6 ways to encourage reluctant readers

On the back of my wardrobe door is a red gingham drawstring bag. Underneath a pair of crudely cross-stitched bells on the front is my name. I completed this library bag when I was in Year Four at school – the same grade my eldest, my daughter, is in now. I was already a voracious reader at that age, unafraid to tackle difficult texts. I’ve kept the bag as a kind of symbol to denote the significance and utter gratitude I have about my love of books.

My husband is also a big reader and I figured that our children would naturally inherit ‘the reading gene’, as if such a thing existed. We attended story times at the local library and would come home with piles of books that I would read over and over again to their enjoyment. Things changed – as they do – once they began school and were put on the path of being capable, independent readers. I soon discovered my daughter was a reluctant reader, despite being in the top literacy group in her class.

I watched as other children consumed vast quantities of Andy Griffiths, Jeff Kinney, J.K Rowling, Enid Blyton (the list goes on), and my suggestions of her trying these authors were met with an indifferent shrug. This was last year. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast and knew I needed a mental recalibration. Determined to make 2014 different, I was – still am – resolved to encourage the reading efforts of my children with methods that suited both my open reader and my reluctant one.

Getting children to discover the joys of reading can take time.
Getting children to discover the joys of reading can take time. Photo: Getty

Here are some tips for encouraging reluctant readers that have helped us; I hope they may help those parents and carers who find themselves in a similar situation.

1. If you can, go to a library

With books at their disposal to peruse, usually also with designated reading zones and/or a junior reading section, libraries can be a fun place for kids to explore. Signing up for a personal library card can be a great moment of entrusting responsibility and instilling the possibility of choice(s) to a child.

2. Cut back on screen time

A no-brainer? Perhaps. Banning mobile device screen time during weeknights has helped encourage our kids to pick up a book instead. Ebooks are an option, of course, but ours aren’t really into them, though this might change. I’m open to re-assessing this rule.

3. Enter reading challenges

If the idea of raising money or achieving a specific goal is more likely to incentivise your child to pick up a book, there are a number of ways this can be done. From the famous MS Readathon – celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2014 – to the state Premier’s Reading Challenges (NSW, VIC, QLD, TAS, SA, WA and ACT), through to Scout badge earning and even individual goals that are drawn up within the family. You might be surprised at how well this works.

4. Follow their lead

While at the library, my big reader drifts off to the non-fiction section, both junior and adult. Once I taught my reluctant reader how the Dewey Decimal Classification chart on the wall worked, she has been happy to run off and look up books on whatever topic is currently taking her fancy: cooking and animals are big favourites. I’m interested in fostering that spark of interest, plus I’ve learned more about my children in the process.

5. Read with them

I thought that as soon as my children learned how to read they wouldn’t want a parent to read to them anymore. Boy, was I wrong. Both kids still enjoy sitting down with me to read – not chapter books so much, but an entertaining picture book (or three …) still holds great entertainment value. On social media, to show others how I’m working on this topic, I created the #just20min hashtag: my goal is to read for 20 mins a day with the kids. I don’t always post a picture or update, just as I don’t always complete the goal, but it has raised awareness and my own accountability.

6. Consider second-hand books

Libraries aren’t always accessible, but most towns have charity or second-hand stores. These can be treasure troves for buying books. I have bought the opening book in a series second-hand for my reluctant reader to trial. If she likes it, great, I’m happy to invest in the rest; if not, then that’s fine. We donate the book back for someone else to enjoy.

I had a moment a month or two ago when I felt my persistence had begun to pay off. Requests for TV or iPads usually begin as soon as we arrive home from school of an afternoon. On this particular day, as the front door opened, the kids ran off to pick up the books they’d left that morning to resume reading. I admit it – I was proud. 

If any of these tips work for you, I would love to hear! Leave a comment below or on Twitter @miscmum.