“If we teach a child to read but fail to develop a desire to read, we will have created a skilled non-reader, a literate illiterate. And no high test score will ever undo that damage.”
~Kylene Beers, Literacy Specialist
(First published in Kingston Neighbours magazines, September 2020)
Back-to-school time is finally here. And while many things are different at school for our kids because of COVID-19, the basics, the 3 Rs, remain the same — reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic! But what if your child is a reluctant reader who hates picking up a book? How can you help your kiddo become more enthusiastic about reading?
For many reluctant readers, the crux of the problem is a lack of enjoyment; they lack motivation and interest. But why does it matter if our children aren’t motivated to read for pleasure? British, Canadian, and American studies show multiple benefits for children who engage in leisure reading, including:
- Higher academic achievement
- Greater career and economic success
- Positive long-term emotional, mental, and social outcomes, including:
- increased empathy and greater understanding of differences
- reduced stress and lowered risk of depression and dementia
- greater connection to, and participation in, the wider community
Essentially, reading for pleasure helps children become healthy, empathetic, contributing members of society. So how do we help our reluctant readers? How do we prevent ‘literate illiterates’ as Kylene Beers said in her quote above?
- Book An Eye Exam
Make sure your wary readers aren’t avoiding books because they’re having difficulty seeing the words. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends children have at least one eye exam prior to starting school, and then every year after that. OHIP covers eye exams annually for children until 19 years of age.
- Create A Text-Rich Home Environment
Surround your reluctant readers with a variety of reading materials — magazines, manuals, catalogues, comics, trading cards, jokebooks, novels, picture books, factbooks, atlases — you name it. Used book shops, thrift stores, and book fairs/swaps can be excellent sources for low-cost reading materials. Encourage friends and family, like grandparents, to also give books and gift cards for celebrations to build your reluctant reader’s home library.
- Visit Libraries
Even cheaper than buying books, borrow them from your school or public library! And talk to the staff there. Research from Queen’s University in 2009 showed that professionally staffed school libraries were correlated with higher reading achievement and more positive attitudes towards reading.
- Limit Screen Time
Yes, this is hard during COVID-19 times. However, it is beneficial to manage non-educational screen time, so children make room for other developmentally important activities, like reading, socializing, sleeping, and exercising. The Canadian Paediatric Society’s latest recommendations are:
- No screen time for children under 2
- Limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day for children aged 2 – 5
- Prioritize daily routines, social interactions, and physical activity over screen time for school-aged kids and adolescents
- Emphasize educational/social screen time over passive/unsocial screen time
- Model healthy screen use for all ages
- Read Aloud
Read daily to your kids, into their teens if possible, as it builds lifelong positive associations with books. Audiobooks, especially on long car trips, are also an excellent way to enjoy books together.
- Model Reading for Pleasure
We all know kids learn by example. Ensure your children see you reading, whether it’s the newspaper, a professional journal or the latest bestseller.
- Honour Free Choice
The most important factor, however, is to let your reluctant readers choose whatever they want to read. Don’t accidentally turn your kids off reading by censoring their choices! Choice creates engagement, so let them follow their interests. As long as the content is not too mature, let them read whatever they want, regardless of level or topic. This is truly the secret to building a life-long reader.
Getting your kids turned onto reading may take some effort initially. But with a few minor tweaks, your reluctant reader should be eagerly seeking out new books in no time!