a young girl is bracing herself before she tucks into a stack of books nearby


6 Things to Consider If You’ve Got a Reluctant Reader

Mar 8, 2018

Every parent I know — including myself — wants their child to become a successful, avid reader. And why wouldn’t we? The benefits of becoming a strong reader early on are certainly plentiful. The good news is that many children get excited about reading and take to it quite easily in their first couple of years at school, but not all do unfortunately. Some struggle with the mechanics of reading (things like letter sounds, decoding and recognizing sight words), while others struggle to find that special story, type of book or topic that sparks their interest and really ignites a love of reading.

If your child is in early elementary school and is having a hard time in either area, don’t fret just yet. Thankfully there are many things you can do to help encourage your reader, whether they're struggling or reluctant. After many years as a tutor and kindergarten/grade 1 teacher, these are my go-to tips for parents worried about their child’s reading progress.

1. Schedule a hearing and vision test for your child 

Even if you don’t feel like there’s any issue with either. Even if they have had one recently and the results were fine. When you go, explain that your child has been having a hard time with reading so that the optometrist or hearing tech can be extra thorough. Because the thing is, if there’s any chance that your child could be experiencing some sort of issue with their hearing or sight, it’s very likely that it could be directly affecting their reading abilities.

And of course when something is really hard, it’s almost certainly not going to be something you really enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recommended just one more vision or hearing test and had a student’s parents come back to tell me that the optometrist or hearing tech had found something after all. It’s worth a shot, in my opinion. 

2. Take the pressure off 

Now, I know this one can be hard. Really hard, in fact. Especially when you feel like your child is falling behind and you want nothing more than for them to succeed. But here’s the thing I’ve learned after many years of teaching and tutoring struggling and reluctant readers: the pressure doesn’t help. It just doesn’t. If anything, the pressure adds anxiety and fear of failure, neither of which prove to be helpful. Something to keep in mind? The vast majority of kiddos do learn to read and your child most likely will, too.

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3. Make it fun

This is one of the most important strategies when encouraging little ones to become successful readers, in my opinion. Because when something is enjoyable, it doesn’t feel like a chore or like something someone is making you do. When something is enjoyable, you want to do it — and wanting to read is half the battle.

Of course, reading is fun, so naturally there are many ways to have fun: take a weekly trip to the library to select new books as a family; attend a great story time in your community; visit bookstores together; or set up a special little ‘reading corner’ in your home (this doesn’t have to be extravagant — a few cozy pillows and a basket of really lovely books will do). In fact, there are plenty of easy ways to make reading fun and accessible, like setting out a book alongside your child’s after school snack. Or try activities that are inspired by books (you can see some of our favourites here) and your child’s likes and personality!

4. Read to your child

This is absolutely the most important thing you can do to help your child become a successful reader! Children learn to read by being read to and they continue to improve their reading skills by continuing to be read to. Read to your child just because. Snuggle up with a stack of great books and truly enjoy the books together. Read and reread the same books over and over. As much as it can feel repetitive to us parents, rereading the same books again and again is actually very beneficial for kids. Also important? Don’t stop reading to your child when they get the hang of reading themselves. Not only is reading a lovely way to spend time together, but your little one will continue to learn about reading as you continue to read to them.

5. Let your kid choose the books

This can be a hard one for us parents, especially when our kiddos seem to be drawn to books we’d actively avoid. From bratty or branded characters to potty talk, nonsense words and bland storylines, there’s truly a full range of less-than-desirable children’s books out there. And I get it! I really do. But, I'll say this: If your child is really drawn to a particular book or series, so long as it doesn’t go against your core values, let them read it or read it to them. Reading something is better than reading nothing and being excited about a book — even if it seems completely ridiculous and nonsensical to you — is a really good thing. Encourage comics, graphic novels, magazines, joke books, manuals and non-fiction reads if that’s what your child is into.

It's also important to alllow them to read books that are too easy for them. I often see parents so focused on challenging their children’s reading abilities that they're inadvertently sucking the fun out of it. Of course challenging yourself some of the time is a good thing, but we could all use a break. Just imagine always having to read super dense, just-out-of-reach academic journals that your brain has to work overtime in order to understand. If that’s all you ever read, reading wouldn’t be that much fun, would it? Reading those books every so often is a great challenge, especially when we’re interested in the topic at hand, but when they're broken up by those quick, enjoyable reads that we can devour in a day or two, reading is much more fun overall.

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6. Meet with the teacher

If you’re truly worried about your child’s willingness or ability to read, don’t wait to seek out help. Connect with your child’s teacher and the school’s reading teacher too, if possible, and set up a time to sit together! The teachers may have some really helpful insights based on what they see in the classroom and will most likely have some recommendations or suggested resources for you, too.  Ultimately, coming up with a plan together will ensure that your child is getting the support they need both at home and at school, which is a very good thing.

Article Author Jen Kossowan
Jen Kossowan

See all of Jen's posts.

Jen is a teacher, blogger, and mama to a spirited little lady and a preemie baby boy. She's passionate about play, loves a good DIY project, adores travelling, and can often be found in the kitchen creating recipes that meet her crunchy mama criteria. You can follow Jen on her blog, Mama.Papa.Bubba, and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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