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”.
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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 to help a reluctant reader to become a child a who reads for pleasure.
The Best Way to Help a Reluctant Reader 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.
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” 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.
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 of 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.
Choose the right books
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 or The Book People do some great deals on book sets or you can use your local library. 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. 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.
Types of books that can help a reluctant reader
If you want an early readers series that’s suitable for slightly older children, try the Project X Alien Adventure series. 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.
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.
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.
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.
My Top Tips for helping a 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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