When I was a teacher, I often heard from parents about children who didn’t like reading or wouldn’t read aloud, or refused to read fiction. On the home education forums there are often posts asking for new ideas of reading material or suggestions of how to encourage children to read more so I thought I would share some suggestions to help your reluctant reader.
In my experience, many, although not all, of the children who are reluctant to read have either not found material that they enjoy or they are not confident in their reading ability. If a task is hard then it is something we are more likely to shy away from. If we don’t enjoy a task, then we are likely to claim it as boring and refuse to complete it any more. If we have a low self esteem in our ability to complete the task, then we will avoid it. All of these things are perfectly natural but finding solutions and alternative strategies is possible and I will give you some ideas to try out.
What Counts as Reading Material?
The first thing to remember is that a physical book isn’t necessary for your child to be reading. Some reluctant readers have a mental block that they can’t read, or they don’t enjoy reading and they usually associate this with actual books. This can often be overcome by finding alternative materials or by using an e-reader instead (especially if your child has a tablet device which they enjoy using). I had a group of boys who came into my class one September who all ‘hated’ reading, but as soon as I got out the iPads and opened the reading app they were more than happy to join in our reading sessions. These reluctant readers were overcome by their excitement for technology.
There are plenty of reading materials out there that your child can access. Stories and information books are the most obvious materials and are readily accessible in book shops or libraries. However, many people overlook the wealth of other resources available. For example, magazines and newspapers, subtitles on the TV, takeaway menus, adverts, shopping lists, travel brochures, instruction manuals, blogs (check these for suitability before your child reads them), recipes, atlases, apps, games, emails and social media. If your child doesn’t want to read an actual book, allow them to build up their confidence or enjoyment by reading other materials instead. They could read independently, aloud to you, or you could read items together taking it in turns.
Ideas to Help Children who find Reading Difficult
Firstly, if your child finds reading difficult then they are far less likely to want to read. Older children may end up avoiding reading altogether as they may be embarrassed that they can’t read as well as they think they should be able to, or because there is no enjoyment factor in reading as it has become a chore. The first thing to do if this is the case is to make reading materials fun again. Initially, try some of the following suggestions which take all the pressure off your child and just allow them to enjoy listening.
- Read to your child. Most children love to be read to. Don’t put pressure on your child to read just let them enjoy listening. They will still be learning key writing skills as they learn about structuring texts and sentences, they will develop new vocabulary and find or develop new interests.
- Play audio books. You can hire audio books from the library, and you can download them via app stores and Amazon too. Lots of children love audio books as again it takes the pressure off of them doing the reading and instead they can sit back and enjoy. If you can access the audio books in the car then this is good entertainment for a long journey. If you listen together with your child then you can talk about the book to help improve your child’s comprehension skills as well as making it an enjoyable and relaxing family activity.
- Similar to audio books are podcasts. These are plentiful and come in a wide variety of topics.
When you think your child is ready continue with the above activities, but also start to introduce little opportunities for your child to practise reading and praise them for doing so. To begin with try to ensure that there are lots of opportunities for success to help build your child’s confidence so make sure that they will be able to read what you are asking them to. Gradually as their confidence increases begin to add challenge of up to a maximum of about 80/20 (20% words they find tricky or are new, 80% words they know confidently). Often reluctant readers enjoy having a purpose to the reading rather than something that they feel they have to sit down for length and do. Some ideas are listed below but you are certainly not limited to just these.
- Ask your child to read wording on an advert when you are driving.
- Ask your child to read the takeaway menu aloud to help you choose what to order.
- Have an older child read a story to a baby or younger child (often this is a great opportunity to build confidence if they can read the books and it is a great sibling bonding activity too).
- Have subtitles on the TV and encourage your child to read them by asking how accurate the subtitles are (they often aren’t and children enjoy spotting the mistakes). Over time, turn off the sound on the TV so your child has to read the subtitles to know what is happening. Only do this suggestion if your child can read the majority of the words though. You could do this by putting on a programme they watched when they were younger and are still happy to watch. (My husband and I practise our Spanish when on holiday by turning on the subtitles to Peppa Pig.)
- Ask your child to read the information in the travel brochure to help you choose your next holiday.
- Cook with your child and encourage them to read the recipe.
- When you are next building flat pack furniture or playing a board game for the first time ask your child to read the instructions to you.
- Ask a relative to send postcards, or emails to your child.
- Find a blog that your child would be interested in and allow them to read it regularly.
Once your child has started to build up their confidence, choose a book which they can read confidently. If they are still not keen on actual books then you could use an e-reader, or find a blog post or an article in a magazine. It is important that your child should be able to read all of the words to begin with. If this means that picture books are most suitable for your child and they think they are too grown up to read picture books it may be a good idea to rewrite the words into a document yourself for them to read. As they are ready begin to introduce books with increasing challenge until you reach approximately the 8/20 challenge rate. As the texts become trickier you could bridge the gap by reading together. For example, you could ask your child to read the first sentence on each page and you read the rest of the page. Then increase this so that they read the first two sentences and then the first paragraph up until they are reading a whole page. Once they can do this you can assume they can read independently if they prefer, or you could read a page each or even a chapter each. Many children still love to be read to so if they are reading independently but want to have a read aloud story too then this is a great opportunity for you to read together.
If your reluctant reader finds reading very challenging and progress in their reading ability is very slow then they may not be a reluctant reader but instead may need some additional support. If you suspect that your child may have additional reading needs then please see a specialist who will be able to help your child further with learning to read.
Ideas to Help Children who find Reading Boring
If your reluctant reader finds reading boring, there is a fair chance that they haven’t found the right book style or genre yet, but there may be some underlying issues which should be checked first.
Book Mind Block
If your child has a book mind block, I suggest that you go back to the ‘What Counts as Reading Material’ section above and try out a range of reading materials until you find some that your child is happy to engage with. Take the pressure off the activity and allow them to explore a range of reading options at their leisure. It is beneficial to play on your child’s interests and provide them with material on subjects and topics they enjoy. If nothing else works, try audio books and podcasts as your pathway into reading.
It is worth checking there are no underlying issues with your child’s sight
as if they cannot see the words clearly reading will be a struggle for them but they may not realise what the problem is, so a trip to the opticians may be a good idea if your child hasn’t been in the last 6 months.
Ability Appropriate Texts
It is worth checking if your child is selecting reading material suitable for their reading ability. I taught a child once who entered my class with a book list of very impressive summer reading. A 9 year old reading GCSE literature is not unheard of, but it is certainly not the norm. I asked her about the stories and she wasn’t able to tell me anything about them at all. I thought this rather odd, so I asked her to read a text aloud to me and she couldn’t read the majority of the words. Her parents were very shocked. The girl had chosen the books in the library and had spent the summer ‘reading’ them silently and her parents had presumed she could read them and was enjoying them. If a child is not able to read the words then they are likely to find reading boring as they have no enjoyment from it. The same applies to comprehension. If your child can read the words confidently but cannot understand what they are reading then they will find the text boring. To check your child’s understanding of the book, ask your child to tell you some key points about the plot and the key characters.
If your child is reading a fiction book you could read the last chapter yourself and then ask your child some questions like the ones below:
- What happened in the last chapter?
- Who is your favourite character and why?
- Why do you think x and y are friends?
- Why did this character make that decision?
If your child is reading a non-fiction book then ask some questions like the ones underneath:
- What information does the book give you? (topic or more specific)
- What have you learnt that you didn’t know before? (3 or 4 things)
- Who else might enjoy this book? Why?
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
Many parents think that children must read fiction to progress their reading skills but this quite simply isn’t true so if your child is not interested in stories, don’t panic. The best way to progress a child’s reading ability is to ensure that they are reading something regularly and that they are sometimes reading material which challenges them.
If your child finds stories boring but they love reading information books about space (insert theme or topic your child is interested in) this is fine. You could go to the library or the bookshop and ask the staff to find some fiction books that have that theme and see if your child enjoys these. If not, then maybe your child is not currently a fan of fiction and this is okay. We don’t all have to enjoy reading stories. There are plenty of other reading materials to enjoy. Many children love to find out about how things work and enjoy researching facts and figures. This may change as they mature and their interests develop but if not it doesn’t matter. They are still reading.
Finding the Genre and Topic to Interest Your Child
If everything else seems to be well then your reluctant reader may just not have found a book of interest to them yet. Below are some tips on helping your child find a book that will interest them. Remember that blogs are a great source of reading material too if your child enjoys non fiction or information texts.
- Ask friends of a similar age for recommendations of books they have enjoyed reading. Take the list to the library and find as many as you can. Ask your child to read the blurbs and the first page or two of each book and then they could choose which ones they think they might like to read.
- If you have access to Amazon Kindle then download some samples of books that your child likes the blurb for. You could also download some samples from a range of genres and ask them to read them and then choose which ones they would like to continue reading.
- Go to the library and find non-fiction books on a topic that interests your child. Do they love dancing? Would they like to be an astronaut? Do they love cars? Do they enjoy arts and crafts? Would they like to learn more about King Henry VIII? Find books that they can read around subjects that they want to learn more about.
- Ask the librarian or book shop staff if there are fiction books on the theme that your child is interested in and then try those.
- Choose a book that your child has enjoyed watching as a movie or listening to as an audiobook.
- Choose a book linked to a place your child has been or a time period they are interested in. If they feel connected to the story then they are more likely to want to read it.
If you are still struggling with your reluctant reader and would like any advice or would like book recommendations for a particular age range then head over to my Facebook page @TeachingCompass or send me an email and I will get back to you as soon as possible.