Most of my decade teaching was spent teaching students to read. The majority of the children I taught, had learning disabilities in the area of reading. My work focused on helping these students learn to read, but that alone was not enough. I wanted them to find joy in reading, to feel confident, to be fluent, and develop into adults who enjoy reading. The most amazing feeling as a teacher is watching a child truly enjoy a book, especially a student who had been struggling so much with reading just months before.
When I took a break from teaching to be home with my own children the one thing I missed the most was teaching children to read. I had dreamed of the joy of teaching my own children to read and watching them flourish in a love of books. Reality doesn’t always match expectations. I tried to balance my desire to work with my children with their desire to work or should I say not work with me. I often imagined that the exposure to the literal thousands of books available at any moment right at their fingertips would lead to early reading. Well I am 0 for 2 with early reading in my house. After a few painful years of hearing Cole muddle through books, he has finally taken off and is reading so many chapter books a week that we are now depending on the library to meet his needs. Cecily is starting to read, but with a lot of push back.
One of the most difficult struggles for many parents working with children who are school aged is when they have a child who is a reluctant reader. That daily read for twenty minutes becomes like a new form of teacher to parent torture. A reluctant reader is one who really doesn’t enjoy or desire to read. These tips are not directed towards students who have learning disabilities tough they could be helpful for that population of students. They are specifically for those parents banging their hands against a wall with frustration trying to get their children to love to read!
Here are some tips to help get a reluctant reader reading:
- Free choice- not all children want to read fiction. Let your child make a list of favorite topics and then head to the library to get books that relate to those topics. Your child may enjoy joke books, magazines, or comics. Let them have some control over what they are reading.
- Book Series– books series provide children with an adventure that is comfortable. They get familiar with the story line and characters and can jump right on to the next book in the series. There is no stalling between books to think which should I do next? Here are some ideas for book series that have helped catapult kids into reading The Magic Treehouse, Mercy Watson, Nate the Great, Big Nate, and Junie B. Jones.
- Give books as rewards- to encourage reading use orders from Scholastic, trips to the book store, downloads to the Kindle, and even trips to the library as rewards. Our library has a great used book section where for $1 you can get several books. In the summer, we yard sale for books. Each child gets a few dollars and comes home with huge stacks of new books. This way they can pick titles I would never fund at full price.
- Use a reward system to encourage reading- once Cole started reading, he did make good progress but he wasn’t reading for pleasure. To encourage him to read his first chapter book on his own, he was promised his first ever banana split. The book was read in a week and I felt like it was $5 well spent. I also have used a book bingo system in the classroom where students read a variety of texts to earn prizes. Children who are reluctant readers may need a reward system throughout their elementary school years. To me this is money well spent, but you could find free alternatives to prizes too.
- Model reading -this is one I know many parents use. When it is time to read, you all stop and do it as a family.
- Graphic Novels– often students who have gone beyond picture books are not interested in chapter books that give very little visual feedback. Graphic novels are written at a higher reading and interest level, but have comic book like pictures. Try Captain Underpants, Big Nate, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
- Late to bedtime….. In my house, the kids head up to their bedrooms by 8:00 or 8:30, but then are given time to read. This often results in a full hour of reading for my oldest. By far this has been the greatest reason for increased reading in our house.
- Just Right Books– If your child’s school uses guided reading and I really hope they do, then they are on a just right level that may correlate with a letter or number. Here is a chart that shows the levels. Knowing this level, will help you search for books that are perfect for them. When reading independently at home, I would take that instructional level and perhaps even shoot down to assure they are having success.
- Shared Reading– I loved this comment from my aunt on how she encouraged reading in her developmental reading courses at the community college.
Each semester, I carefully picked two novels I felt would delight them, and they were required to read them. However, I did not toss them into each book alone. We read the first one and two chapters together as guided reading activities. By then, they were hooked. Then, I had them read a chapter at a time; yet they began to beg me to be allowed to read more. What can I say, they couldn’t be stopped. : ).
Generally, I feel that if the right books are matched with the reader, he/she will “dig in”. Research shows that if the reader is VERY interested in the subject, he/she will read materials beyond his/her reading level.
Know that you are not alone in the quest for getting your child to embrace reading. I promise the continued work and encouragement are worth it. there are Some children will never truly embrace and enjoy reading, but that time on text will still push them along academically.