Education Opinion

Dear Parents: At-Home Reading

By Donalyn Miller — January 10, 2010 4 min read
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With my principal’s hearty support, this is the e-mail I sent to parents today. I thought I would share it with you, too. We all address the same issue in our classes each day.

Dear Parents,

This weekend, commentary printed in the Teachers Leadership Network Forum, reinforced to me the importance of carving out reading time at home. Simply put, children who read the most at home surpass the educational success of their peers who do not read at home--even those who are hard-working, capable students. While the commentary focuses on the academic success of African-American students, the importance of at-home reading for all students is well-documented. The children who read the most, both inside and outside of school, are the best at the school game. They are the best readers, of course, but they are also the best writers, spellers, possess the best vocabulary, and perform better in content-heavy areas like science and social studies. Clearly, reading is important, and the students who read the most possess the highest academic potential.

While the entire focus of our lives should not be a child’s academic success, I know that you have high expectations for your child. You expect them to do well in school, you expect them to go to college, and you expect them to have happy, productive lives. Knowing that you have these goals for your child, it concerns me when children report to me that they do not read much at home.

I do not assign reading logs for your children to complete. I do not believe that reading logs motivate most children to read. Kids who love reading hate those logs. Who wants to curl up in bed at night with your book and your reading log? Avid readers resent recording every moment of their reading lives. For children who do not read much, the log does not show me that they are really reading. I have seen children sit for thirty minutes with an open book and never read a word. I also know, as a parent, that I have signed those logs in the car on Friday because my precious daughters asked me to sign one. Sometimes, I could not remember if they read the required time or not. Even those students who diligently fill out those logs and actually read might not be motivated to read when the requirement of the log disappears over the summer or during vacations.

Although I do not require a log, I do require that children read at least 30 minutes per night and 30 minutes on the weekends. I have posted this requirement as homework on the class website every week since the first week of school. I talk to children about the importance of reading at home, and they know that I expect them to read. It may not seem that I assign much homework in language arts, but that is because I want the children to read and read and read.

Meeting with children during conferences each week, I am told time and time again that, “I do not have time to read.” My knee-jerk reaction is to wonder why the homework in my class is less important than the homework they have in other classes, especially when I know that reading has such a powerful impact on students’ success across the academic day. I do not express this to the children, of course. Lives are busy, and parents and kids are stressed and overworked. The burden of homework will increase each year that your child is in school. You may not realistically have 30 minutes each night for reading on top of your other demands, but fifteen minutes every night is better than not reading at all.

I cannot make your children read at home in any reasonable way. The only people who can carve out reading time for your children at home are you, their parents. This is hard, but it matters more than any other academic support you could provide.

I know that I have a zeal for reading and books that seems over-the-top. I also know that you appreciate the effort that I go to in class to motivate and engage your child with reading. If anyone in your child’s life should be a book fanatic, it should be his/her reading teacher! I take my role seriously and I have structured our class to provide at least 30 minutes of reading time a day for your child to read. This is a school-wide requirement at Trinity Meadows, but I believe in it fully. During this reading time, I talk to kids about the books they read, help each set reading goals, offer recommendations, and stress the importance of reading as a life habit. However, this in-class reading time does not replace at-home reading time.

Many of your children were avid readers when they walked into my class last August. I know that they appreciate the free-choice independent reading environment that our class offers. They have had great teachers who support heavy reading habits, and they have encouragement and support from you to read a lot. I also know, from speaking with many of you, that in spite of your best efforts, some of your children are not avid readers. I am working to support you in creating strong reading habits in your child, every day. I ask that you support your child by setting aside reading time at home.

This e-mail is long, and I appreciate the time you took to read it. I also appreciate you sending your treasures to me each day. I believe that I have the greatest job on Earth. Please let me know how I can best serve your child and you.


Donalyn Miller

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.