Hearing the words, “I hate to read!” can be a parental nightmare, conjuring up images of below basic standardized test scores, remedial classes, or worse – dropping out of school and not going to college. Yet, it is a universal reality that many parents have reluctant reading spawn – even those parents who firmly classify themselves as voracious readers. When I meet with parents at conferences, the following scenario is not at all uncommon:
“What can we do about Tommy? My husband loves to read. I love to read. Tommy’s older sister loves to read. Tommy’s younger brother loves to read. The dog loves to read. But Tommy hates to read! I don’t understand it. Help us – Pleeeeease!”
Seeing the panic in their eyes, I tell the parents the first step is to determine if their child is in fact a reluctant reader (R.R.) or just a passionless one. To determine where the child is on the Reluctant Reader Richter scale, I ask three questions:
1 - Does your child avoid reading whenever possible?
2 - Does your child complain when doing it?
3 - Does your child have little to no retention or comprehension when they are finished?
If the answer is yes to all three questions, I tell them it is safe to assume that their child is in fact allergic to books. And that’s when I smile and say, “Let’s give them an antihistamine they’re going to love.”
RR Strategy#1 - Ownership
Parents should allow children to choose their own books. If children “see” themselves in what they read, they will naturally become more interested in reading. Guide your child to books classified as Hi/Lo (High interest / Low Level). These books have major RR appeal: humor, a face paced plot, kid relevance, and visual appeal. I also encourage parents to give their child a monthly or weekly book allowance so they can start their own personal library. Make their bedroom a literary lair by preparing a reading corner with comfy pillows and beanbags. Decorate the walls with book cover posters or have your child design their own.
RR Strategy #2 - Keep It Fun!
Eventually kids will read independently, but before they to, they need to have a series of positive experiences. Make reading relaxing and low key. Allow them to read graphic novels, joke books, and choose-your-own adventure books. Encourage them to read aloud funny or interesting parts of the book. Utilize technology and download audio or e-books. Dispel any Rigid Reading Rules your child has picked up in the past. For example, it’s okay not to finish a book. I even tell my students I have my own page 7 rule. If a book doesn’t grab me by page 7, I put it down and choose something else. A reluctant reader might have a page 1 or 2 rule, and that’s okay. On the flip side, it’s okay to reread a favorite book, as this builds fluency and confidence through repetition. Be patient with your child and don’t EVER use reading as a form of punishment. Remember, positive associations are essential.
RR Strategy #3 – Be a Buddy
Finally, be your child’s reading buddy. Schedule regular library or local bookstore visits. Assist with comprehension in a disarming way by asking open-ended questions:
· Why do you think the character did __________________?
· What would you change the title to?
· Who would you want as a best friend?
· What was your favorite part?
When your child has a book report at school, work with the teacher to ensure a positive experience. Ask if they can choose their own book and if extra time is needed, request an extension. Most teachers understand the plight of the reluctant reader and want to be a part of the solution.
A love of reading is a lifelong gift parents can give their children. Like any pursuit, some children are more receptive than others. Nevertheless, by giving your child ownership, making reading, fun, and being a partner in child’s journey as a reader, your reluctant reader will turn voracious in no time.