Some children are born bookworms, but how do you engage a child who simply doesn’t like to read? After all, one of the best ways to jumpstart your learners’ education is through fostering a love of books, and you can’t really force someone to love something.
After college, I worked as a teacher and reading tutor for a small private school, and I frequently encountered the words that no teacher or parent likes to hear: “I hate reading.” When I asked, “Why?” the answer would usually be, “It’s boring!” Many of our students had struggled with comprehension or had a difficult time mastering reading skills initially due to dyslexia and/or ADHD. Unfortunately, by the time they had grasped the technical ability to read fluently, they often had no interest in doing so. This is the case for many children who have had reading struggles.
So how do you spark an interest where there is so much resistance? In our situation, my fellow teachers and I followed some simple everyday practices to get young learners to look at reading in a new light. Many of these strategies are creative, individualized, and require parental involvement, making them even more ideal for a homeschool setting.
Here are 6 methods that I’ve seen help bring reading to life for even the most resistant of readers. I hope they help you engage your own children in the magical world of books!
1. Have a special, non-academic reading time.
Chisel out a block of time that is just for pleasure-reading. It’s a time for non-academic books in a bubble of structured relaxation. To start, it’s nice if you can set aside just 30 minutes out of the day when your child or children can go to a special place (that they’ve picked out) to read books (also that they’ve picked out). Make sure that they are settled somewhere very comfortable and very different from where they usually do their school work. This could be a comfortable couch, their bed, the middle of the floor, a treehouse…let them use their imaginations! Now how do you make sure they’re actually reading? Set a timer and a no-talking rule, and stay in the same area while you…that’s right, you…read too. Grab a cup of tea and that book that’s been on your nightstand, and just enjoy reading for 30 minutes.
Skeptical this will work? Try making it a part of your routine for a week. At first, your resistant reader may sit there staring at nothing, but that gets boring quickly. From my experience, even an easily-distracted child who is required to sit quietly with a book in his hand (of his skill-level and choosing), will eventually give it a go. In fact, this routine may even be very calming for children who have difficulty concentrating. By reading your own book during this time, you are modeling an enjoyment for reading as well as showing that it is a pastime that should be respected.
2. Use the child’s interests (and don’t be afraid if she doesn’t pick classic novels).
This may be an obvious one, but it’s probably the most important. If you are working with a child who can read but doesn’t like to do so, then fuel your approach with her interests. It truly doesn’t matter if it’s a magazine, comic book, or junior novelization of a movie that she’s already seen. As long as she’s reading something that’s not morally objectionable to you, then it’s great! If your nine-year-old is using her reading time to read something you think a seven-year-old would be able to read, it’s okay. This is separate from “school reading,” so incorporate it into her 30 minute reading block, in-the-car reading, or before bedtime reading. Resistant readers need a series of good experiences to build confidence in and enjoyment of the practice of reading; playing to their interests is the simplest way to start.
3. Be a family that reads.
Make reading a fun part of your family life! When you model for your kids that reading is something that you think is fun, it’s bound to make an impact. And don’t just read in front of them: talk about what you are reading with your spouse and kids and express an interest in what they’re reading. Maybe go to the library and pick a family book or book series to read together. You can listen to audio books together in the car or read a chapter aloud in the evenings with a bowl of popcorn or in the mornings as you begin your day. And listening counts! Children who listen to expressive reading learn to connect the spoken words with the images they create in their own imaginations; this can be the biggest step forward for those who have struggled with reading in the past.
4. Get artsy.
A simple, very basic way to incorporate this into your lesson plans is the Read-Draw-Retell method. Model this method for your child before asking him to do it. First, read a short passage or story aloud, and then draw a picture illustrating what you read. As you draw, talk about what details you should incorporate. Then, use your doodle to retell (summarize) what you read. It’s best to do this with a few pages or a short chapter. Once you’ve modeled it a few times, have your child try. This not only helps with comprehension and engagement, but memory as well. It’s great to use in fun reading as well as academic reading for subjects such as English, social studies, or science. I’ve even used it to tutor high school students in Shakespeare! From making book-based collages or movie posters based on books…there are so many ways you can incorporate drawing to make reading more fun.
5. Act it out.
Acting is another creative tool you can use to encourage reading. It’s also great because you can pull in writing skills! For instance, try having your child write a short skit based on something you’ve read, or turn one of your children’s Read-Draw-Retell into a comic that acts as a storyboard. Kids love to act, especially if you record their efforts and make a big deal out of it. There are a lot of inexpensive apps available with movie magic that can make the end result even more exciting! If you are looking for more specific ideas on how to get creative with reading projects, Scholastic has some good non-traditional ideas here.
6. Celebrate reading.
Everybody loves a party, especially kids, so think about some ways you can have a book celebration. This is an infinitely versatile concept! Maybe you want to have a special day every once in a while just for reading. You could build a giant reading fort in your living room or take a picnic and a bunch of books to the park. Maybe the party can be a goal you look forward to with your children once you finish a book as a family or when a child finishes a certain number of books.
For example, I taught a unit on Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief in a literature course for some young students who had struggled with reading. In the course, they read independently, and we also read together. When we finished the book, we had a themed party. We had a trivia tournament (on details from the book), ate Greek snacks, wore togas, and watched the short film we had made in class (inspired by the novel). Many of those students “didn’t like to read,” but several of them went on to read the rest of the Percy Jackson series. Your own celebration can be elaborate, but it can also be something as simple as watching the movie after you finish the book that inspired it. Whatever you do to celebrate books, you can be sure that your children won’t forget those positive associations with reading!