R.E.A.D.E.R. tips for your reluctant reader from a reluctant reader turned author
*After writing a blog post featuring my 7 tips for helping your reluctant reader, I realized that I was pretty close to having an easy-to-remember acronym. So I worked out the R.E.A.D.E.R. tips from a recovering reluctant reader.*
Because I write books for young readers and I’m open about the reading difficulties I’ve had throughout my life, many adults with reluctant readers in their lives ask me how they can help their struggling child. Based on some study, conversation with kids, and my own life’s experience, here are my tips for helping your reluctant reader:
R – Rule out learning disorders.
The root cause of a reading problem may be more than lack of interest or effort. Reluctance and frustration with reading can be symptoms of a diagnosable disorder like dyslexia. In short-format reading or other subjects a child might be able to compensate for a mild or hidden condition but feel intimidated by longer-form reading. Testing offered through your school or health program may help you find out. There are many effective techniques and helpful accommodations for kids with diagnosed learning disabilities.
E – Engage, don’t threaten.
If there are no diagnosable learning problems, the first helpful approach is to take the pressure off. More pressure makes reading harder, not easier. A struggling child is easily overwhelmed and shut down by mounting demands to be better at a task that’s already difficult for them. Engaging a reader where they are, supporting them, and offering alternate routes to reading will make the idea of reading more attractive and approachable.
A – Any reading counts.
There’s nothing more frustrating to a struggling reader than to find something they’re excited to read only to be told, “That’s not real reading. You need to read XYZ.” This is a huge mistake that adults make. If reading is a chore for a child but they find something that’s worth putting their effort into, encourage it. Teachers and librarians have also seen some reluctant readers grab books that are WAY above their reading level because they’re interested in the subject matter. Let them give it a try then help them find easier reading on the same subjects. Comic books, graphic novels, “edgy” novels, magazines, even mechanical/technical manuals are good alternatives because the subject matter is important to the reader. If a reader is passionate about a subject, they’re much more willing to put in the effort to read and immerse themselves in it.
D – Difficulties are temporary, self-esteem is for a lifetime.
It’s hard for kids to be subjective about their reading difficulties. When adults are pushing reading as something a child should love and when other kids seems to be easily getting it, a reluctant reader can take it personally and assume that they’re somehow deficient. Reading difficulties are not a necessarily a sign of lifelong failure. Poor readers who have curiosity, self-esteem, and a love of learning (in any form) can succeed in life. Keep it in perspective and ask: Is a the pursuit of a better grade now worth turning off a child to their learning potential? In the long run a child’s confidence and self-image determines their ability to achieve. Work on the big picture, not just the black and white lines.
E – Encourage alternate subjects.
History is full of stories of successful people who were not considered good learners as children but were so driven by their interests that nothing could stand in their way. No doubt, your reluctant reader is good at or passionate about at least one subject that’s not reading-dense. And no doubt your librarian can help you find novels or nonfiction books with those themes that would be compelling companion reads. Encourage their curiosity and passion first then find books that relate to it.
R – (be a) Reading role model.
Get caught reading – to, with, and by your kids. There are some alarming statistics (link below) about how few adults ever read a book after high school or college, how few households buy books. Then we wonder why our kids don’t value reading! Boys especially lack male role models for reading and don’t see it as a “masculine” activity. When parents and influential people seen reading by kids, picking up a book becomes less awkward or alien an activity when they’re ready to give it another try.
I hope these tips (and the resources listed below) help. DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR RELUCTANT READER. I know from personal experience that a struggling reader wants to learn, has a desire to achieve, doesn’t like getting left out, is afraid of getting left behind, but is just having difficulty with reading at the moment. Your reluctant reader may blossom later and find a love of reading – or at least develop the confidence to explore reading when they need information and seek personal development.
We’re living in a world of technology and helpers. This is the future where our learning styles can be compensated for as long as we maintain our curiosity and passion. I owe most of my personal development to the fact that I can read, so I want kids to discover a love of books and learning too. Like so much else with kids, though, it often seems to arrive best on their terms.
A few resources for reluctant reader info:
Pat Evans of KARE 11 TV interviews author Chris Everheart about reluctant readers and books
My short (and growing) list of recommended books.