Whenever I do a book talk I inevitably get the question of how to encourage a reluctant reader to pick up a book. I thought I would put my advice down in writing so that parents can refer to it, ignore it or doodle on it.
There are plenty of wonderful articles that highlight picking books that fit kid’s interests, reading aloud to them and going to the library - great advice. However, I thought I would share the down and dirty tips that worked for me. They may not be the prettiest, but they are effective.
Before I begin, I have to share with you the basic tenant I believe in. Children do not get better at reading unless they read, it is that simple. That means that any type of reading is acceptable and that it all works to improve their skills. Fundamentally the better they are at reading the more they will enjoy the activity and branch out in their reading choices. So here goes:
1. Have two bedtimes. In our home we have the regular bedtime and the reading bedtime. If my kids are tired and just want to go to sleep they go to bed at 9:00pm. However, if they would like to read in their rooms for half an hour, their bedtime jumps to 9:30pm. It has become such a habit now that the kids get out of the shower, grab a book and snuggle up in bed. The book does get to be one of their choosing, but they must be reading. It is rare that they don’t grab a book and take advantage of the later bedtime.
2. Have a comic basket in the family room and car. In our family room we have a big basket filled with Archie and Scooby Doo comic books. It also is littered with Calvin and Hobbs, as well as Far Side anthologies. These represent easy reads for the kids where they can invest five minutes or one hour. If they have limited time before they have to leave the house for an activity or if they are in the car, they simply grab a comic. Providing an easy alternative to boredom that feels like a treat will quickly make reading become a habit for those periods of downtime. And remember, any type of reading improves their skills. We discussed that above.
3. Give your kids magazine subscriptions for the holidays/birthday. Favorites in my house are National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated Kids, American Girl and Mad Magazine (however this later choice is definitely for teens only.) Not only do kids look forward to getting things in the mail, but when they arrive it is like a little gift and they will plop right down and start reading.
4. Read when your kids read, kind of like that advice when they were babies to nap when they nap. Not only are you modeling good behavior for them, but if lots of the people in the family are reading, they will not feel that they are missing out on something better. I mean imagine that you are a kid sitting with a book and you hear commotion and laughter in another room. You are definitely going to want to put down that book and go find the good times. If kids see the rest of the family with a book, they will be inclined to stick with it longer and feel they are part of a group activity.
Of course you can always follow the advice of one of my favorite authors, Judy Blume. She says that to get a child to pick up a book you put it on the coffee table, tell them they aren’t ready for it and walk away. I don’t know a better way to entice a kid to grab a story.
These tips have successfully worked in my family for some very reluctant readers. As a parent, stick with it. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a love of reading. It filters down to their success in so many other areas. And don’t despair if it doesn’t happen right away. The road to success is sometimes long, but your efforts are well worth it. I now have three very enthusiastic readers, but it wasn’t always that way ….