A common challenge that many families face is helping children to have a love of reading. While some children seem to naturally devour books without encouragement, others seem disinterested in reading in their free time. So how can families help encourage reluctant readers?
Leave books around the house- and car!
For children to be drawn to books, they need to have the opportunity to encounter them at home. As well as book shelves at a height children can explore, leave books casually lying around: on tables, desks, pillows… Think about where your child spends much of their time, and leave a few nearby you think might tempt them to leaf through. A quiz or activity book such as Doctor Who: Are you as clever as a time lord? Puzzle book or 555 Football Facts would be perfect to leave on the back seat of the car for them to discover. Visual books with less text will work best for this- the aim is for them to think about looking at books as a spontaneous pastime that they have chosen themselves.
Lure them in with books about their interests
Whatever your child’s interests or hobbies, you’ll be able to find a book to match, tempting them to dive in. Can’t get enough of unicorns? My Secret Unicorn Series will give them the glittery fix they need! Avid film watcher? Try film tie-in books, such as Peter Rabbit 2. Love dinosaurs? And space? Try the Astrosaurs series. (Whilst some parents have mixed feelings about children reading an extensive series of books, they can be the gateway to wider reading adventures so should not be underestimated. Read more about this in Help! My child will only read…)
Keep going with bedtime stories
Research shows that 86% parents read to their 5 year old every night, but this drops to 38% for 11 year olds. While lack of time is always a factor in family life, having devoted 1:1 time each night can become a favourite part of the day. You might decide to choose books together, or take turns to pick. This can help diversify your child’s awareness of different authors and genres they haven’t yet tried. And remember to include some of your own childhood favourites to read: enthusiasm is infectious.
Include poetry and joke books!
Quick, let’s get out of here by Michael Rosen or The Bee’s Knees by Roger McGough are a perfect place to start, and have introduced thousands of children to a love of poetry. I like this poem edited by Kaye Webb, is a collection of poems recommended by other children, giving them a chance to find their own preferences.
Joke books are perfect for reading in manageable chunks, and can be used with others to take turns making each other laugh! The Ha Ha Bonk book by Janet and Allan Alhberg and Audio CD Funky Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah are both tried and tested favourites.
Remember some children favour non-fiction
Not all children are as interested in fiction, others are much more drawn to information texts. The excellent series The Extraordinary life of… tells the stories of people who changed the world, from Rosa Parks and Anne Frank to modern role models such as campaigner Malala Yousafzai and scientist Stephen Hawking.
For incredible information based in the natural world, Ripley’s Twists reference series includes titles such as Snakes and Reptiles. And if all of this sounds too pleasant for your little treasure, then Why does earwax taste so gross? by Mitchell Symons might be more appealing!
Recognise the challenge of reading
Reluctant readers are reluctant because of two main reasons: they think reading will be boring, or they think reading will be hard work. Or possibly both. To (hopefully!) spark their lifelong love of reading, you need to start from the stage they are at. Dense text and authors they haven’t heard of will not be appealing at first- at this stage the visual appeal of books is crucial, so flick through and check the pages have manageable chunks of text interspersed with illustrations.
Introduce classics gradually
Many of us think fondly back on childhood classics, and can be eager to pass the love of these on to our children. But bear in mind that many classics such as Alice in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows use sophisticated vocabulary, and old fashioned phrasing. This can be off putting for emerging readers and can knock reading confidence. These stories have enduring appeal and are perfect fodder for adult-read bedtime stories, but are more challenging than you might expect as an independent read for your child to tackle alone. If you feel they are ready for classics, modern classics such as Goodnight Mister Tom or The Animals of Farthing Wood might be a good starting point.
Create reading spaces
Make an enticing area, just perfect for curling up with a book. Not many of us is lucky enough to have a window seat (possibly the ideal setting for reading!) but beanbags and cushions can make a cosy reading nest. Inddor tents and teepees can be customised, and homemade dens add a personal touch.
A reluctance towards books does not necessarily mean a reluctance to hearing stories. Most children love hearing stories and poems being brought to life by someone else reading to them. Audio CDs like The Hobbit give children the benefit of developing their love for texts, and also broadens their vocabularies and general knowledge.
Following on from the success of the moving best seller Wonder by R J Palacio, ebooks such as Singaling: A Wonder story and Pluto: A Wonder Story are perfect for older children who prefer to interact with screens.
Associate reading with a treat
Increase children’s positive perception of reading by linking it with rewards. Depending on your budget, you might want to try one of these suggestions:
- Allow your child to stay up late at the weekend for extra reading time
- Visit a bookshop to choose a book together for your child as an occasional treat or give a book token as a reward
- A magazine or comic subscription makes a lovely birthday or Christmas present that they can enjoy all year round
- Turn a blind eye to reading under the covers, giving reading a ‘free pass’!
Libraries are whole buildings dedicated to books, filled with book lovers. As well as providing the obvious benefit of lending books, they help build children’s attitudes to reading. Making a library visit the point of leaving your house says that reading is vital. It’s so important, that councils want you to have extra books for free!
Giving children regular time to browse, talk about and choose from a huge range of books helps them to develop their identity as a reader. Books matter, and so do children’s opinions of them.