When toddlers pick up their first board book or start to become aware of the words in their home environment, it is the start of something special. Literacy starts at a young age, and when kids develop their ability to recognize high-frequency  letters and words, they embark on a journey of learning that may continue their entire lives.

Texts are everywhere: picture books, novels, science textbooks, internet articles, manuals, menus, and signs are just a handful of the places we use our reading skills. Critical reading skills are even more important now in an age of fake news and social media: being able to read ‘between the lines’ can radically impact how you see the world. An ability to read well will serve you long into adulthood, and help you become a lifelong learner.

Reading comprehension is an essential skill for success, and when you have a reluctant reader in your home you are probably wondering how to get a book in their hands more often. There are a number of reasons your child may not want to read: they may prefer to be more active, have not had opportunities to choose the books they want, are not reading texts at their level, may not be in the habit of reading, or find it boring overall. In some cases, children may have a learning challenge that requires special education support. Whatever reason or reasons your child is averse to reading, it is important to address those issues since your child will surely need those literacy skills in the future.

Find out how to help your child with their writing skills.

This article discusses some strategies for inspiring the reluctant reader in your home to pick up a book. Let’s start by exploring a little more on what happens when we read, and why practice is needed to do it well.

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Literacy skills are among the most important your kids can develop at a young age. Source: Unsplash
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The Four Roles of the Literate Learner

Reading goes far beyond sounding out words - literacy today is not a single skill, but a mix of skills and resources that learners use to make meaning from different texts. Researchers Peter Freebody and Allan Luke developed a model for understanding what readers must do in the 21st century, known widely as the “Four Roles of the Literate Learner.” As Freebody and Luke point out, students must be:

  1. Meaning Makers: use prior knowledge and experiences to construct and communicate meaning
  2. Code User: recognize and use the features and structures of texts to break the code and find meaning
  3. Text User: understands that purpose and audience determine the way a text is created and structured
  4. Text Analyser: understands texts are not neutral, that perspectives can be missing, and that the messages of texts can be criticized

The four roles are essential to literacy, and  readers integrate all four roles simultaneously while reading. When we understand how reading works - and how to do it effectively - we can model those skills for our kids and be intentional when we help them learn how to read. Is your child making personal connections with what they read? Are they able to move past decoding processes?

Read all of our tips for helping your child develop digital media literacy at home.

Ways to Help a Reluctant Reader

If you have a reluctant reader in your home, start by asking why. Is your child developmentally ready to read? Do they get to choose books they feel connected to or want to read? Here are our top ways for getting your child to become a better reader.

Make Reading a Habit

When reading becomes a daily ritual, it’s hard to argue when it’s time to read. Setting aside designated reading times can be incredibly effective - make it a routine like brushing your teeth or making your bed. Read with or alongside your kids, and ask questions about what your child is reading at some point during the day. Engaging your child in talking about reading will help them build their ability to summarize and retell stories, and can be a great conversation over dinner or in the car.

Find a time after school when it’s time to wind down - usually, right before bedtime (and you’ll get eyes off the screen for an hour). Make sure your child’s bookshelf or desk is stocked with plenty of new material from the library or the bookstore, and reward your child when they have achieved reading goals like advancing to a higher level reader. Be firm in making it a daily routine, and eventually reading will become automatic.

Get Level-Appropriate Texts

Sometimes kids get frustrated with reading because the content is inaccessible or unrelatable, so try to determine where your child is at in their reading. Try a selection of texts at different levels, and ask your child to read-aloud. You’ll want to provide them with material that isn’t too easy, but not too hard. Bring in books that are below their level that they might also enjoy, and let them choose. Find reading lesson plans, reading activities and worksheets online that are appropriate for their age, so you can get a sense of what kinds of tasks your child should be able to do.

If you’re not sure what level of reader to get your child, give your child’s teacher a call. They will likely be able to give you an idea of what they have been successful with in class.

Let Your Child Choose from a Variety of Books

library
Offering a variety of books to your child by taking them to the library. Source: Unsplash.

Your child may not have discovered what they love to read yet: bring them to the library or bookstore and let them explore freely. Find out what their interests are, and bring a selection of books on that topic and see what happens. If they are averse to chapter books, bring them a graphic novel. Non-fiction books filled with facts and information might gauge their interest, or books based on their favourite cartoon characters can also be a draw.

Remember that not all books have stories - cookbooks, instructions, and manuals are also great texts that will engage your child. Ask your child to pick dinners for the week or your next baking by giving them an illustrated cookbook; if your kid is into crafts, find DIY instructional texts they can find their next activity from. Your young athlete may enjoy a book on the rules of sports, the builder in your house can read out the assembly instructions for a piece of furniture, the car lover may enjoy leafing through the owners’ manual of your car.

Want to help your child with their speaking and listening skills? Check out our post.

Use Literacy Technology

Technology offers so many options for reading, either on the computer or through a smartphone app. Check out a reading app like Tumblebooks or Epic, where your child can pick from thousands of titles and even have them read-aloud. Some book apps will measure the time your child spends reading and what titles they have covered, so you can measure their progress. Of course that will mean more screen time for your child, but if it gets them reading perhaps you can make an exception!

child learning online
Literacy technology may help to get your child excited about reading. Source: Unsplash

Audiobook subscriptions can also be a great option to supplement books: let your child plug in while having a walk outdoors with you or on a long car ride. You’ll be surprised how engrossing a book can be when you hear it! Many great audiobooks are read-aloud by celebrities, which can be fun for your kids.

Model Positive Literacy Behaviour

Modelling positive reading behaviours will also help your child become a better reader. When they see the way you read and interact with texts, they will learn more about what a strong reader looks like. Practice independent reading, and show your child that you read often. Make connections with articles and books you read, connecting stories with your own experiences. Share what you think about the characters in the stories you read, criticize opinions, and engage your child in the conversation.

Parents of younger kids can take the time to read aloud to their little ones and demonstrate the process of sounding words out or pointing out observations from the book. The books your bring home don’t even have to contain words: I Spy books can be a really fun way to interact with a book!

Are you wondering how to help your kids improve their literacy? Read our article.

Get Extra Help

If you are finding that your child is truly struggling to read and make meaning from texts, don’t hesitate to get extra help. Speak to your child’s teacher about possibly getting a reading assessment done, and see if special education support may be required. A family doctor may also be able to direct your to the right professional. They may be able to recommend reading interventions that support struggling readers, or simply give some medical insights on why your child has reading problems.

Another option to consider is to hire a private tutor or educator to practice reading with your child and reinforce comprehension strategies. A private tutor will have activities and exercises to help your child learn to read, support them through literacy workbooks, and help them write book reports. They can sit with your child as they practice reading aloud, and teach strategies to help your child analyze and decode texts better. A strong literacy tutor will know what questions to ask to get your child making connections, lead guided reading activities, and push them toward more challenging texts as needed.

Tutors can meet your child at convenient times, either in your home, at a library or virtually. Sites like Superprof have listings for reading tutors near you - check out Superprof to find the right tutor for your child!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.