Now that school’s back, you probably feel some pressure to get your child to read. But maybe your child hates to read. How can you encourage reading when your child who can read won’t read? Here are some things to try.
Uncouple reading from rewards. The only way you can support the sort of intrinsic motivation you want to see is to eliminate any attempts you’ve been making to extrinsically motivate your child. So don’t require a certain number of pages per day, don’t give out stars for books finished – don’t even sign up for your local library’s summer reading challenge unless your child wants to do it. Quit making reading something you want and start helping your child make reading something he wants.
Model reading yourself. Make sure you have a book to read and make sure you read it when and where your child can see you. Talk about what you’re reading. If your non-reader is a boy make certain that his father (or other significant male in his life) is a reader and reads when and where your child can see. Don’t say you don’t have time to read. To counter the notion that reading is only a school skill and that reading is just for children you must provide living proof that they’re untrue.
Be careful about valuing other activities more. It’s easy to talk about your kid’s sports activities or what happened in her last video game session. Make sure you talk just as much about what your child is reading. Ask, “What are you reading these days?” and follow up with, “Tell me a bit about it…” What you talk about is what’s important. Make sure you talk about books (and not in an interrogation, quizzing way but just as casual conversation).
Cut back on passive entertainment that requires little imagination. This means less TV but also no movies-from-books until the book has been read (or listened to). If your child watches a Harry Potter movie before he reads the book, the movie images are what he’ll see in his head, not images from his own reading mind. To get your child to enjoy reading he has to develop his mind’s eye. Don’t blind that eye with someone else’s interpretation.
Read aloud books your child finds interesting. No child is too old to enjoy being read-to. Make reading aloud with your child an everyday event. As you read, help your child picture what is going on. Children read comic books because dialogue is easy to understand. What’s harder to picture are descriptive passages that tell where the characters are and how they are gesturing and what their facial expressions are like. When you read with your child, savor these parts and stop to figure them out if you need to.
Select books for the child to read that are at the child’s independent reading level, not at his instructional level. Don’t set the bar too high and never tell a child that a book she’s enjoying is for little kids. What your child is reading doesn’t reflect on you so don’t be embarrassed or make excuses for what he checks out at the library. Just be happy he’s reading and enjoying it.
Accept any sort of reading material: comics, graphic novels, nonfiction, reference books, silly fiction, true crime, whatever. The objective is to get your child to read, not to get your child to read the classics. And remember that while fiction is lovely, many kids (especially boys) prefer nonfiction. It’s all good. Don’t limit your child’s choices
Seek out books your child might find interesting. Ask your children’s librarian what books kids your child’s age are reading. Go home from the library with at least 10 books since not every book you try will pan out. And go to the library every week. The more you and your child visit, the easier it will be to find the books he wants (and while you’re there, make sure you get some books for yourself too).
Let your child read in bed. Get your kid a bedside light and encourage her to take some books to bed. If there’s a television in her bedroom, move it to someplace else. When you discover the light is still on long after bedtime so that you have to set some limits on how long she’s allowed to read, you’ll know you’ve won the battle to get your child to like to read.
Do all of these things this summer and your reluctant bookworm will be reluctant no longer!
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.