Here are one mom’s creative ideas to motivate reluctant readers to read more.
One of the greatest keys to academic success lies in a child’s ability to read – and to read well. That’s why there is so much emphasis placed on literacy in K-3 classrooms. But not all children learn at the same rate and some require individualized attention or different teaching methods to fully develop their literacy skills. Luckily, there are many things that parents can do to help get their kids reading, and none of them are hard to do.
My son was a reluctant reader. I couldn’t understand why since my daughter, who is two years older, has always been a voracious reader. I wondered what it was that I did wrong or missed. It turned out that they were just different kids who were motivated in different ways. I had to uncover what it was that made him want to read. Once I did that, I opened the floodgates and today he is at a high-school reading level even though he is only 10.
Every child has this potential. Every child has the potential to be a master reader.”
The secret is to make reading a priority and find your child’s motivating force. Kick rules and arguments to the curb. Don’t force your child to read. It only leads to negative feelings associated with the act. Instead, make the long-term commitment to helping your child learn to be a master reader.
If possible, start your child’s literacy training as soon as you can. It sounds crazy, but yes, reading to your child while she is still in the womb makes a difference. Studies show that unborn children can hear their mothers in utero. In fact, they can instantly recognize their mother’s voice shortly after birth. Reading aloud to your (or your wife’s) tummy helps babies begin to process language, the basis of literacy.
Once your baby is born, you should get into the habit of reading aloud to your baby at least 15 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be 15 minutes all at once. You can spread it out. Five minutes after breakfast, five minutes after lunch, and five minutes before bedtime. Ask your child questions – even if they can’t respond yet.
Have you heard of the Thirty Million Word Gap? It’s based on research done 20 years ago that shows that children born to less affluent families hear around 30 million words less than their wealthy counterparts by the time they are three years old. These kids start school already behind and struggle to catch up.
The Thirty Million Words Initiative seeks to help parents like we understand the importance of talking to our children. Because research shows that children between 0 and three years old who are talked to by their parents have larger vocabularies, have higher IQs, and are better prepared to begin kindergarten. These children who were followed through third grade were found to have larger vocabularies, stronger reading skills, and higher test scores.
Create a Reading Culture at Home
A reading culture? What’s that? Quite simply, it is an environment where everyone is expected and encouraged to read. When you create a reading culture at home, you are helping your child to form the habit of reading on a regular basis and to view it as a regular part of their day. It’s easy to do:
- Make books accessible. Leave favorite and new books on low shelves and on tables where little hands can reach them.
- Set up a reading nook. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just create a comfortable place to spend reading, such as pillows on the floor, a cozy chair, a comfy couch.
- Create a reading routine. Set aside time every day just to read. It might be after lunch or right before bedtime…or both!
- Take weekly trips to the library or bookshop.
- Set an example. Pick up a book and read to yourself! Your child is watching you and learning.
It turned out for me that my son’s motivating factor was movies. I had always made regular trips to the bookstore with my kids, but I was always the one picking out books for him to read. Then one day, he ran up to me in the bookstore holding a picture book based on the movie, “How to Train Your Dragon.” Surprised, I agreed, happy that he had picked out a book at last. I didn’t care what it was about. It was an easy book to read, and by that evening, he was asking me if we could go back to the bookstore the next day to get one of the others he had seen. I agreed, careful not to show my surprise or excitement. This continued for a few trips until there were no more easy readers and he was going to have to wait for the next one to be released.
By this point, a sneaky idea had entered my head. So on our next trip, I made a turn for the bookshelves containing titles for older children and found Cressida Crowell’s official series. I was just a little bit worried as this series seemed far too advanced for my son, but I wanted to give it a try anyway. When we got home that afternoon, I whipped out the book and announced that it would be our next read aloud. Ecstatic, my son listened raptly… for the first chapter or two. Then I put it down and told him I had work to do. I left the book next to him. When he brought it back to me asking for more, I told him I wouldn’t be able to until the next day, but he could read ahead just a little bit if he wanted to. And so he did. It was a huge book for my little third grader, but he finished it. And then he wanted the next one. And then the next.
Was he able to read those bigger words such as “horrendous,“ “indignation“, and “crustaceans?” Maybe. Maybe not. But I know that his reading skills improved dramatically during this period. And when he finished, he wanted more books.
Balance It Out
These days, school books are far more engaging than when I was a child. Biographies now are written in such a way that the subjects fairly leap off the page to life. And non-fiction books are better illustrated to capture the attention of young students. But kids still need the opportunity to choose books that aren’t required reading.
They need – and want! – To read books that they’ve picked out themselves.
Does this mean that they should only read books they choose themselves? Nope! You know the old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” However true this may seem, it’s a stupid saying because the reality is that I would bet 99 percent of children choose their books based precisely on what the cover looks like. So it’s up to parents and teachers to balance out our children’s book choices with titles we’ve selected or recommended.
So while you should pick out the illustrated children’s classics The Jungle Book and Robinson Crusoe, you should also make room for Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy or the Geronimo Stilton series.
Establish “Tech-Free Zones.” These might be in the car or subway. You don’t want them in the habit of looking at their smartphones/tablets in the car, anyway, do you? Remember, they’ll be old enough to drive some day!
Or you might make their bedrooms reading zones only. TVs and computers in children’s bedrooms are discouraged anyway because they lead to poor sleep quality and an increase in lower test scores. Parents need to monitor what their kids are doing online, so computers with the internet should be set up in family spaces like the living room or home library with their screen facing outward. Plus reading before bedtime has many benefits for children and adults!
Unusual Reading Spaces
My kids LOVED it when I hung up a pair of hammocks outside and announced that they had a new reading nook. It was new and different, and they spent hours reading outside in the spring and fall, sometimes even in the hot summer.
Long car rides are also an excellent opportunity for them to spend reading if they aren’t prone to car sickness. Other possibilities include going to the library, the park, the bathtub, the cafe, the beach… If you think the surrounding are too tempting, making your child want to put down their book and play, then simply set the ground rules: No playing until you’ve read three chapters (or whatever your goal is). Slowly they’ll train themselves to see reading as a fun opportunity to pass the time.
Get Away from Books
In 2003, MIT media studies professor, Henry Jenkins, introduced the term, “transmedia storytelling” to describe the technique of using multiple (digital) platforms and formats to tell stories. By creating multiple portals into a story or character, parents and educators can provide children with different learning styles the opportunity to better connect with – and thus, better understand – educational concepts.
Reading doesn’t have to be done only with books. Ebooks, magazines, even educational websites may contain fascinating and entertaining stories centered around their favorite characters, such as Curious George, the Kratt brothers, or Amelia Bedelia.
Set Goals & Incentives
Reading logs and reading charts are a great way to help you set goals. They can also be a strong motivator. Together with your child make sensible milestones for him or her to reach. There are thousands of free, printable reading charts on the internet. Find one that your child likes, or draw/create your own.
As they reach each milestone, use non-food incentives (throw out that candy!!) as rewards to celebrate their achievements. Start out small and work up to bigger ticket items. Here are a few examples:
- The chance to stay up an extra 15-30 minutes at bedtime
- An extra 15 minutes to sleep in the morning!
- A trip to the park
- A trip to the bookstore for a new book
- A movie, or a chance to watch a movie on DVD on a non-movie day
- A small LEGO mystery pack
- A trip to the museum
- A trip to the zoo
- A pet fish!
- A fishing trip
- Their favorite meal
- A party!
- A new toy
- A scavenger hunt
- A new app
- A new computer game
- A new bike
- A gift card to their favorite store
- A [fill in the blank]…..Be creative!!