5 Ways to Encourage a Reluctant Reader

By Jessica Streit

My mom is an avid reader.

During my childhood, I always had books at my fingertips. We made frequent trips to the library, bought used books at yard sales and belonged to book clubs.

It’s probably no surprise to find that I am an avid reader. I’m always reading something, usually two books at a time. I have always loved books and even considered getting a degree in children’s literature (I may still some day.).

I doubt you would be surprised to find out that my oldest son is an avid reader as well. In fact, I’m proud to say at 10 years old, he is reading at a 10th grade level. He, too, has a multiple books around the house with bookmarks in them. He reads so much that there are times when I have to tell him to STOP reading so that he can enjoy time in the real world rather than a literary world.

Yes, reading is a big part of our family. I’ve always read to my boys, from a very young age. I’m a teacher, I know how important reading to your children is to their success in school.

What may surprise you though is that I have a reluctant reader at home. My seven year old does not like reading. He lack confidence in his abilities, which are below grade level. He’s never been interested in sitting next to me while I read to him. He gets bored with books before they are complete and that often leads to disruptive behavior.

It’s hard to tell what causes the reluctance. Is he reluctant because he doesn’t find success in it? Or is he not finding success because he’s been reluctant for other reasons?

Whatever the reason may be, convincing my son to read often leads to a battle. Luckily, I have found a few ways to curb his reluctance and increase his desire. It’s been a slow journey for us but I believe that we’ll have an avid reader in him one day.

Here’s a few tips for helping your reluctant reader find success and motivation for reading. 

1. Read to them as much as possible. I know this is tough when your child won’t sit still for a book but find a way to make them want to. In my house, we cuddle in my king sized bed. The boys love to be cozied up next to me in bed with all the pillows we can find. I can usually get 2 or 3 books read before my youngest one feigns boredom and wanders off.

Another way to convince your reluctant reader to join you is to pair it with something they perceive as more fun. For example, you could say “first we read then we play a board game together” or you could try “let’s read a book together first before we toss the football around in the yard.” Pair the reading with something your child really loves to do and you could get the motivation for that “rubbing off” on the reading.

2. Pick books they’ll love. My son will tell you he does not like reading and up until about three weeks ago, that was true. It wasn’t until I found a book that my son loved. He will now tell you that he hates to read unless it’s a Pete the Cat book. It took finding a character that my son could enjoy to get him to read quietly on his own or to sit still while I read to him. Now he happily devours every Pete the Cat book we can find. This leads me into my next tip.

3. Be excited about reading yourself. It wasn’t that Pete the Cat is an exceptionally great book (although, it is), it was that I got excited about the book. I told him how awesome Pete the Cat was and that I loved reading these books. I told him how other kids at the schools I taught at loved Pete the Cat. When I read the book, I did so dramatically. I pretended to be Pete the Cat. I made silly sounds when I needed to and changed my voice to fit the story. I even sang part of the story as Pete the Cat would have himself.

This enthusiasm that I had rubbed off on my son. Now he will happily read Pete the Cat books without much persuasion on my part. What I will do next to keep him interested is find another book about a cat and relate the two in some way. The enthusiasm for Pete the Cat should translate to an enthusiasm for other characters. I will keep doing that until he has a large selection of books that he now loves.

4. Find fun activities to do around reading. To get kids excited about reading, create fun around a book or the actual activity of reading. Visit storytimes at the library or bookstores. Join summer reading clubs that will reward your child for reading. Take a lesson from teachers and relate home activities with a great book. If your family is about to take a trip to Florida, then find books about the beach. If you are planning a weekend in the big city, then look for books that talk about things that happen in the city or public transportation (this is a big deal for my country bumpkins who haven’t experienced public transit before). Perhaps you are simply going to take in a picnic in the park. Head to the library, there are hundreds of books on the topic that you can use to increase your child’s motivation for reading.

5. Pick the right level of books. Your child will not be interested in reading if the book before him is too difficult. Make sure you know our child’s reading level and take that with you to the library. The librarian is there to help you find just the right books and that includes reading level. They will happily pull dozens of books on the right level for your child to select from. The right level for leisure reading is usually slightly lower than what they are working on at school. They should only struggle with one or two words per page, any more and they will become reluctant to read even more.

The single most important thing you can do for your reluctant reader is read to him or her. Read often and read regularly. Any new books they are going to be reading should be read by you first to model how reading sounds. This modeling will help them increase their fluency (or how smoothly they can read words accurately).

Don’t give up. Even when it takes five minutes for them to read one page, please don’t give up! It may feel painful and you may want to just put the book away, but please don’t. Keep at it. Keep your enthusiasm for the books alive and keep encouraging your child to read with you. I’m confident that if you do those things, you can improve their desire to read and maybe even turn them into an avid reader too!

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Jessica Streit is an educator, freelance writer and single mom of 2 boys. Her writing can be found on a variety of topics including personal finance, education and parenting. She blogs about overcoming debt and living a royal life on a budget at The Debt Princess.