Let’s face it: some kids just don’t like to read. As difficult as it is to understand for those of us who would stop just shy of selling our soul for a good book and a quiet room, there are kids out there who would rather visit the dentist than open a book. If you are a parent of a reluctant reader, you recognize the challenges of encouraging good reading habits in your kid. But there are steps you can take to help him or her ignite a new-found interest in the joy of reading.
The most important step is to provide your child with books that are interesting to him. This may sound like simple advice but most reluctance towards reading stems from his lack of passion for the topic. Many of our children’s books have been provided to us as gifts or hand-me-downs from well-meaning people, but a book that is beloved by one child may not be the best gift for another. A kid who doesn’t like bulldozers, bunnies, or pirates isn’t going to like a book about bulldozers, bunnies, or pirates.
Parents of school-aged children must also keep in mind that books assigned for reading are often selected for didactic purposes that may not be appreciated by your child. If your child is a reluctant reader, reading books for school assignments probably won’t have her begging for a sudden trip to the closest bookstore.
The journey to enthusiastic reading begins with discovering your child’s interests. Talk with her: what does she like to do? Which subjects in school does she like the most? What does she want to do when she grows up? What concerns her? What excites her?
Also consider your child’s hobbies and social interests: does he tend to watch a particular type of television show? Does he gravitate toward a certain type of person? What are his hobbies? What are his favourite toys?
The answers to the above questions will provide you with a much clearer idea of where to start when selecting reading material for your child. Trust me, if your child is interested in it, there will most certainly be a book about it. Considering the sheer number of books available to young readers, I’m surprised that authors can still find topics to tell stories about.
The second step to nurturing your child’s interest in reading is to model the behaviour. Once you have identified books that interest your kid, allow him time to read them. Lie in bed and read together. Take turns reading aloud each night before the family leaves the dinner table. Pose questions about the book that allow him to make connections with the material. Have conversations with her about it; create a new book cover or illustration or alternate ending. Find sequels or books with complementary topics. Have a contest for who can read the most books in a designated period of time. Make reading an adventure.
Now move your reading adventure outside. Build a “reading fort” in your backyard. Recreate the plot of a favourite book. Visit locations identified in the story. Attend book readings at libraries and bookstores. See a movie adaptation and discuss the differences between it and the book version.
For the technically inclined child, buy an e-reader and introduce her to your local library’s online book editions.
For the creative child, visit web sites like storyjumper.com and scribblitt.com that create books from scratch. Your child can write, illustrate, and publish his own book!
For the athletic child, buy a magazine subscription about her preferred sport.
For the visual child, try graphic novels.
In the end, the key to encouraging reluctant kids to read is to make the reading all about them: the books focus on topics that they like; the format is one that they enjoy; the activities are planned around their preferences.
And as your child grows as a reader, (hopefully) so too will his repertoire. The more your child reads, the more likely she is to experiment with new topics and materials.
Teachers, librarians, and bookstore clerks are happy to assist with your child’s journey. Travel along and enjoy the discoveries!
Christine Stock is an Ontario Certified Teacher who holds a Master’s Degree in English. She has taught English and Creative Writing for nearly 10 years in both public and private schools. Christine is the author of greatreads4teens.com, and she lives in Toronto with her husband and tween daughter.