to books, when a child makes lousy reading choices they come to understand that while every book is good for someone, not all will be a match for them personally.

Under the broad umbrella of literacy, two rules should apply when it comes to coaching book selection:

  1. It is a parent’s or caregiver’s duty to steer children toward books they feel might be great choices for the youngster.
  2. It is a parent’s or caregiver’s duty to accept the choices that children make, even those they are certain will result in an abandoned read.

So, all choices—good and bad books, too hard or too easy books—should be accepted…and of course discussed, if only briefly. That’s where adult coaching really comes into play. Savvy reading coaches might say:

“You didn’t seem to enjoy that much. What in particular made it turn sour for you?”

“I noticed you didn’t seem interested in finishing that one. Did you run out of steam? I do that sometimes.”

“Don’t you feel sad when a good book ends?! Sometimes, I just want the books I read to go on and on. I bet we can find another book for you by the same author or on a similar subject.”

Each one of these coaching moves affirms it is an individual child’s experiences and burgeoning interests that must be the prime guide for her book choices. It also positions us adults as helpers not hinderers or controllers.

Educators and librarians are faced with coaching situations every day. What good teachers and library professionals know is that the process of becoming an avid reader is like developing muscle. Over time, children will become strong in the knowledge that well-chosen books are a terrific resource for learning new and exciting things. They learn this because they have developed self-determination to read every day about whatever they choose.

Personal reading muscle must be nourished with piles of wide ranging books and abundant opportunities to choose so that over time it develops into a strong resource, useful across an array of life circumstances.

We can’t develop children’s reading muscle for them. We can only coach them to understand that there are always more and better choices in books for daily reading. Regardless of how it feels to us, in the long run, there really isn’t a bad book choice for a child to make.

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2 Responses to “Strong Reading Muscle Comes from Practicing Choice…and Good Coaches”

  1. Lu October 23, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    Another topic on which I couldn’t agree with you more! Even when a book gets checked out only to sit by the bed untouched, the fact that the child got to choose means he or she will more than likely go back to the library and get one that works. Sometimes choosing a particular book also symbolizes being part of the “reading club” and that self-image of being a member is important too!

    • Mark Condon October 24, 2016 at 11:29 am #

      Absolutely, Lu. Lots of kids will need to be led by librarians, family and classroom educators to understand that Reading Club membership is free, lasts a lifetime, and that it comes with the option to make a lot of bad book picks over time without jeopardizing their status in the club.