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Literacy Library Bulletin

Encouraging Reluctant Readers

by Tim O'Keefe

August 2023

Like any important life skill (learning to walk, learning to talk, toilet training, learning to ride a bicycle, etc.), learning to read is complicated, and children become readers in their own time.  Some children may be reading independently by first grade, while others by the end of second or third grade.  Still, others don’t show an interest in reading or simply become frustrated at our attempts to draw them in.  Young readers, especially those who may seem reluctant, need support, kindness, and a sense of calm.

Ever wonder how to nurture your young reader?  It’s as natural as how you helped her learn to talk and walk.  Here are some tried and true ideas.  Note that many of these ideas (strategies/tools) are the same ones we would use for eager readers.  The difference is that more patience may be required with children who are less willing to jump right into reading.  Reluctant readers benefit from more time in nurturing exchanges as they slowly increase the amount of time spent reading with you.

  • Make reading experiences enjoyable.  Take the pressure off by reading TO your child.  Children who are read to from an early age most often become successful readers.  Very young children learn how books work (pages turn from right to left, words are read from left to right and top to bottom), as well as developing a sense of story (each has a beginning, middle, and end).  And besides, if you are enjoying reading, it may become contagious.  There is no age or time limit to reading TO.
  • Demonstrate effective reading by changing your voice for different characters, lowering your voice for quiet times, and using a dramatic voice for exciting parts.  This is part of what makes reading fun.
  • Set aside time every day to make reading special.   After dinner (instead of watching TV or other technology), bedtime, and naptime stories, while dinner is cooking, anytime you’re waiting together for anything, have some favorite books ready.  Make talking about books a natural part of conversations with your young reader.  Share favorite books from your own childhood.  Let your child know how important and fun reading is to you.
  • Through genuine conversations about what you have read together, engage in give-and-take dialogue such as the following:  “I sure didn’t expect this to happen… What did you think about…?  If I was in this story, this is what I would have done… Here’s what I think will happen next…. If you were in the story, what would you have done…?”  Be sure not to simply ask questions.  Share your own feelings and ideas as well.
  • Once your child is ready, read favorite books TOGETHER.  You could read at the same time, take turns reading sentences, paragraphs, or pages.
  • Go to the library and encourage your child to make choices that interest them or on topics that engage them.  The more children have a say in what they read, the more likely they’ll stick with books and develop a love of reading.
  • When your child is comfortable, ask him to read to YOU. Focus on strengths and the meaning of the story.  If you coach, do it gently.  A heavy hand might do the opposite of what you intend.  The object is to make your child comfortable and confident.  Over correcting, and constantly pointing out mistakes (miscues), may lower the confidence we want to encourage.
  • Recognize and appreciate areas of strength besides reading. Maybe your child is good at math, knows the names of insects or dinosaurs, or for the very young, they may know their colors.

Consider your time reading together as memorable gifts.  It should be quality time, well spent, enjoying a lifetime made better through books.  Celebrate your role in helping to develop this amazing and precious skill.  And remember to be patient.

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