Summer reading – It’s the thing. For some of us, it is the highlight of summer. And for some of our kids, it is (one of) the highlights of their summer. And we love that because we know it is making them smarter while they are having some much-coveted down-time. But so many kids are “reluctant readers.” And “reluctant” can be an under-statement. Some kids hate reading (but really, they just think they do).
I was not that child. I loved reading. I mean LOVED IT! I loved the summer reading program at the library. I would max out the prizes in one week. I read the 3 books that I could check out, then read the books that each of my siblings checked out, then I walked down to the neighbors (who also had five kids) and read every book there. I did that each week all summer. HEA—VEN—LY!!! As a parent, I couldn’t wait to share this world with my child. But, as fates would have it, I got a reluctant reader. So many of us do.
So what to do about the Reluctant Reader?
So you have a child who does not like to read (due to reading disability or simply because they have not found the pleasure in it). It happens. My parents only got one avid reader out of the five kids. (Three out of the four read more as adults, but I have a brother who says, “Nah, I don’t even text.”) My mother kept promoting it all those years. She loved reading, so modeled it pretty well (for a busy mother of five). She converted the shed into a children’s library. Any kid on the block could come hang out to read. She read to us and also had the babysitter read to us. She kept promoting it without forcing it. Progress was made (in small, hard-won increments).
As I began to parent, I certainly wanted my child to love books the way I did. Fingers crossed. And my daughter (referred to as the Queen because she skipped the princess stage altogether) did (sort of) love books. She was very visual and loved detailed images. She was engrossed with picture books from babyhood. She liked to be read to. She could recognize all of her letters before she was two (this took me by surprise as I was not teaching them, but we did read alphabet books).
Things looked good, but alas no. The Queen summed it up perfectly when she was about five years old. I was reading a book to her that she seemed to find thoroughly interesting. At the end, she turned to me and said in all seriousness, “Why am I not published yet.” The Queen was a creator. The creative works of others only primed her own creative juices. Why should she be reading when someone could be reading a book by her?
And so began my struggle of how to encourage the reluctant reader. For all her early prowess with letter recognition, reading words and text emerged slowly. The Queen was never behind in reading, but she was never ahead either. And since she was a Queen, I could not actually order her to do anything. Well, I could try to order her to read, but her exasperated look and half-hearted attempt did not really accomplish anything.
SO, based on my experiences, I would encourage the stealth approach for parents of reluctant readers. (These tips will help for kids with reading disabilities, but I will have another blog entry with more specific recommendations about those specific challenges)
First, and most important – You will not win if you force the reluctant reader to read. This will make reading a chore . . . work . . . drudgery. “My mom MAKES ME READ!” Remember, reading for pleasure must be pleasurable, so find any literature that is appealing. Look for books of high interest. This means of high interest to the child, not you. Do some “stealth parenting.”
- Libraries are a great start for exploring this. There are a lot of books to look through and, unlike a bookstore, you can sample a huge range of literature without breaking the bank. And trust me, it can take a lot of sampling before some kids find what they like. Just hang out on a Saturday morning and let your child explore. Don’t place limits. They may pick books that seem too young for them (they can be independent with that book) or too old for them (you can read it to them). It may turn out that they love the subject matter. Now you have a clue about what may engage them. You can look for more age-appropriate books from there.
- Don’t overlook magazines. Short text with lots of picture support can be really appealing. National Geographic Kids, Time for Kids, Sports Illustrated Kids – there are many mainstream magazines scaled for kids. Make these available. Don’t require reading, but do point out interesting articles. The regular National Geographic (or any magazine) may also be appealing if the photography is great. If your child has a particular interest, go to a really good bookstore. The specialty magazine selection is outstanding. There may be a skateboarding magazine that rocks his world and makes him dream big. It is okay if he only looks at the pictures. Eventually, there will be some picture that intrigues him enough to check the text. If your child cannot read it on his own, read it to them.
- And don’t overlook comic books. Comics are great for the reluctant reader. The storyline is short with lots of picture support. And if you check out the text, you will find it is not overly simplistic. Comics, like The Far Side, can have hilarious sophistication when making fun of scientific and cultural norms. Captain Underpants can hit an irreverent tone that brings many a child glee. If your kid laughs or rushes to show you a really funny part, you have found the elusive “reading for pleasure” zone. You can build from there.
- It is important to make a reading area at home. Have a reading area with boxes or baskets full of library books, books you own, magazines and any other reading material (including books or magazines you are reading).
- Make your own books. If you have a creative child who would rather do something rather than sit and read, then have her create the summer scrapbook. Each day (or a few days a week) have your child make a drawing about some summer adventure. Either one of you can add the text. Put these in a binder and read through it throughout the summer and again at the end. If your child cannot draw well enough to suit their own standards, have them make collages from magazine pictures and photos.
- Model reading as pleasure. Make a time daily (or at least 3-4 days a week) when everyone sits down to read. Everyone is allowed to read or look at any literature of their choosing (make sure it is print material for the reluctant reader as online reading is not quite the same and distractions are very accessible). If you have a child who refuses to read at this time, ask them to work on the scrapbook (“That would be a really big help for me because I really want us to have those memories”). Be sure to provide good magazines for finding the best pictures for the scrapbook. (Stealthy, huh.)
Success (of sorts)
These are the strategies I refined over the years with the Queen. AND SHE BECAME AN AVID READER WHO DEVOURS NOVELS LIKE CANDY!!! Okay, no, that did not happen. She has never even read Harry Potter though they all sit on a shelf awaiting her (or maybe a grandchild?). However, she did become a reader. She became someone with favorite books and favorite topics. Like me, she loves comics. She loves The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Zits. She liked non-fiction stories of kids who overcame difficulties (notice the past tense there). She likes the sciences and loves aerospace and astrophysics. By 5th grade, she would peruse college-level literature in those areas. She wasn’t (and largely still isn’t) a front to back reader. She reads parts of books based on interests and mood, but she always has something she is interested in. She reads daily. I will take that.