Tips for Reluctant Readers

Tips for Reluctant Readers


So, your child won't read. It's not that your child isn't capable of reading. Your child just won't. Just to make matters worse, your child has informed you that he or she hates books. Excuse me, I may have gotten that wrong, I believe the exact words were, "I REALLY, REALLY HATE BOOKS AND HATE READING!"

Now that you've caught your breath (though that pain in your heart will take a little longer to diminish), I have good news. If you love books and reading then chances are good your child will eventually follow in your footsteps. If you don't love books and aren't much of a reader, then may I suggest you reconsider your position. I'm a little bias.

I've worked with many reluctant readers and raised one of my own. Here are my tips:

Read to your child. This is the most obvious tip and I'm sure you have heard it. If reading isn't part of your bedtime routine, make it a part now. This is the deal - KEEP READING to your child even after your child learns to read. As your child learns to read, do not replace bedtime story time with "now you read to me" time. You can do both. "I'll read to you... Would you like to now read with me?" I've read stories to my kids in utero and up through their teen years. Not kidding.

Storytelling opens doors. Make up fun stories with your child while in the car, over breakfast, or before bed. You can start the story then ask the child what they think should happen next. Often, you will be telling most of the story. That's okay. Though, some kids are natural storytellers. That's okay, too. Storytelling helps your child learn how to formulate a beginning, middle and end. It opens doors to creativity. It helps them as budding writers. It helps them process difficult emotions like sadness and anger and gives you insight into what is on their mind. Bottom line, a child who loves stories, loves books.

Make a special space for books.  Create a favorite shelf in your child's room and let him or her choose what books stay on the favorite shelf. Stand a book or two up for display like in a bookstore. Have them dictate a short review about why they like about a particular book. Write their review on a file card and tape it to the edge of the shelf. For very young kids, it can be something as simple as "I like the dog." It doesn't have to be fancy. As the shelf fills with favorites, add more reviews and read them together (especially as you are picking out a book to read).

Make a special place to read. Whether it's a comfy armchair in their room, a bean bag chair, or a back rest pillow on their bed. A cozy, well-lit place to read is a must. Some kids may like independent reading. Most reluctant readers are not so inclined. So if you pop up a tent in the middle of the living room, build a treehouse, or create a sofa fort, make sure you have enough room to include the whole family and a big pile of books.

Go to the library often. For your young listeners, local story time events at libraries and bookstores are a great way to help kids develop a love for books. Libraries give you the opportunity to bring home a variety of books to choose from and helps your child figure out the types of books or authors he or she likes. Librarians can offer excellent advice on what is popular with kids in your child's age group. It's okay for kids to say they don't like a particular book. Don't force it. Set it aside and pick another.

Read interesting stuff. Let your child pick the book. What is interesting to your child may not be interesting to you and vice-versa. Encourage your child to explore interests. Whether it's soccer or cooking or marine biology - there's plenty out there to choose from. If your child asks questions, go on a research adventure together.

Find a series of books to get hooked on. Both of my kids got hooked on a series of books at the onset of their passion for reading. For my daughter, it was Magic Treehouse. My son became fully obsessed with the Rick Riordan books in fourth grade. My niece loved the Boxcar Kids. I remember loving Nancy Drew and Narnia books as a child. Interestingly, neither of my kids like Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter and continue to re-read the series.

Read a variety of levels. I remember walking into a room and doing a double take because my sixth grader was reading a book she had originally read in third grade. I knew it was way below her reading level. She looked up at me and grinned. "I didn't understand this book very well in third grade, I'm picking up on so much more of the story now." She had a point. While as parents we are often focused on getting our kids to take on the next challenging level academically, I think it's important that books cover a range. A beginning reader cannot possibly find it fun to always be pushing to the next harder reading level. Mix in a few of the easy readers and allow them to see how far they have come in their reading progress. Yes, keep challenging them. But the feeling they get when they realize a book is EASY is what makes it fun.

Make reading time all the time. Rainy days on the couch with hot cocoa and books. What's not to love? Don't just use reading time as a bedtime activity, but include it as part of your everyday activities. For your little ones, play "story time" with the stuffed animals. Ask your child to help you read to the dog because puppy looks bored. Have older siblings read to younger siblings. Offer story time as a treat if your child is crabby after a busy day of errands. Alphabetize the books on the shelf together.

Read to yourself. Not to your child, not to the dog. Just pick up a nice grown-up book, get comfy and read to yourself. If your child wants your attention, say you are busy reading but if he or she wants to join you with a book of their own they are welcome. Kids who watch their parents read will imitate that behavior. So it is your parenting obligation to drop everything and read without guilt! I love curling up on the couch with a good book and looking up to realize that both my kids have curled up next to me with a book of their own.

Turn off the TV. Put away cell phones and electronic devices. Please. Now find a good book and go back to my last tip. 

Encourage independent reading. As my kids grew older and began to read independently, I gave them extra time before bedtime lights out. If bedtime was at 8:30, I would tell them they could have an extra 15 minutes before lights out if they were reading. If they did not want to read, the earlier bedtime stuck. For younger kids, I allowed extra cuddle time in my bed if they had a book of their own to look at. This is great if you are not a morning person or like an occasional afternoon nap.

Don't rush the reading. Relax. Not every child is wired to read at the age of 5 or 4 or 6 or 3 or whatever. It is not a race. If your child is an emergent reader and is struggling, be positive and supportive. Try to make reading a daily activity and do not cram in too much information at once. Build on what they know. Kids learn at their own pace. Some kids need the structure of a daily reading program with progressive readers. If you are worried about how your child is learning, discuss it with an educator. 

Write. Writing is not just for stories. Have a tea party and make a fancy menu together. Create a game where the child can give people in the house written tickets for speeding or leaving a mess or smiling too much. Make welcome home signs and coupons for fun activities. For older kids, write a letter to grandma, to the mayor, to someone serving your community. Have them keep a journal. Buy blank comic books for them to fill up and get their creative juices flowing. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand.

Create success in small steps. Most schools give out a list of sight words. Those are words that children are expected to know on sight, without having to sound them out. ("The" "Like" "At" "To" are frequently used sight words.) Not only does this speed up reading, but it allows kids to feel successful when they can quickly recognize a word. Integrate these words in your daily reading activities. Find a book that has a frequently used sight word in the first sentence and point it out every time you open the book. Soon, your child will point it out. Go on a discovery hunt to look for more sight words. Some teachers suggest you make flashcards of sight words. I had a child who loved flashcards, and another who did not. I found that making two sets of flashcards and then having my child play a sight word matching game worked well. There are tons of sight word games and learning tools online and at your local parent-teacher store.

Celebrate! I'm not into fancy charts with stickers and bribes. I am into celebrating successes and showing excitement when a child has cleared a milestone. It may be as simple as saying -  "Do you want to call Granny and tell her you learned your first sight word today?" Or let your child pick out their own book for you to purchase. 

Show how important books are. Donate books to schools, libraries, and organizations that help needy families. Have your child help you sort, wrap, and deliver. Participate in your school's book fair. Organize a grade-level book swap at your school. When your child sees how much you value books and how important they are to your community, they will love them as much as you do.