This post was inspired by my son who is one of those "reluctant readers". Even though we often read to him as a toddler and into his early years of school, he never really veered from listening to stories to reading his own books.
This year he heads into Grade 4 and while I would not label him an "avid" reader I would certainly take him out of the "reluctant reader" box. How did we do it? Hmmmm, I have thought a lot about this wondering if there were some little ways I could apply it in my own classroom, this is what I have come up with.
1. DO NOT put undue pressure on the child to pick up a book, it needs to come naturally or it will be seen as a chore and not something of pleasure.
This does not mean that we never steered him towards books but we used subtle manipulative ways instead of flat out saying, "you need to read!" This became particularly difficult when it was time to read the dreaded Home Reader, I have seriously re-thought Home Reading as a teacher since having my son in school. We did not let him get away with not reading for school (well not often....) but we did share reading. I would read a sentence/page, he would read a sentence/page, or I would read the book first, then he would read it. There were many days that would end in him sprawled across the floor, saying " I don't want to do this!!!" We tried to minimise these days and when it came to that we would reduce reading time and break it up into chunks, "We'll read a bit now and then some at bedtime" Eventually we would extend the time and those outbursts became less.
2. Find the Hook!
Find out what your child is interested in, what makes his face light up when he talks about a particular topic/genre. For us it was anything that was Non Fiction and later anything that involved humour, so we searched out books that would support this interest. He particularly liked Non Fiction books that also had big bright illustrations or diagrams that had short labels, this gave him a short burst of interesting information with the support of a picture to make even more inferences.
3. Use multi media.
My kid luuurrves movies and TV, what kid doesn't right? This gave us another pathway to explore books, again he likes to watch shows that gave him information, like Horrible Histories, Deadly 60 or shows that had a lot of humour in them, if you were a kid in the 70's in Australia or the UK, you would remember The Goodies, we introduced him to that and he loved it. How does that relate to reading you may ask, well when he had questions about what he was watching rather than just give him the answer we encouraged him to use the internet (with supervision of course) or other books to find out. For example he wanted to know if The Goodies characters were still alive, I had no idea, so he found out that yes they are all still alive, he was very happy. More importantly he had to read to find out :)
4. Model, model, model!
I class my self as an avid reader, I am happiest when I have a juicy thick book in my hands, curled up on my reading couch, usually with snacks and a drink. My son has seen this throughout his whole life and when he asked me why I read so much I knew this was a prime opportunity! My answer to him was that I liked to read to create a movie in my head, this way the movie belonged only to me and I could make it look and feel anyway I wanted. I told him that when I read something particularly interesting or exciting I could close my eyes for a few moments and run the movie in my head. We tried it out and that was when the light went on for him. Every child has creativity and imagination and as a parent you know the best way to tap into that.
5. Be Patient and offer variety.
This is really hard and I have been guilty of losing it when my son would flatly refuse to read. What helped me is to remember that introducing new skills/interests/hobbies to a child is the same as introducing new foods (yes my son is one of the fussiest eaters I know). You have to offer the same food multiple times to a child before they will even deign to try it, the same can be said for reading (and writing for that matter, but that is a whoooole other post!) offer a variety of reading for them to "taste". Comics, non-fiction, fantasy, short chapter books, magazines, internet sites, are you getting the picture?
While this is not an exhaustive or complete list, these are the things that seem to have worked for us. My son is now 9 years old and is now more regularly asking if he can read before bed, this is exactly what we were aiming for, a child that wants to read for pleasure. Is the job done? Not by a long shot, but we will continue to foster a love for reading and hope that he will make it an everyday pleasure.
I hope you have found at least 1 little thing in this post you can use in your classroom or with your own child. I have created a send home sheet for you to give to parents in your classroom that may help them with their child. Just click on the pic to download.
PS just found a typo in my note!!!! OH NO!! Never fear, I have updated the sheet with the correction and a new link!