9 Simple Strategies for Reluctant Readers

May 03, 2017 Becky Thada

My two daughters are really fascinated with books. Reading together is one of our favorite things to do. But this is not the case for every child. You may be doing all the right things and still your budding reader looks more wilted than blossoming.

Boys especially can struggle with the utility of reading. Sometimes they've not been exposed to books that they enjoy and they just don't see the point. If your reader is getting frustrated and has lost that spark for learning, take heart! You can reignite a flame from the smoldering coals.

Start with your child's interests. Does she love stories about animals? Is he fascinated by spiders? Is there something she wants to learn how to do? What does he want to be when he grows up? Utilize your library (and lovely librarians!) and get some easy readers on the topics that will spark interest.

Take a few of the books of interest and read them to your child. Just because he's starting to read or can read a lot of basic words, doesn't mean you stop reading to him. Chances are, it will be a lot more enjoyable to learn about the subject of interest if a fluent reader like you is reading it. Start there and try a few other ideas below.

  • Find books of interest and books that make them laugh (Mo Willems is a favorite author of mine for funny early readers). YOU read to your child and just laugh together. Make the books available for your child after reading them.
  • Try Echo Reading. It almost feels like cheating, but it's teaching fluency and intonation. You read a sentence and then she echoes it. You can track under the words as you read so your child is looking at and engaging with the words.
  • Dig out an old picture book. If your child has aged out of picture books, nothing could be more nostalgic than finding that favorite book with the binding coming loose. Children love hearing about when they were younger. And oftentimes those books they memorized from hearing so much, are the books that teach them to read. YOU may not want to hear it one more time, but they just might!
  • Take a "Picture Walk." If you've found a book of interest at your child's level, sit down with them and look through the pictures first - before reading any words. Point things out, make inferences together, and talk about any vocabulary words you think might be a challenge. This will give your child context for what she's about to read. This simple step before-hand can really set her up for success.
  • Change the location or movement. Get outside and read in a tree. As a kid I used to do headstands on our stairs and just lay upside-down. I loved it! Read to your child while they're swinging, eating lunch, or flipped upside-down on the couch. If there's something mindless that they can be doing with their hands, you might actually hold their attention longer. Reading aloud to your child, stopping to talk about a confusing word or phrase, and modeling what good reading looks like is invaluable to your child's reading development.
  • Know when it's time to stop. You know when your child is frustrated. Don't drill and kill! If they're attempting to read and are really struggling; a) the book of choice is probably too difficult, b) they're not going to understand what they're reading if all their efforts are drained in decoding the words, c) the enjoyment of reading has been squelched - the message instead is reading = work.
  • Take a break from sounding it out. Phonics can be really helpful, but it's been a little overdone in recent years. It is not the end-all, be-all of early reading. Just when you think your child is getting the hang of letter sounds, you sit down to read and realize over half the words in from of him can't be sounded out. Learning sight words (words that are not phonetic, but are memorized by sight) can really give your child a boost. There are all kinds of fun ways to learn sight words - a simple search will reveal that (more ideas on that to come). Just please don't use flash cards!
  • Keep your perspective. It's easy to get caught up in the pressures of when kids should be reading at what level. Take the broader perspective and remember that the real goal is life-long learning. At which age your child starts reading doesn't matter as much as you might think. The ones who start later often catch up to and even surpass the early readers. So if YOU relax, your child will too.
  • Celebrate small successes. Be your child's cheerleader. Reading is incredibly complex! We forget how difficult it actually is because it's automatic to us now. So be patient with your child and keep your cool. It will come together eventually. So enjoy the journey!

These ideas are shared with children ages 6-9 in mind. I'll be sharing more ideas for young children (ages 2-5), so come back soon!

Also, it's important to note that if your child is struggling with vision or hearing, getting the appropriate help can be a total game changer. Make sure your child's vision and hearing has been examined, either through your school or doctor. And learning disabilities are more common than you might think. So if you're concerned about your child's progress, don't be afraid to consult a doctor or other educational professional.

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1 comment

  • Wendelyn Daly

    May 04, 2017

    Great advice! I especially appreciated the taking a break from making your child sound out each word and your point of keeping it in perspective.

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