Reading is good for you. Reading is good for your kid. We all know that. But so are prunes and prunes suck. I have never been able to convince any of my children to eat a nasty mothereffing prune but I have coaxed many a child and adolescent to read a book and enjoy it without even realising it.
Some kids don’t like reading. Fair enough. Readers are not morally superior to reluctant readers (no matter how smugly the parents seem to think so). With or without the moral high ground, reading does have its advantages: better self-esteem, better academic outcomes, increased empathy and social skills, and better health and well-being.
Yes, you read right: reading will make your child happier which is the goal of almost every parent I know. As little as six minutes of personal reading for pleasure has shown to have an impact on stress reduction. Also, readers are less likely to end up in prison!
I, too, was a reluctant reader once (about 30 years ago) and now reading, teaching reading and writing is my bread and butter. How? Very simple. My parents got me hooked on stories and then moved me to a foreign city where there was no better alternative to reading. Extreme? Yes. Unrealistic today? Definitely.
Books were my only friends but it was the 90s and I had no internet, no iPad, no Netflix and no fidget spinners. Now, we are never alone. So how do we make reading attractive to our children?
Here are 8 ways to win over a reluctant reader
1. Read to your kids
Read to them and eventually the “I do it myself” instinct will kick in. Definitely by the time they’re 18. Until then it’s on you, buddy. Ease in by expecting the little darling to read one word a page. Then one sentence. Then maybe a paragraph. Until they don’t want to anymore. Reading shouldn’t be made to feel like a chore.
2. Ditch the screens
I don’t mean the kids’ screens, I mean yours. Put down your phone and prioritise books as quality time together. The reward of your whole, undivided attention is significant for a kid. Even if it’s just for six minutes of a fairy tale.
“Children are made readers in the laps of their parents.” – Eimilie Buchwald
3. Find better books
Good lord there are so many crappy, boring books out in the world. I have no idea why but try to avoid them. Kids are intuitive. If parents don’t like the book, that communicates to the children pretty strongly.
With so many hilarious, disgusting, inappropriate books out there, parents have a better opportunity than ever before in history of shaping the next generation’s sense of humour and creating people we actually want to hang out with in the future. People who like what we like.
4. Supply the word
If a kid is struggling to read a word and can’t work it out — do it for them. Historically, an emphasis on phonetics suggested kids should sound out words again and again until they got it right. New research suggests putting the right word into their Lexicon (word bank memory) before accidentally memorising an incorrect sound. Also, helping out is less cruel!
On the other hand, if a kid has confidently read a word wrong and doesn’t stumble over it or question it — leave it. No need to pick battles or point out a kid’s mistakes. Fun killer.
5. Skip the boring bits
Make reading about choice and control. Kids don’t actually get a lot of that in their learning but get a heap in their leisure and screen time. Give your child permission to go straight to the good bits. I have had to read the first sentence of Roald Dahl’s Matilda about a billion times because daughter thinks it’s hilarious that he calls a kid “a disgusting little blister”.
6. Watch the movies
Purists will tell you the book is always better. However, the film is easier. So do both, weigh up the differences and discuss the benefits of both.
7. Make it real
Matilda moves chalk with her mind. Our next adventure is to the Science Discovery room at the museum where you can actually use your brainwaves to move a ping pong ball. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? We are going on a tour of Cadbury’s. The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Let’s make cake, ice cream, pickles and salami. Or just find caterpillar and let it make a chrysalis. That might be easier.
8. Role model
I do a lot of reading on my phone. Does it look like reading to my kids? Prob not. So I’ve decided to spend the $2 a day to get the local paper delivered so my kids can see us read. Because until they are teenagers, they want to be just like us. And when they are teenagers, they are going to need to read about Holden Caulfield, Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter to know they aren’t alone in hating their parents.
Giving the gift of a love of reading to your “disgusting little blister” is just about the best tool you can give them for surviving being human. And listening to audiobooks totally counts as reading, too.