Reluctant Readers 101

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back to school graphic

Got a kid that “hates” reading? Well….keep reading.

It’s time for school, and many parents are trying to get back into the habit of studying, or at least reading. Some kids read willingly, but for others it’s an uphill battle. As an elementary school librarian, I often get asked, “How can I get my child to enjoy reading?”

Before responding, I ponder a moment and consider the child. Then I ask, “You want Little Sara to sit down, not move, and read a book for a solid 20 minutes?” The parents usually answer, “Yes.”

Then comes my disappointing reply: “That’s not gonna happen.

Actually Sara does read all day and she enjoys it. She just doesn’t read in the manner you would prefer her to read.” 

And that’s true for most children. I have never met a child who didn’t like reading in any format. But I have encountered hundreds of kids who didn’t find enjoyment in “curling up with a good book.”

In the professional world, we call these kids reluctant readers. They are reluctant to read a book with the class. They are reluctant to read a book and complete a book summary. They are reluctant to read a book because reading does not produce anything they can see (because, let’s be honest, kids are tangible creatures). And for some, they are reluctant to read a book because they can’t.

Oftentimes in school, a class will read a book together. Let’s say they’re reading Charlotte’s Web. Teachers rave about this book. But this book was written in 1952! What makes anyone think a child born in 2013 can relate to the language of this book! As an adult, I can enjoy a good classic. But as a child, pluuueeesssseeee. Many educators often want students to read books that they are familiar with. If you’re an educator and haven’t read a children’s book with a copyright date of at least 2011, please seek the advice of your librarian. There have been thousands and thousands of books that have been written that captivate young readers, as well as offer educational opportunities. So if your reluctant reader isn’t reading a “school prescribed” book, the book may be boring. An avid reader is able to push through a “boring book,” but a reluctant reader would gladly accept a zero and keep moving.

Next, stop it with all the book summaries and reports. These kill the joy for even the most avid readers. Can you imagine what it does to reluctant readers? This makes reading work. No child wants more work. Instead, just allow them to read for pleasure. Save the AR test and chapter summaries for school and required assignments.

I have encountered several reluctant readers who are also busy-bodies. I promise you they must get 13,000 steps per day! These kids need something they can read AND DO! Like to dance? Give them a book on dancing. Prefers crafts? Tons of books about making things from…well..other things. These books are informational text and require a lot of comprehension. For these kids, the words become something they can actually do. 

In short, 

-If your child likes to watch TV all day….put on the Closed Caption.

-If your child prefers playing with Legos….Print out a Lego instructions manual. #informational text.

-If your child likes cartoons….Give them a graphic novel.

-If your child likes video games….Give them a book full of cheat codes.

-If your child likes to eat….Give them a cookbook and an apron.

Also, invest in audio books. They can listen to an audiobook while you drive or while cleaning their room. 

spiderman reading

Lastly, some kids don’t like to read because they can’t and they can hide it very well. As a parent, I would suggest listening to your kids read. It can be the back of a cereal box, instructions for a game, a book or even a magazine. Pay close attention to the words they struggle with and how they attempt to decode, or breakdown, unknown words. If they are struggling, notify the teacher and ask for a plan for reading intervention.

Oh, and one more thing, model the behavior you want.

Don’t preach about the importance of reading if you haven’t picked up a book since God knows when. Let them see you reading and enjoying a book. You’ll be surprised how closely they are watching you.

Unsure where to even start of what books to suggest? Check out Memphis Mom Collective’s Website. Just search “reading;” we have several guides.

You can also check out…

Jory John and The Bad Seed Series– Kindergarten – 1st Grade

Anything by Ryan T. Higgins – Kindergarten – 2nd Grade

Andrea Beaty’s Questioneers Series – 2nd – 4th Grade

Like Harry Potter? Try Septimus Heap Series by Angie Sage – 4th and up

Oh, I also love Kwame Alexander for my boys! – 5th and up

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Patricia is a Memphis native and LOVES Memphis to her core. She is the mom of 4 kids, Aiden (June 2008), Elliott and Elijah (January 2012), and Eve (November (2013). *Please ignore the lack of an age gap between the twins and Eve…things happen. Patricia is the wife of a tall, dark, and handsome man, Anthony. She graduate from the University of Memphis in 2007 and 2010, with a Bachelors degree in Exercise and Sports Science and a Masters Degree in Arts in Teaching. She earned her Library Endorsement from the University of Knoxville (hooray for online education.) Patricia is a school librarian and a blog writer, realworkwife.com. She loves to read, write, read, cook, read, run, read, travel, read, and hang out with Memphis. Yes, you read that right, she likes to hang out with the entire city. Life has dealt Patricia a series of highs, lows, and “why-me” moments, but you will never catch her without a smile in eyes, ignited from her soul within.

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