At exactly what age is a child supposed to read? 5 years old? 6? 7? At what point do you, as a mom, begin to worry that your child will never read–or possibly worse–never LOVE to read?
I’m not sure. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas that I’ve seen work over the years.
I’m a high school English and history teacher. I also homeschooled my son in first grade, which seemed to be a crucial year for reading. I’ve worked with MANY students who were not afraid to admit they hated reading, and my own son has also hated reading in the past.
Here are some things you can try:
1. Start at the easiest reading level. When my son was struggling to enjoy reading, my friend introduced us to the Biscuit books. They were well below what should have been his reading level. They weren’t “easy” for him, but they were easy enough that he could read them with only a little difficulty. It boosted his confidence, his interest, and his feeling of accomplishment. Starting with something a little easier made him want to try to read more books. As a high school English teacher, I’ve found that many students make it all the way to high school struggling to read, which definitely makes it difficult to enjoy reading. When I’ve allowed them to start reading at an easier reading level, I’ve found that they’re more receptive to books and assignments that create more of a challenge. Sometimes it’s just about getting the “spark” ignited, regardless of the difficulty level. Once they find a book or series that grabs their attention, they’ll often seek out new books on their own.
2. Find books they will enjoy reading. This may go along with the first point, but I have found that many who don’t enjoy reading simply haven’t yet found a book that interests them. Taking the time to find a book they might enjoy can be tedious; it may require extensive time at the local library or bookstore. Most kids won’t put in the time or effort to find a book themselves. Sometimes a teacher or parent “advertising” a book can be the best way to inspire them to give it a try. Regardless, it’s worth the time and effort to try to find books that interest them. One time, a student I had in Alabama hated to read. However, he LOVED football. I suggested that he find a football book to read. He was shocked that I would allow him to read a book about football, but he came to class one day with the biggest smile on his face. He had finished the book! Afterwards, I rarely had to force him to read. He even contacted me after he graduated to let me know he had read (and finished!) a book of his own accord–all because I had encouraged him to find books he would enjoy reading.
3. Get them to read anything–even if it’s not a book. There are words everywhere! Street signs, restaurant signs, advertisements–car rides can be the best way to help kids read. My daughter is learning to read now. She has enjoyed playing spelling games for over a year; it started with games as simple as sounding out the beginning sounds of words. “What does dog start with, Ryleigh?” She loved it! Now she tries to sound out every word she sees while we drive!
Aside from signs everywhere, magazines and comics can be great alternatives to inspire a love for reading. As a teacher, I’m well aware that students will have to read more than just pleasure books. But it’s all about that spark–frequent reading, even just for enjoyment, will improve comprehension, which will naturally result in a student retaining information better.
4. Try audiobooks. Sometimes various factors prevent kids from reading easily. If reading is tough, audiobooks can be an excellent alternative. Not only can audiobooks convey necessary information (most textbooks are now available as audiobooks), but they can also be valuable for igniting a love for stories. Our local library offers an online alternative whereby we can access hundreds of audiobooks for free. There is obviously a big difference between reading and listening, but I’m of the opinion that getting a book into a kid’s brain is the goal: the means by which it arrives in the brain is secondary! Books, even audiobooks, are better than no books.
I’m not an expert, but I have certainly lived through the frustration of a child (and students) who don’t like reading. I’ve been desperate to help them in any way possible. I can’t promise these suggestions will work for your specific situation, but I can say they are worth a shot. Do you have any suggestions that you’d add to this list? I’d love to hear what has worked for you!