I get a lot of questions about getting reluctant readers reading. Especially boys. Now, I am NOT an expert but I have had a good deal of experience. I am putting this together on the blog because it will give me a place to add creative ideas as I encounter them and I’m hoping others will add to it as well. Ultimately parents are the experts on getting children to read because ultimately that’s where kids learn to LOVE books. But it is a challenge for so many kids and that creates tension and stress …… a recipe for NOT loving books. Compound that with the fact that parents are usually too tired to be creative about it and suddenly you have an unhappy group. Unhappy about reading. For a bibliophile, this is a scary, sad thing.
· First!!! Realise your child can already read. As long as your child is sighted and able to communicate, they can read. Don’t believe me? Drive past a McDonalds. Sometimes it is the “I can’t” which presents the hardest obstacle to overcome for an emergent reader. Environmental print is a great way to point out “they can.” Have conversations about all the signs and labels that surround you every day. It doesn’t matter that they’re recognizing the logo or that they can’t actually “read” the word; if they know it, it counts. “Of course you can read, you already do” is the message.
· Get a library card. Go there.
· Let your child see you reading.
· Make books a part of daily life. This can not be stressed enough. In the beginning and for a very long time it really doesn’t matter WHO does the reading. Just read. Read every day.
· Have books in the bathroom, in the car to take in to appointments, in the ‘heading out the door with snacks’ bag. Down time can be filled with reading as a way to stave off boredom and that is a great message about the normalcy of reading.
· In the beginning, there are picture books, lots of picture books. When you start a new one, go through it BEFORE you read it together and have your child “tell” you the story from the pictures. They may want to do this several times before they actually want you to read the words and it may take several days. This prereading skill is so fun and intriguing and they will start to correctly guess what some of the words are faster because they feel they know where the story is going. Plus, talking about what you guessed wrong or right is the beginning of checking for comprehension.
· If it is a fight to read before bed, then don’t. It should be daily but find the time of day which suits your child. It may be in the morning, especially if they are early risers. Or it may be while supper is being prepared or lunches are being packed. Time which would be spent apart is now spent together. They can read a book they know, or read the pictures of a new one, or read a book which is at their level and you glance over to help with the words they can’t get.
· This is a great time to talk about what the body is doing while your child is trying to read. Did you know your physical position and posture affect learning? Boys have a particularly hard time with this. You should be comfortable when you read but if your kid is slumped over the book, draped across the table, and looking as if you’ve just asked him to eat a worm, then he’s NOT learning. This is why having your child read to you during dinner prep at the counter can be so great. Have them stand at the counter near you. Take the stool or chair away. Counters are often a good height for them and their body will be engaged in a more open physical position which allows for a more open mental frame of mind. This is the ‘fake it till you make it’ philosophy and for some reason it works. Variations on this may involve engaging the core while they read; in other words giving the kinesthetic part of the brain something to do while they read. Have them sit on your yoga ball or their soccer ball while they read. Stand on a towel and ‘swivel’ while at the counter. Roll a ball under your foot. Even chewing gum can achieve a little magic in this department! Be open minded and creative.
· Stop worrying about levels. Until a child can fluidly read and deeply comprehend a book, they’re not truly past that level. Just because neighbour Johnny reads chapter books doesn’t mean your kid is behind. A 10 chapter chapter book is just 10 story books. There’s NOTHING wrong with books with pictures. And it’s not a race. If your kid still reads like this “He-her-huc-aless-alees herculiss Hercules chAzed Kchusd chased the Him-ra heedra hydra” then they’re not comprehending. Give them time. Besides, neighbour Johnny still picks his nose and zones out watching TV just like every other kid so I don’t think anyone is signing him up for MENSA just yet.
· Don’t judge what they love to read. Barring wildly age inappropriate books, nothing is off the table. Captain Underpants and it’s gimmicky nightmare of “sort-of” phonetic spelling and gross immature potty humour may make you throw up in your mouth but if your child loves it then YOU love it. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t place lots of better choices in their environment and use passive aggressive parenting techniques to have them read those too …….. but I didn’t tell you that. Comic book style books about fantasy worlds, magazine layout style books about science, nature, or gross things, books of movies and TV shows all attract reluctant readers. Go for them!
· Get your child’s eyes checked. Every year. It is exhausting to read when it is WORK to see the words. Don’t set them up to fail.
· Books on tape/CD. Not all the time, but sometimes can be wonderful. Great when families are in a busy or stressed period and need a child to do a little independent reading happily.
· Notice details in stories and talk about them. Ideas are not born from 140 character tweets or television sound bites; ideas come from words and details thoughtfully unfolded, and nurtured, and played with. If you want to raise an engaged critical thinker, give them details and strong language skills. Give them ideas.
· Buy them a ruler. Do you know it’s time to put the book down and go to sleep when you read the same line 3 times? Me too. This is because reading from left to right, and top to bottom is a skill and one you learned. Just like fine motor skills must be developed in the hands, they must be developed with the eye. Tracking across the page, staying on one line, then jumping back and starting on the next line is more difficult than it sounds and a significant barrier to making the leap to chapter books. Perhaps it is not the length of the book frustrating your child but the mechanics. Sliding down the ruler (or book mark) line by line is amazing effective. When you’re reading together and your child is in a receptive state, have them place the ruler at the bottom of each paragraph when finished it and reread it for fluidity and better comprehension (as the ruler does interfere with that) but don’t make this a deal breaker. As they get better at the tracking skill, have them place the ruler at the bottom of each paragraph before they read it the first time. Don’t think of this as something they need to be weaned off though. It’s a great strategy for any reader feeling overwhelmed by the content. As they attempt harder books they can use it again and active readers will do this right through to their University texts if they view it, simply, as a tool.
· Get a list of sight words from the internet and underline or highlight them in a challenging book that interests your child. Write in a book you say?!?!?! Gasp! But YES, write in a book. Try a few of these, don’t overkill it but try a few. You’ll read this book TO your child but their job is to read the sight words. This is effective in short bursts as it is exhausting but it is very engaging and a shared reading experience which (while a little inorganic) is still very team building. As a parent the “we’ll get this together” messages are invaluable. Try it.
· Put several books on the floor and throw socks until a sock lands on 2. Then read those 2. How you GET TO the reading is important if they are going to love it so if there is a fight brewing, change the focus.
· Share your favourite bit. Ask theirs. This is beyond comprehension and infinitely more important. Did they like reading that story? Model appreciation for good storytelling, inventiveness, beautiful pictures, and brilliant words.
· Take the next logical step. When the book is through, what has it inspired you to do? Draw a picture, research something on the internet, do a dance, go to the library to take out the sequel. Strike while the fire is hot whenever time allows.
· Explore poems. No, your high school English teacher didn’t make me say that. Poems are as varied as people; there’s some for everyone and they’re accessible to all. The lovely Dr. Seuss wrote some of the world’s finest poems and, in my humble opinion, “Green Eggs and Ham” may be the finest book ever written. It is the perfect trifecta of perfect rhyme, perfect poetical rhythm, and poetical meter for children and young-at-heart adults. Rhymes make it easier for children to predict what the words say, as does how the poem is formed (meter and rhythm) because those predictive patterns of stresses in words and lines make a poem seem appealing, familiar, and comfortable even when it is not, ergo poetry is perfect for emergent readers. A joy. Read some Shel Silverstein too. He wrote deliciously weird, irreverent poetry for children, and grownups that aren’t shrivelled up and dead inside. Plus he didn’t consider children intellectually inferior. Still not convinced poetry is for you? How about song lyrics, almost any song lyrics? Because they are among the most common types of poems: blues, rock, punk, rap, hymns, ballads, just pick. Poetry.
· Don’t say things like “I don’t have time to read this” or “this is too long to read” or “this is so boring”. Those thoughts are inside thoughts. Don’t making reading or a challenging read sound like a burden or an undesirable task in front of your kids. They listen to every word you say.
· Put love notes and jokes in their lunch box so they can “read” how special you think they are!
Please share your ideas on how to get reluctant readers reading and loving books. How do you nurture your little reader to see them bloom into a full blown book nut?