Five Tried and True Ways to Get Your Reluctant Readers Reading

I love to read. I’m one who always has to have a book going at all times. In the days before Kindles and my book reviewing gig, I would have moments of panic if I realized in the evening that I had no more books to read. In fact, there were many times when I sent my wonderful husband out to pick up a book from my mom- another avid book lover who always had purchased the latest best-seller reads- or I headed out for a bookstore run before closing time.

When I had children I read to them. In fact, I began reading to them before birth. With my first child, I would read aloud- either what I was reading or children’s books I loved- so that she could learn to love reading even in the womb. Once she was born I was constantly reading. 
Books littered the floors of our home, waiting for little hands who would pick them up and toddle over to a lap. I encouraged family members to give books as gifts instead of toys. We didn’t have much room for many toys, but I could always find room for a book.
With all of this as the groundwork, I just knew that I was destined to have children who loved to read every bit as much as I do. … I was wrong.

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Out of my four children, I have one who is a naturally avid reader. The other three have taken some convincing. And, although I haven’t really made them into true book lovers who read just for the sake of reading like I do, I have found some ways to encourage even the reluctant readers to read. If you have kids who are less than enthusiastic about reading, here are some tried and true ways to encourage them to read.

Don’t stop reading aloud. Ever.

Many moms stop reading aloud when kids become independent readers. Don’t. Just don’t. I could write- and have written- whole posts about the benefits of reading aloud to older kids. I won’t rehash all of those reasons, but I encourage you to keep reading to your older kids. If you have older children who don’t choose to read for pleasure, you can still expose them to great books by continuing to read aloud.

I’ve been surprised several times when one of my reluctant readers really started to enjoy a book I was reading aloud. One of my children in particular claimed to hate reading and listening to my reading aloud. However, he became caught up in one of our read aloud books, and, despite his initial resistance, he really enjoyed this book. He’s gone on to read other books in the same genre because he realized that he really could like to read after all.

Introduce the first book of a great series.

One of the best ways to “hook” your kids on reading is to read aloud the first book of a great book series. Read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which isn’t officially the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, but is the first written and, usually the first introduced to readers) or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or A Wrinkle in Time. Your child’s interest will be peaked as you read great books aloud. And, when you don’t continue reading the series aloud, he’ll pick up the next book for themselves.

Just a note: This doesn’t always work the way you may expect it to. Just because you think a book series is great doesn’t mean your child will automatically love it. If you miss out at first, keep trying until you find a series your child will love.

Allow kids to read books that will be easier reading for them.

Once we know that our children can read at a certain level, we want to encourage them to read at that level. And we may try to steer them away from easier books that interest them to get them to read more challenging books. Sometimes, however, it’s better to allow kids to continue reading easier books so that an interest in reading isn’t squashed.

I have a strong and avid reader who enjoys checking out a set of easy-to-read books from the children’s section. Although her age and reading level is far above these books, she’s always loved them. And every once in a while she enjoys picking them up again and reading. I’ve never tried to discourage her from reading these. Instead, I let her read the books she enjoys, while at the same time introducing her to other higher level books that might capture her interest as well.

Choose great books for required reading.

Even if a child has no interest in pleasure reading there is going to be a certain amount of required reading for school subjects. Take advantage of these requirements and make sure that the books you are requiring your child to read are not just classics or books that are traditionally assigned for the child’s grade level. Instead, choose books that are going to be easy to understand and actually interesting for the child.

Jane Eyre is a classic read that happens to be one of my favorites. I’ve never assigned it for my reluctant reading son, however. He would have no interest in it, and the experience would confirm his opinion that reading is not something you do for fun. Instead, when I’m choosing books for his curriculum, I look for books that are good, quality books, but that are also going to be interesting to him, books that are going to affirm the idea that reading is pleasurable.

Encourage reading by limiting screen time.

Often kids don’t choose to read for pleasure because there are too many other choices competing for their time. If screens and video games and television or movies are always available, reluctant readers will probably continue to choose those things over reading. To limit their choices of other activities, limit screen time.

When my kids were younger we had screen time charts for each week. Kids were given an allotted amount of time but could earn more time by reading or active play. This was perfect because while they were busy reading or playing, they were taking up time that couldn’t be spent on a screen. (Isn’t Mama sneaky?) Limiting screen time might give that reluctant reader the push needed to get lost in a good book.

Ways to get reluctant readers reading

Don’t give up on your reluctant readers. Even if you don’t have the book lovers you hoped your kids would be, you can inspire reluctant readers to read. Maybe reading will never be their favorite activity, but they can learn to appreciate the pleasure of a good book.

How do you get your reluctant readers reading?

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