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SuperMouse's avatar

Are readers born or nurtured?

Asked by SuperMouse (30723 points ) October 24th, 2011

I have read to all three of my kids since birth. They are 13, 11, and 9 and we still have read aloud every night. We read all of the Little House series, all of Harry Potter and we are currently reading Summerland by Michael Chabon. I have done this, because experts say that reading to children instills a love of the written word and a love of reading. As a voracious reader myself, I know they see an example daily. Still while my oldest son doesn’t feel whole unless he has a book with him, the other two could not care less about a trip to the library. So, was the oldest just born to read and the other two not so much? Or did he just pick up the habit while the other two did not? What’s your theory?

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19 Answers

LuckyGuy's avatar

We read to both of our kids and it was a magical time. Honestly, what feels better than a little one leaning on you while looking at the pictures of a book you are reading aloud?
We did not watch much TV usually choosing to read something.
Both of my kids were early readers and it has stuck with them to adulthood.
Reading is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Blackberry's avatar

I have a feeling the only reason I like reading is because when I was a lonely only child, I spent a lot of time doing that. I just started to like it because I felt I was good at it. My strengths in school were reading and writing comprehension. I don’t remember if my mom made an extra effort to instill the skill in me.

wonderingwhy's avatar

I’m pretty sure I got the habit, at least in part, from my parents.

Growing up it seemed weekly trips to the library were standard and there was never a shortage of books around. At christmas I couldn’t count on getting toys but if I asked for a book or three it always found its way under the tree. Whenever we’d travel, which was frequent, I’d always have books for the car or the flight; and it persists to this day. My taste in books definitely my own creation but I definitely think nurture has a lot to do with the fact that reading has just become natural when I’m not otherwise engaged.

Though I sort of wish I could convert that same weight of the book and feel of the pages thing into e-books a little better, it would save so much space.

thorninmud's avatar

I do think there’s an inborn component that I’d characterize as a capacity for imagination. For some, the world of imagination is incredibly rich and vivid. For others, it’s a pale reflection of the world of experience. This is entirely independent of intelligence.

Those with more vibrant imaginations will find the world of books alive and enthralling. They can get lost in that imagined world—really inhabit it. Without that imaginative faculty, though, the world of the book is flatter, more remote, less engaging.

My two kids were at opposite ends of this spectrum. Like yours, they were both read to often and equally. Both are crazy smart. But my daughter has a capacity to build fully-formed worlds in her mind’s eye, and those worlds are often richer and more compelling than the world on the other side of her eyelids. She went on to be a medieval scholar, a writer of fiction, a passionate RPG player, and, of course, a devourer of fiction. She feels easily overpowered by movies, because they’re too overt and leave nothing to imagine.

My son has read a good bit of fiction, but is far more likely to read non-fiction. He’s much more interested in understanding the workings of the stuff of this world, and he doesn’t see fiction as advancing that cause. He has gone on to study engineering, and resisted his sister’s efforts to recruit him into the RPG world. His inner musings involve mechanisms, not worlds.

marinelife's avatar

I always loved reading. My parents read to me (at least my mother did) and I loved that, but it was separate from my love of books. My brother is not a reader and neither was one of my sisters, but the other two love reading like I do.

smilingheart1's avatar

I think both. Nurture is necessary in the times we live in though because there are so many “fun” passive things we can entertain with. Studies show readers become better writers and overall expressers.

muppetish's avatar

Readers are definitely nurtured. We discussed this in my Language and Human Behaviour course. Kids who come from families of readers, that have a lot of books, are more likely to develop a positive reading experience. I grew up with frequent library-goers and our bedrooms had full bookshelves. When I was three, I begged my mum to teach me how to read.

Several of my English major friends, however, did not have this experience growing up. They hated reading until much later in life when they finally discovered books that resonated with them. Now, reading is an incredibly important facet of who they are.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I think it’s a combination of both. My mom taught both my brother and I to read at a young age (I was reading easy books on my own at age 4) but my brother never really took to it the way I did. He can read just fine, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy it the way I do.

Reading definitely needs to be nurtured, but I think some people are just born “readers” and others are not.

linguaphile's avatar

Both— my proof? My own kids. Both had the same book-rearing approach from me.
My son’s books stayed in pristine condition throughout his childhood- the only book he near-destroyed was my college yearbook when he colored in it with crayons. He likes, not loves books and is very selective. His reading personality actually is very similiar to my mom’s and his biological dad’s.

On the other hand… My daughter’s first full-body, full-out temper tantrum was at 18 months old when we told her we had to leave Barnes and Noble. I said, “Let’s go,” and she had to literally be picked up kicking and screaming. I wasn’t embarrased, I was thrilled! If books is what she will have a temper tantrum over, why the heck not! XD XD She used to carry a book around like a doll.

Unfortunately, nuture came into play here… she loved books until her my ex put her down once too often and now it’s a chore to get her to read. I’m hoping her true nature will come back out soon.

Hibernate's avatar

Nurtured. When you make a kid see a book offers everything or that they can be anyone or have any adventure they will like to read. :P

blueiiznh's avatar

I think it can be a bit of both.
Some children just have an interest and desire for it. It allows their imagination to weave its way into a story or to seek out information they are interested in.
Some are nurtured through seeing their parents do it or it becomes a habit.

I read with 1st graders for about 6 years and you can sure tell the difference between them all. Some just don’t care or struggle with it and other light up when they read.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I was a born reader. I wasn’t read to as a child and didn’t have a clue about words, the alphabet etc when I started kindergarden. I read a ton now. I’ve always made books a priority with any children in the family, and some are serious readers and some could care less.

6rant6's avatar

Could be as simple as a birth order phenomenon. The theory goes that the first born seeks affirmation from the parent by imitating them. Subsequent children try that, but quickly learn that they cannot equal those accomplishments of the first born and subsequently find other ways to get attention.

If that is applicable here, then your eldest became a reader in part to gain your love. It makes sense really, as families with ballplayers often have a first born who wants to be a ballplayer and it looks genetic until there is a second child who wants to read books.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I suppose it is both, but I feel the nurture aspect applies to me. Though, my siblings also love to read, so it’s difficult for me to say for sure. I feel like my parents and grandparents sharing their enthusiasm for reading was what made me love to read. I could be wrong, but that’s how it feels.

Jeruba's avatar

My older and younger sons are just like yours with respect to reading.

My husband and I read to them both every day when they were young and kept it up well past the point when they could read to themselves; it was an important part of our daily interaction with them. We modeled reading ourselves, reading for pleasure and reading to learn, both. We talk about books all the time, we read aloud together every week, and we both write. Our house is full of books and magazines across a very broad range of subject matter.

The older read his way through a degree in philosophy and a J.D., both with top honors. The younger reads only what’s on a computer screen.

Yet the younger also seemingly absorbed everything he did encounter in textbooks during his several abortive attempts at formal education, and he retains it in detail years later, well integrated into his world-awareness and readily retrievable in conversation.

Both are highly intelligent; the older is clearly a left-hemisphere-dominant type, logical and verbal. I can’t say that the younger is right-dominant, but I can easily say that his right-brain functions are much more pronounced than in the rest of us. He is a Gestalt person, a whole-picture person, who can size something up, see how it works (whether machine, process, or person), and see what would make it work better. I think reading is just too linear, measured, deliberate, and slow for his type of mind. If he wants to know something, he looks it up, reads what he needs to know (and remembers it all), and then goes on his way.

I think reading is part of a natural discipline that belongs to a larger constellation of behaviors or mental faculties and that they can be nurtured but not forced. Much as I hold reading and literature as a value, I would be wrong to try to demand that my younger son adopt it, just as I would be wrong to force him to follow my religion if I had one.
.

[Edit] As a postscript, I would have to offer a counterexample to @thorninmud‘s in that my younger son is and always has been the one with the flourishing gardens of imagination—some of them Rappaccini’s gardens, to be sure, but without a doubt dense and rich. So I do not see a correlation between imaginative capacity and readership. Rather, to me it appears to be between mental structure and verbal behavior.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I think nurtured, more often. My grandparents were big readers, my mom is, I am, my sister and after many years, my stepdad is now too.

Pandora's avatar

Kind of yes to both. They tend to be born to people who love reading and are fine with nurturing.
I find people who hate reading rarely ever get children who love to read unless they encounter a teacher who knows how to make if fun for them or another relative who is around to nurture.
But most kids will mimic their parents.
Of course if the child has some sort of learning disability, this may also discourage them from reading.
As for your children, I would wonder if perhaps you spent more time reading to him than the other two. I think parents tend to pressure the first born to be educated more and they also have more free time to spend with them. The second and third can just be rushed along because there is less free time to spend with them individually. I was the last of 5 but we had to do everything in a group when I was growing up. Plus my sister, who was the eldest liked to read and we shared a room. Out of 5 of us, only 4 of us liked to read. The one that did not had problems learning to read so he never learned to love it.
We also didn’t watch a lot of tv or have video games growing up, so books was our primary source of entertainment.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I think it is a little of both. Me & my 5 siblings all became readers early on. My Mother did read to us, my step-dad avoided books at all times. My Mother was always reading & although we did not go regularly to the library, the library came to us in the form of a “Bookmobile” that came to our neighborhood every Thursday afternoon. I read everything I could get my hands on (including books that my Mother did not intend for me to have access to !) My children (one son, two daughters) are all readers. Imagination is the key – you have to be able to envision yourself in the story that you are reading (fiction or non-fiction).

lonelydragon's avatar

A little bit of both, although the nature aspect applies more to me. I am a voracious reader, despite growing up with parents and siblings who didn’t care for it much. In fact, if you visited my parents’ house today, you’d find hardly any books besides schoolbooks left over from our childhood. I did have a grandparent who was around to nurture the reading habit, but my siblings were exposed to that same influence without much effect. I think some people just have an innate desire for it. Books are what stimulate their curiosity and imagination.

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