Growing Healthy Readers:
How to Motivate the Reluctant Reader
How many times have you heard “I don’t want to read” or “I hate reading!”? If you are working with a struggling or reluctant reader, or maybe a child who reads well but is unmotivated to do so, these words may be all too common in your home. In addition, these words may be hard for you to hear and cause thoughts of anxiety about your child’s future. You may find yourself asking questions like: “How will he succeed in life if he is not a strong reader?” “I love to read, why doesn’t he?” or even, “What am I doing wrong?”
First of all, don’t blame yourself. Secondly, don’t give up. And lastly, remember, growing a reader is like growing a garden. There are some steps you must take to ensure a successful garden. As well, there are things you must do to grow an avid reader.
Prepare the Soil: The sooner you start this process, the better. Start by reading aloud to your child on a daily basis. Read books he enjoys. Choose topics that interest him. Fill your house with reading material of all kinds: classic novels, comic books, coffee table books, picture books, magazines (for you and the kids), newspapers, books on tape or CD. Visit the library regularly. Expose him to all types of books: the classics, non-fiction, joke books, picture books. Be an example to him – let him see you are a reader and that you value reading. Be excited about reading – share with him or read aloud to him a funny or interesting tidbit from something you are reading.
Pick the right plants: Just as cacti will not grow well in a wet, northern climate, children will not grow to love reading if they find it tedious or boring. With the vast array of printed material available today, there is something for everyone. Match your child’s interests and reading styles to the type of reading material you choose for him.
Some suggestions include:
Short attention span: Try comic books or graphic novels. The classics like Robinson Crusoe, The Hobbit, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are now available as graphic novels.
Animal Lover: Non-fiction books and magazines like Ranger Rick abound, covering any animal that fascinates your nature lover.
Sports: Try biographies of famous players or Sports Illustrated for Kids. Dan Gutman’s baseball card adventure series can jump-start any sports fan! Other authors that write in this genre include: Matt Christopher and Mike Lupica.
Mysteries: From Nate the Great (for young readers), to Jigsaw Jones, Nancy Drew Mysteries, and The Hardy Boys, there’s plenty here to choose from. Give those I Spy books a try!
History Buff: You can find historical fiction as well as biographies of historical figures like Harriet Tubman and George Washington at any reading level.
Be creative. Ask your librarian or teacher for suggestions.
Nurture: Water and Feed Daily: Read together on a daily basis. Cuddle and make it such an enjoyable experience that your child will come back for more. Be positive, encouraging, and supportive when he ventures on his own to read. Surround him with books. Listen to books on cassette or CD in the car. Pack magazines for doctor’s visits. Reward him with the video of a book you’ve just finished reading together. In the last few years we have seen a plethora of movies based on books. To name a few of my favorites: Because of Winn-Dixie, The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, and Where the Wild Things Are.
Weed regularly: Just as plants can’t grow when choked by weeds or riddled with bugs, readers cannot grow when the weeds and pests of life tangle them up or distract them. Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the television and playing video games. These things are not invaluable, but too much of them can eat away at time for reading, as well as, shorten attention spans and weaken imaginations, both of which are necessary for enjoyable reading times. Suggest he listen to a book on tape while falling asleep instead of watching TV. Be disciplined yourself and turn off the TV and invite him to read with you.
Be patient: Plants will grow if given the necessary requirements, so will your reader. Don’t give up when you don’t see immediate results. Keep watering with good books, sprinkling the fertilizer of encouragement, and plucking out those weeds and you will see a harvest. Gardens do not spring up overnight, nor will you grow an avid reader instantly. But, with the right motivation, your reluctant young seedling will sprout up and branch out into a strong, healthy reader. And that’s the kind of fruit that will last a lifetime.