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14 tried and tested ideas to engage reluctant readers


There are many reasons why children may not choose to pick up a book over another activity. Whether they struggle to read, haven't found a book that excites them or just feel that there are other activities they prefer doing, here are some ideas to help kick start your children's reading this year:

1. Let them choose. Many of us haven't read a children's book since our childhood, so although you may have enjoyed Enid Blyton, Lord of the Flies or Anne of Green Gables, your child may have completely different tastes and might prefer something, well, a bit more modern.  Forcing them to read a book they find old fashioned, or just don't like, may put them off reading even more. Instead of jumping straight in with a book suggestion from your childhood, it's worth delving into what they're into. Do they like sport, music or drawing? There are children's books for pretty much every interest, either woven into a fictional story or a stand alone non-fiction book, where they can geek out on facts. Do a bit of research, take them to the library or your local bookshop and let them find something which interests them. 

2. Reading is reading. Reading isn't just limited to books. Some children prefer to read a newspaper, a magazine, a recipe book or even a manual. There are opportunities to read throughout the day and if like many children they're glued to the TV, maybe strike a compromise and ask them to turn off the sound and just have subtitles.

3. An audiobook is still a book. Some children find reading really tiring and just sitting back and listening to a book is a great way to engage them with stories again. Whether they're in the car or struggling to get to sleep at home, there are some fantastic audiobooks to listen to, available on CD or as a download.

4. Are they a reluctant reader, or just a 'visual' reader ie they prefer books with illustrations or graphic novels? Many kids I've seen classed as a reluctant reader (including my daughter) are what I would call a visual reader and once given the right level of illustration become avid readers.

5. Don't force them to finish a book they're not enjoying. It can be frustrating when a child starts and then doesn't finish a book but it's worth finding out why. Have a conversation about what was it about the book they didn't like. Did they want a different kind of story? More illustrations? More facts? Or was it just too slow and they wanted something more gripping? There are more than 10,000 new children's books released each year, on top of all the books published already, so I promise you there will be something, somewhere which takes their interest. I often try and explain that reading is like eating ice-cream (stick with me!). It's about finding your favourite flavour and just because you don't like strawberry ice-cream doesn't mean you don't like ice-cream, it just means there are hundreds of other flavours you need to try next.

6. Get them to think about the last book they enjoyed. What was it about that book that they liked? Was it that you read it to them? Was there a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter? Once you've established what appealed about that book, it's a lot easier to find other similar books. Perhaps there are other books in the series they could read, or more books by the same author? Perhaps they like a specific genre or style of writing and they can research that. Once you've established what they like, it's easy to find similar books either by searching online or asking your local librarian or bookseller.

7. Don't jump straight to War and Peace. Some children are really intimidated by dense pages of text, long chapters and big books. Barrington Stoke is a publisher which specialises in books for dyslexic children and reluctant readers. They're all written by well known authors and are fantastic stories of a manageable length, with shorter chapters and a special font which is easier on the eye.

8. Don’t be a book snob. Funny books are a great way to hook a child into reading. There is little better than hearing a child belly laugh from reading a funny part in a book (and even reading the passage aloud to you to share the joke). There is no hierarchy of books from worthy to less worthy. If they read for pleasure, they'll read for life, long past homework reading or adult pressure, so if you can, don't judge their choices.

9. It's ok to watch the film before reading the book. I'm going to say that again, it's ok to watch the film BEFORE reading the book. Watching the film first will give them a head start on the story, which means they may not find the book so confusing and give up. It also allows you to have a discussion about how the film differs to the book and which one they prefer.

10. Pictures aren't just for young readers. There's an old-fashioned theory that as children's reading progresses, they 'move on' from picture books to books with just text. I think this is one of the most common reasons why children stop reading. We all love picture books, they're brilliant for learning to read, many have hugely complex stories and many readers love books with illustrations right the way into adulthood. Don’t be too keen to push children onto reading full-length fiction, they may love reading but prefer books with lots of illustrations or full-colour graphic novels/manga.

11. Let them re-read their favourites. I get quite a few queries from concerned parents who are worried that their children are re-reading books they’ve already read. This for me is a sign that actually the children enjoy reading and the parent has nothing to be worried about. Re-reading old favourites is like snuggling up with an old teddy, it’s comforting and familiar and many adults who love reading, re-read their favourites. I’m much more concerned by those children who never re-read books and treasure them as trophies on their shelves, never to be touched again.

12. Reading can be social. Some children don't like the solitary nature of reading, so find out if your school, library or bookshop has a bookclub they can join. If they're older, there are fantastic communities of readers on social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok.

13. Don't stop reading to them. Yes, we’re all busy and yes there are always a 101 other things to be doing but reading aloud with your children, no matter what their age, gives you an opportunity to check to see that they understand what is going on in the book, check in on vocabulary and share an experience together.

14. Keep it real. Although some children love magical stories that take them away to a faraway world, many prefer something more familiar, perhaps set in a school or stories where they see themselves and their lives reflected. Authors like Lisa Thompson, Onjali Q. Rauf and David Baddiel are great authors to start with, or series like A Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Planet Omar or Kid Normal.

14 tried and tested ideas to engage reluctant readers

2nd January 2024

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