Blog Post
The Seed of Joy

Every child – every person – is born with a seed of their future joy and happiness inside them, and if you watch a child carefully – or if you remember being a child yourself – you will know that it manifests very early in life as a special interest, fascination, or talent. If you read biographies of inventors, artists, writers, scientists, athletes, and innovators – all kinds of people – very often they will tell of something in their childhood that simply captivated them. Something they could not help doing, or wanting to know more about.

I know someone who works in pediatric medicine who dreamed, as a child, of running and holding a very small baby in her arms. Wanting to protect it with all her might as she ran. This is still her mission: keep children safe, healthy, and protected. I know a mechanical engineer who, as a child, took apart every doorknob in his parents' house, to their dismay. I know an Olympic shot-putter who, as a child on a long and uneventful camping trip with his parents, entertained himself by spending hours every day hurling the heaviest rocks he could find into a river, tallying how far he could throw them, trying to beat his own record.

These interests and incidents are often not noticed by any of the adults in the child's life. If adults do notice, they may think these things are unimportant, boring, or just plain odd. They may even try to steer the child away from these seemingly unproductive interests. But kids know what they need to do. Let them pursue it. They know, deep down, what brings them happiness. Let them be happy. Let them follow their path.

This applies even more to reading, for kids who hate reading or who have difficulty with it. Find out what their seed of joy is, because that seed will help them to overcome their difficulties. What are they interested in, more than anything else? What do they do when they have truly free time, away from adults and teachers?

Find reading material that relates to this interest or theme. No matter how obscure and unusual it is, even if there are no books about it and nothing in the library, you can find something. The Internet can be a huge help with this. Look for catalogs, signs, instructions, recipes. Field guides, games, repair manuals. Look for materials with a lot of photos or pictures to help struggling readers understand, and to give them a break from too much text.

The material does not have to be aimed at kids. I know a boy who loves gears and motors who can tell you about torque, crank-and-rocker arms, planetary gears, drive belts, and the difference between AC and DC current. If you give him school books, he reads at a third-grade level and has great difficulty remembering or comprehending what he has read. But if you give him books about inventors, machines, and how things work, he will spend hours of free time working hard to decipher and understand them. As a result, his reading ability in general is steadily improving.

If you have a hands-on or visual kind of kid, incorporate activities that are related to their interests into your reading with them. Cook something, and have the child read you the recipe and follow each step with you. Build something while reading the instructions; fix something according to the manual; play a game after reading the instructions; use a field guide to identify a plant, insect, or rock; go through catalogs and imagine what you both would buy. Help the child write about the activity or interest. If they are visual, let them draw illustrations and provide captions.

This is not the time to worry about grammar, spelling, or correctness: just let them get it out. Let them experience the happiness of reading about, writing about, and doing something they love, guided by their own personal seed of joy.