My husband was deployed to a combat zone for a year when we were in our 20s. Neither of us were avid readers at that time–we were busy with our jobs and figuring out life after college. I always had my nose in a book as a kid, but it was difficult to find time for reading as a young adult. When the deployment came, we knew we needed ways to stay connected over the distance and through that long year. I suggested to my husband that we should start reading books together. So, I bought us each an e-reader, and we chose our first book for our little book club.
Reading builds connection, fuels life-long learning, and helps us see the world from varying perspectives. Just as in most areas of life, if we want to be skilled readers, we must practice. When we prioritize reading in our homes, our kids learn through observation. They see that reading is important to us.
If you have a reluctant reader on your hands, they may employ any number of strategies to avoid reading. But don’t give up! Here are some simple tips you can use to increase their motivation and engagement:
- Read aloud to them. Little kids need to hear us model how to read with excitement, expression, and skill. Make this part of your nightly routine and snuggle up together to enjoy a good book. It’s OK to reread a favorite story. This is actually good for young readers, especially when they aren’t typically interested in reading. Rereading the same book benefits your child by giving them an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the story and build their vocabulary. Additionally, it helps to boost their confidence because they begin to memorize some of the words and they feel like they are reading too!
- Read what they’re reading. If your child is an independent reader, choose a book together and form a book club in your family. Make sure that your child is interested in the topic and that the book is on their level. Everyone should have their own copy of the text. Set an assigned page or chapter amount for everyone to read, and then come back together to talk about what you read. When you are reading the same story as your child, you’ll have a really good idea if they did the reading and if they understood it. This is a great time to connect with your child!
- Set aside a time to read as a family. When your children see you reading, they’re more inclined to pick up a book. Choose a time each day when everyone in the family devotes time to reading. Curl up on the couch, hang out in the backyard, or lounge on some bean bag chairs while you gather the whole family for reading time. Establishing a routine around reading will make it second nature for kids to pick up a book and feel like they are part of something important.
- Help them find the right books. Your child’s teacher probably taught your child about picking a book that is just right for them. Most schools have leveling systems that help children pick a book that they are able to read. But not everything is about their level. Kids also need to be able to read books that they are interested in, even if the level is higher or lower than theirs. Take your child to the library or bookstore and explore the shelves together. If your child is excited about a book that you know is going to be difficult, commit to supporting them. This might just be the book that turns your child into an avid reader!
- Offer praise and encouragement. Just as your soccer player loves to hear your applause and cheers from the sidelines as they take the ball down the field, your reader needs the same encouragement, too. Point out your child’s strengths as a reader. Look for small successes to celebrate! If your child is motivated by sticker charts, create a chart to track all of the books they have read. If they love lists, keep track of all the titles and authors they have read. These visuals, along with your words of encouragement and support, will help your reader be motivated to continue reading.
If your child’s reluctance to read is more than just a lack of interest, be sure to talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns. If you notice that your child has difficulty breaking words into different parts (seeing the word run in running) or identifying rhyming words that are part of word families (changing the first letter of can to make new words, like van, fan, and tan), or your child has trouble retelling what they just read, reach out to the teacher for a private meeting. Experts at your child’s school will be able to help you understand more about how your child is doing, and they’ll be able to share additional suggestions for how you can help at home.
Remember that all children learn to read at different rates, as well as in different ways. Continued practice and learning new strategies will help your child develop their reading skills over time.
By Caitlin Hardeman, former third through sixth grade teacher specializing in English Language Arts.