Reading is an activity that can either be pleasurable or painful. Librarians have always known that good reading skills help students to succeed in all their subjects. it is what I call a foundational skill in which all other subjects build upon. Everything for English to Math to Vocational Education. To remind parents of this fundamental truth is like preaching to the choir. They understand all to well the importance of reading and success. So when dealing with reluctant readers in their family, they turn to librarians and teachers for advice on the best methods to motivate their children to read. Every child is different and there isn't one magic solution that will help every child. One piece of magic that always works can be summed up in one word: FUN. Here are some suggestions that might make a difference for your child.
Children love quality time with their parents. Whether it is going out to the park, watching a movie together or just hanging around the house together. New parents always ask when is it appropriate to begin reading to their baby. It is never too soon to read to your baby. With so many great books and authors to choose from, even in board books, that finding a book should not be difficult. Not all children respond to being read to the same way. There are some children who just can't sit still or lose interest in the book. One solution to this is to not finish the book. Sounds silly doesn't it? Think of it this way, you want the reading time to be enjoyable for both you and your child. Before you begin reading with your child, let them know that you will only read two or three pages of the book. After that place a bookmark on the page you've left off and announce you will find out what happens next in the story tomorrow. If your child is okay with that, good. If they are not, and they want to hear more, than continue on with the story until they tell you they are done listening.
Another good tactic to use is letting a child be active during the time you are reading to them. Especially if you have a child who needs to move constantly. During a Dr. Seuss story time with over active boys, I've brought out puzzles that are based on the title that I am sharing. Fox in Socks is one of the titles I use for story and puzzle time. The puzzle has very large pieces (48 count) which is quite easy to put together for small hands. After reading a page or two, I would stop and direct the children's attention to the puzzle. At first they don't know what the puzzle will be since the box is hidden. Together, we picked out pieces and connected them. (HINT: I know the puzzle inside out, so I guide the children in what pieces to pick. It's cheating a little but it moves things along faster) After a couple of pieces are connected, I begin reading again and repeat the process until the book and the puzzle are completed. Children are surprised to find out that the puzzle is a picture of Fox in Socks.
When the child is ready to read and finds the process difficult, parents sometimes begin to force their child to read. Never use force. The children will relate the unpleasant experience with reading and from that point it will be that much harder to get them to read later in life. One program that I have found to benefit struggling readers are the Paws for Reading programs. Many libraries and schools have used this program which allows children to read aloud to a friendly canine. The cost to run a program like this is minimal to the library. The return on this small investment is huge. Not only do reluctant readers gain confidence in their reading skills, but they begin checking out library books, telling their neighbors about the program and participating in other library programs. What does the library gain? A library supporter for life, hopefully.
Large type books are wonderful for patrons with vision problems. They are also wonderful for children who hate reading. When a book is in large type, the book "seems" to flow faster. Fewer words on the page than in normal type makes page turning go much faster. What is the benefit of that? The reluctant reader finds it easer to finish a book. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. This is the ultimate goal that librarians and parents strive when working with children on their reading skills. They need to find out that they can read, and they have the ability to become better readers with time and practice.
My last piece of advice, is simply this: read aloud to children at any age. You'd be amazed at how reading aloud helps children in school. It improves their memory, their reading skills along with comprehension and most importantly it opens their mind to their own imagination. In third grade, I had a wonderful teacher who read aloud to our class every other day. The first time she did this, she read from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Listening to the story helped our minds to concentrate one activity during reading, the imagination. This opened up a whole new concept in reading to me! Reading was a chore, something to "finish" and say that I had done the job. It never occurred to my young mind that if I could learn to read and imagine at the same time, the story would come alive. That's when the "light" came on for me and reading became pleasurable. I suspect that this can happen to children today as well.
This topic has always hit close to home for me. Libraries are my passion for a very good reason. The power of reading has changed my world and in a small way, I've wanted to help others find that power as well. Having said that, this will not be the first or the last entry on reluctant readers. Stay tuned, there is much more to come.