Sunday, June 22

How to Get a Reluctant Reader Reading

As a librarian, I pretty much think reading is the greatest thing ever. Ever ever. A lot can be learned from reading, plus it gives a huge boost to the imagination. I’m an advocate for early literacy and getting children started on books as soon as possible. Why? Because reading is necessary. As a student, in a job, whatever it may be, reading is important. Well, what happens when it doesn’t come easy? Or it just plain is no fun? How can you—a parent, librarian, teacher, whoever—help kids pick up a book? I’m not an expert, but I have been studying this for a while, and here’s some quick suggestions that I have.

1. Try not to force kids into reading

And by this, I mean that reading should not become a chore or punishment. Of course there are times when kids have to read. Maybe it’s their homework assignment. Maybe a teacher/parent has required them to read 20 minutes a day. Maybe you are a firm believer that every child should be reading in their spare time (like me!). These situations are all possible—and that’s fine. The problem arises when the requirement becomes a negative experience. And that may be because of your attitude. If you’re trying to get your child/student/patron to read, try not to make it sound like it’s do or die. Have a positive attitude about it; make it sound like the adventure or opportunity for learning that it is. And try implementing some of the following ideas…

2. Let kids read what they want

Yes, you may think Captain Underpants is gross. Or that Junie B. Jones is under their reading level (or AR level). Or that nonfiction books are the only ones worth reading. But you should try to let go of those biases. Don’t take books away from kids. Of course, if there are certain morals/values that you uphold (no sex or drugs or language or whatever it may be) then, yes, guide your kids around those books. But if the dear child only likes Captain Underpants, then please don’t shoot it down. Let them read it—because it’s reading! And we like reading! Once they start with something they truly like, then you can introduce some other possible options…

3. Try to build literary connections to the things kids like to do

So they love to read Captain Underpants, or play Minecraft, or watch Spongebob Squarepants, or perform some other hobby. Great! Build off of that! There are all kinds of reading materials that are based on favorite characters, TV shows, video games, sports, animals, etc. Find some books that match the child’s interest. If they like it, try expanding those interests with something similar. Show the avid Minecraft player the game’s handbooks, and then try introducing them to Lego books, or a nonfiction book on cities and how they’re built (Eyewitness books, for example). Try different formats, too, such as an eBook, audiobook, comic book, graphic novel, newspaper, magazine or the back of a cereal box. And remember….

4. Read with kids

If you have the time, reading with kids is a rewarding experience for everyone involved. I know they can get restless or noisy (try storytime with a bunch of four-year-olds!), but you are modelling good reading behavior. If a child sees you liking a book—getting excited while reading—they’ll know books can be a source of enjoyment. Plus, if you read to them, they build vocabulary, emotional/social understanding, and attention spans. Take turns reading; you can let them practice reading to you at their own speed, with no judgment from you. Or, simple yet effective: you can both sit quietly together and read your own books. If you don’t have time to read, then…

5. Bring kids to the library!!

Yes, it’s true, I am part of a whole profession of people who love to read with kids! I work in a building filled with books and other awesome learning tools! I may be biased, but libraries are an amazing resource for kids. Librarians are eager to help with reading skills, finding the right book, or exploring other learning options. They put on programs or events that are fun and designed to draw kids to the library. If you support your library and share that respect with your child, he/she may just discover what a fantastic place it is.

Try implementing any or all of these ideas. See what happens, and let me know. Or comment with some of your own suggestions. Let’s spread the love of reading!

If you want more book suggestions for reluctant readers, check out my recommendations here.

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