Every night my son reads to me from his book for the ten minutes requested by school. Then he goes to bed and reads some more, complaining when we tell him he needs to stop by 8 and get some sleep. He’s currently reading the Beast Quest series by Adam Blade and pesters me endlessly to make sure I have the next book ready for when he’s finished the current one. He loves stories and has truly reached the point where he reads for pleasure. But it wasn’t always like this. Once he was a “reluctant reader”.
When he started Reception, he was just 4. While he enjoyed school, he had zero interest in learning to read. By the time he started juniors, he was significantly behind with his reading. He was in the bottom group for English and often sat in the small group that received extra support from a Learning Support Assistant. So how did we get from there in year 3 to where we are now in year 5? Here are my tips on how to help reluctant readers to become a children who read for pleasure.
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Types of Reluctant Reader
I believe there are two types of reluctant reader and I have had one of each.
The first type is those who find learning to read hard and so are less keen to engage in reading. If they can master reading they have the potential to become ferocious readers. This is the type my son was. Once he had mastered reading, he quickly fell in love with it.
The second type finds learning to read easy enough but just aren’t that keen on stories. It takes time and care to find books that this type of reluctant reader will engage with. This is the type my daughter is. She learnt to read very quickly and with no difficulty but still reads only the minimum required.
The Best Way to Help Reluctant Readers is to Help them fall in love with stories
I’m a librarian, and before that, I was a bookseller, and before that, I was a child who loved stories. My Mum read to me every night before bed, from when I was a toddler, to when I was well passed the age at which most people would consider me too old. Years of the pleasure of listening to a story without the pressure to read it for myself helped me fall in love with books. If your child isn’t ready to read for themselves yet, no matter what their age, keep reading to them. and when they are ready to read for themselves, carry on.
My absolute best piece of advice his to keep reading to your children, before they learn to read, while they are learning and after they’ve learnt.
Keep the Pressure off
Reading for pleasure has a huge correlation with academic success. If a child comes to associate books and reading with stress, they will never want to read for pleasure. Children in the uk start learning to read earlier than almost any other country in the world. That means some of them just won’t be ready. When he was in Reception, I took the “read for ten minutes every night” instruction to mean that I should read a book to him every night.
If your child isn’t interested in reading in Reception, don’t make them.
As long as you’re making positive associations with books, you’re laying the ground work for them to read when they’re ready.
If you are homeschooling make use of the flexibility and don’t try and teach your child to read until they show an interest in learning. If you do that they will learn very quickly once they are ready.
Read Little and Often
When you first start reading, the best way to help a reluctant reader is to go for little and often. Reading even a few words and stopping before they are bored or disheartened is so much better than pushing them to do more and making it a negative experience. We started with just one page of a Biff, Chip and Kipper book every night and gradually extended the reading time as his fluency improved. We didn’t rush. While we were still in the tortuous “C.A.T spells dog” phase we stuck to one page for both our sanity! You can also try reading alternate pages or even alternate sentences, so they read one and you read one. This can also help them to understand what’s happening in the story which in turn makes the process more enjoyable.
Give Your Children Choice
My children are absolutely amazed by the whole concept of libraries. They can’t believe there is somewhere they can just go in and borrow any book they want. they are literally like kids in a sweet shop.
Letting children choose their own books can be a very powerful way to get them interested in stories.
It may well be that they choose books that re above their reading level. that’s ok, offer to read them together and help them fall in love with stories a bit more.
Be a Good Role Model
If your children see you reading, reading will seem the norm to them. You don’t have to be reading Shakespeare, just something you enjoy. If you’ve got out of the reading habit now is a great time to rediscover it. Pop in ton your local library to join up and you’ll have instant access to thousands of titles. It doesn’t even need to be a book, even a newspaper or magazine is setting a good example.
Have Them Read to Someone Different
while school usually asks that children read to a parent, some children do better reading to someone else. the novelty is often quite motivating. You could do it either in person, over the phone or on a Zoom call. My suggestions for alternative listeners include:
Incentives for Reluctant Readers
While schools often give certificates to children for reading a certain of number of times at home I’m not a fan of incentives to encourage reluctant readers.
By incentivising reading we are suggesting that it’s something unpleasant that we should be rewarded for getting done and that’s not how I want my children to think about reading.
The only incentive I offer my children is a new book when they finish the current one or trip to the library.
Choose the Right Books to Help Reluctant Readers
Choosing the right books for your child is key. You don’t have to read whatever they bring home from school. This is particularly the case if your reluctant reader is a bit old for the early reader books. Or if you have a child who never changes their book so you end up reading the same thing for weeks until they know it by heart. You can buy books yourself, Amazon do some great deals on book sets or you can use your local library. For some children, they will need to start with very easy books to build their confidence. For others, it’s more important they are reading something that interests them. It’s really about experimenting to find out what works for them.
Books for Reluctant Reader
Try to be open minded about your child’s reading materials. It doesn’t matter what they read, just that they read it.
Don’t worry too much about reading levels or age appropriateness, just encourage them to find something they enjoy.
Motivate Reluctant Readers with a Book Series
We all know children love to collect things and by getting them invested in a series we play into that. Children also like repetition and familiarity and that can make a series of books more reader friendly for them.
The Project X Alien Adventure Series* was a huge hit in our house because they start at a fairly low level then grow more complex with the child’s ability. The stories are also really good, not babyish like some of the other collections. Both of my children learnt to read from these and loved them. My youngest listened to my oldest read them and couldn’t wait to read them herself when she started reading.
Use Books with Pictures for Struggling Readers
You can also try picture books for older readers. These are a bit like comics or graphic novels and are great for helping a reluctant reader. They can enjoy the story through the pictures even if they aren’t fully comprehending what they’re reading yet. The Dog Man series* by Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants* Fame) is a great place to start.
Don’t be scared to use books with pictures, there are lots of great options out there.
Consider Barrington Stoke Books
Barrington Stoke publish books with dyslexic children in mind but they are actually really easy to read for all children so worth looking at if your child is struggling with reading. They publish for children from 4 to the teenage years and include both fiction and non fiction so there’s something for everyone.
Find Books about Things They Love
It’s also worth trying some non fiction. For some children it’s reading about the real world that sparks their imagination. Whether it’s fiction or non fiction, it’s always worth trying to find books about things they are passionate about. There are plenty of books based around hobbies like football*, dance*, pets*, fairies* and hundreds of other things so you’re bound to find something your child loves.
It can also be useful to find books that reflect your child’s experiences, particularly if they are currently struggling with something.
Chapter Books for Reluctant Readers
Once they have the basics but need to work on stamina and fluency, you can try chapter books but read alternate pages with them so that they don’t become too frustrated. Again, it can work well to go with a series. The Beast Quest Books*, Dinosaur Cove Books* or The magic Treehouse* Series are all great choice.
I would advise steering away from the classics like Enid Blyton or the Worst Witch for the time being as they often contain a lot of unfamiliar words which an make them more tricky.
Engage Reluctant Readers with Funny Books
A lot of children think that reading is boring and a great way to convince them otherwise is to try reading them a funny book. once they’ve been read a funny book, they might be willing to try reading another funny book by the same author. Jeremy Strong* has been a big hit with my daughter.
Try Ebooks for Reluctant Readers
if children have had a hard tome learning to read they almost develop a phobia about books and so it can be worth experimenting with ebooks on devices like laptops or tablets to see if you get better results. It’s likely your school will be signed up to a programme, your local library might also have an offering. You can also sign up for Oxford Owl’s Free eBook Library.
My Top Tips for Reluctant Reader
- Make reading time a happy time, snuggles and great stories set the groundwork for a child who reads for pleasure
- Don’t feel pressurised to push them before they’re ready, they will get there in their own time
- Take them to the library or book shop and let them choose for themselves, if what they close is too tricky for them to read, just read it to them
- Try to be patient, hearing them sound out the same word over and over again is hard but showing your frustration won’t help
- Experiment with different types of books to find something that works for your child, you don’t have to read what they bring home for school
- Don’t stop reading to your child just because they can read for themselves
- If your child is keen to learn to read but just finding it really difficult, consider a tutor
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