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How to help reluctant readers: a parent's guide

By Atom | Jun 9, 2023, 9:22 AM

Bored-looking child slumped in front of a pile of books


Not every child is a Matilda Wormwood, shunning the TV and hoarding stacks of literary classics collected from the local library as a tiny four-year-old.

Do you ever wonder: how do I get my child to read? Discovering that your child lacks a natural passion for reading can feel like a source of frustration and surprise.

But sometimes, it's a simple matter of finding an alternative strategy to ignite a passion for books in a child reluctant to flip past the first page of a much-adored novel.

To help, we've put together this guide on how to help reluctant readers and boost their love and enjoyment of books.

What is a reluctant reader?

A reluctant reader is any child who shows a lack of interest in reading. So it's slightly different from a struggling reader, which is any child who has problems reading to their age grade.

Some children will fit into both the struggling and reluctant categories. In contrast, others might fall into the proficient but reluctant reading category.

Is my child a reluctant reader?

Perhaps you worry about your child's reading progress. You might want to ask yourself if your child fits the reluctant reader definition. Here are some common signs to check:

  • They seem resistant when you suggest reading time with them or appear frustrated by the activity

  • They don't show interest in browsing through book covers when in a bookshop or library

  • They "act out" during reading time, perhaps making jokes or getting distracted by their surroundings

  • When reading to them, they struggle to recall the story

  • When reading alone, they will lack detail when retelling the main points of the story

  • Your child might have some or all of these characteristics. These are all signs that you might need a different tact to get your child reading more regularly and with enthusiasm.

How to help reluctant readers

When you have established that you're dealing with a reluctant reader, it's time to put some strategies in place. Here are some of our top tips for reluctant readers:

Is your child struggling?

Not all reluctant readers struggle, but when a child is frustrated by reading, it could signify that they are finding words difficult.

Your child's teacher will be your initial point of contact. Reading is a central part of the National Curriculum, so they will be able to tell you if your child is behind their expected level for their age.

If your child is behind their peers, your next task is to get a formal assessment from an education expert. They might spot problems that could point to an appropriate diagnosis, such as dyslexia or ADHD.

Read fun stories

Some children feel a sense of pressure to read and see it as "school time". That fuels a resistance when your child would rather be doing "fun" activities.

Turn things around by taking the pressure out of reading. Choose a book to read to your child instead. Allow them to get seated with a snack, so they see it as relaxation time while you read a story to them.

That also gives you the chance to read a book that will entertain you both. You could opt for a book more advanced than their current reading level with a more complex and exciting storyline.

Set a regular reading time

Create good reading habits by setting a fixed time each day to sit down and read. Many children prefer the end of the evening (sometimes merely as an excuse to delay their bedtime!).

If you travel regularly, you could tie in reading with your travel. For example, why not arrive at your destination thirty minutes early each day and spend that time reading?

Before long, your child will associate that travel time with reading time, and it will become a habit.

Choose books together

Most children will enjoy reading once they find a subject that interests them. You don't have to opt for children's classics to get a reluctant child to read. Instead, be strategic about what books for reluctant readers you choose.

Head to a large bookshop with your child and work together to find a book that your child finds interesting. Or alternatively, sift through our recommended reading lists for KS2 together for inspiration.

Set a good example

Take time each week to sit down with a good book and talk to your child about what you are reading and why you love it.

Children learn by example, and when they see you enjoying reading, they are more likely to develop an interest themselves. Find an area of your home that's relaxing and calm and make it your "reading corner".

You'll subtly send the message to your child that reading is a fun, relaxing, and everyday activity for the whole family.

Discuss the story

When a child is reluctant to read, they often don't get involved in the story. If that's the case, read together with your child. Focus less on the technical aspects of reading and more on the plotline.

That will help your children see books as a means of enjoyment and fun rather than an academic exercise. Ask them questions such as:

  • Who was your favourite character?

  • I thought this scene was hilarious (and explain why)

  • What do you think will happen next?

  • Do you think these characters like each other? Why?

  • What did you think of this chapter? Did it surprise you?

As you talk about each story, your child will develop a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of the literature.

Create a relaxed reading environment

Children enjoy reading when they aren't distracted by other stimuli. So create a space and time at home free from technology, noise, pets, and siblings to help nurture a desire to learn.

That might be a beanbag in the corner of their bedroom. Or it might be a separate area of your living room with a comfy armchair and bookshelf.

Set a reading time each day and create a house rule that no TV, music, phones or tablets are on during storytime.

Try these tactics to inspire your reluctant reader

Books can be a lifelong joy for every child, even the most reluctant readers. You can inspire your child by using these alternative strategies in our reluctant reader guide to help them embrace reading.

Now that you know how to help reluctant readers, why not explore more of our site! If you're looking for exclusive tips and resources to help your child master key subjects, excel in exams, and build academic confidence, join Atom's email list:

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