If I could wave a magic wand and solve one problem for parents, it might well be this one. Not because reluctant readers are doomed to fail. Or because it’s VITAL that all children read constantly. Or enthusiastically. Or widely. But simply because there is so much pleasure to be found within the pages of a book and it seems incredibly unfair that some children just can’t experience it.
So, if you have a reluctant reader, here are a few ideas which just might encourage them to peek, secretly, in between the pages of something (ANYthing!). And, who knows… that could be all they need to start on a reading journey which will bring them a little joy every day for the rest of their lives.
(Or, it might just make life bearable for you and take away some of the arguments over “Biff, Chip and Kipper”. But that’s good too, right?!)
- Set the scene
Find your child somewhere cool, cosy or quirky as their reading spot. The novelty of sitting on a windowsill, or in a lovely bean bag, or hiding in a cupboard with a torch (maybe?!) will make reading seem special and entwined with that spot. Make the space as personal as you can and allow your child to have some control over it.
- Set an example
You know this one already, but children of parents who read for pleasure are much more likely to read for pleasure themselves (this only works if you’re SEEN to read… it’s no good if you only read for 10 minutes before bed, long after your children are asleep). If you can, make a quiet time during the day when the whole family reads at the same time - no phones, emails or TV in the background - and make it clear that it’s a treat for all of you.
- Take off the pressure
Reading at home should be fun, engaging, imaginative and un-put-downable! Let them indulge their own tastes and interests (yes… even if it’s a book about poo, Minecraft or ANOTHER fairy book). Leave the target setting and concerns about ‘levels’ and vocabulary to the teachers. Their job is to teach your child to read; your job is to get them to LOVE reading.
- Play with the format
At this stage, it really doesn’t matter WHAT your child is reading*. If you have a reluctant reader, you’re just trying to get them over the hump of thinking of it as a chore. So, if they’re put off by large chunks of text, let them try a comic or graphic novel. If they are addicted to a TV show or computer game, try one of the spin-off stories which often abound. And if you have a child who’s crazy about facts, let them read a non-fiction or “list” book. It may not be to your taste, but that’s not the point - if they’re looking at some words written on paper, you’re both winning.
*It’s worth noting here that it’s usually best to avoid e-readers for as long as possible. Numerous studies have shown that it’s much harder for people, and especially children, to absorb information read on a screen, and there’s lots of evidence that the light from screens interferes with sleep patterns which makes e-readers particularly tricky for bedtime.
- Try not to make reading a bargaining chip
If you bargain with your child along the lines of, “Do 10 minutes of reading and then you can play your video game,’ you’re instantly framing reading as the chore and the video game as the reward. Instead, try to find ways of making it seem like a treat in itself. The idea that they can stay up for an extra 15 minutes to read is often a good way of successfully entwining reading with a recognisable treat. Or setting up a lovely reading den with some snacks and then restricting the time (“We can only spare 15 minutes, but let’s treat ourselves to some reading time…”) might be enough to make it feel special.
- Make books part of the scenery
When it comes to books, Marie Kondo may have it wrong! If you can leave interesting looking books and magazines in places which might catch your child’s eye, you may find them willingly picking them up and flicking through. This is a very low-pressure way to introduce books and, if you can resist the temptation to draw attention to them, can be really effective at removing the fear of that first peek inside. A beautiful photographic coffee table book left on the kitchen table might just catch their eye while they wait for their lunch. And, if your child feels like they can look at it for only as long as they feel comfortable, they’ll be much more likely to return. Treat them like a nervous squirrel at the bird table… no sudden noises!
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this one, but hopefully some of those ideas will give some inspiration if you’re feeling exasperated or frustrated. If you have any other suggestions, or want to give feedback on things you’ve tried, please do let us know. You might just save the sanity of another parent out there!