Our oldest read easily and on schedule. When I say “on schedule”, I of course mean some random age that the school system determines that kids should be reading by, which I now know better than to care about but when our second son wasn’t reading by that age, I worried. Another year went by and he still wasn’t reading or even progressing and I started to have an internal panic. I knew that to make a big deal of him not reading would only make him more self-conscious and less likely to want to try, so I kept my worry inside, but I was concerned.
Thankfully, I had some wise friends in my life at the time who talked me down. One of them asked me the question, “what good would it do if he learned to read but along the way, came to hate reading?” That stuck with me. If I pushed too hard, it might turn him off reading for good.
Reading has been one of the greatest loves of my life and I had hoped to pass that passion on to my children. In my quest for reading sooner, I could see that I was taking the joy out of it for my son.
I backed off the painful daily practise sessions. I left the worksheets and sight word flashcards behind. I ignored that nagging voice in my head that wanted me to worry about how old he was getting and still not reading and I set about on a quest to teach him not to read, but to love reading.
I am so happy to say that he did learn to read but more importantly, he came to love books. He was 11 years old when he first read but by the end of that year, he had read the full Narnia series. He began to devour books and would ask for them as gifts. He got lost in the fantasy worlds that books provide.
Due to the special needs of some of our younger children, reading has not come easily for most of them. Out of our seven kids, only two of them read “on time”. One of them is still not reading proficiently and he is in Junior High. He has several learning disabilities and while we certainly still work on the goal of having him read, we also have not lost sight of the bigger goal which is to have him love reading.
I’m glad that I had the experience with our second son of focusing on the love of reading rather than on the mechanics of it so that I could relax a lot more when it came to our subsequent struggling readers and enjoy the process with them.
Helping Struggling Readers Love Reading:
Celebrate successes. Focus on what they CAN read or even letters they can recognize rather than on what they can’t. Never compare them to same-age peers. Everyone learns to read at their own pace. Allow them to make mistakes without shaming them but celebrate small victories.
Let them choose their own reading material. Provide a variety of choices strewn all over the house particularly in bathrooms, bedrooms and high traffic areas. Never tell them that a book is too difficult for them or too babyish for them. It is of course appropriate to tell them that they aren’t yet old enough to read a book based on mature content, but if they want to read a book that is above their reading level, allow them to challenge themselves. If they want to read comics or magazines or University textbooks or brochures or anthologies, let them. Reading is reading, regardless of what form it takes.
Take the pressure off. Put away levelled readers that remind them of how “behind” they are. Set aside any type of testing or measurement. Put the focus on digesting information instead of on reading.
Talk about books. Discuss books in their presence with your friends or spouse. Talk to your kids about the book you are currently reading. This will allow them to see your own excitement and also to see that adults talk to each other about books because they are interesting.
Read to them. Reading to small children has benefits that most would agree on but reading to older children has many benefits too. Make it relaxing and part of everyday life. When the kids were a bit younger, we used to read a lot on the trampoline and now, I often see them take their book and a blanket out there and read because it seems like the most natural thing to them!
Use audiobooks. Audiobooks allow kids to love storytelling and characters and far away lands and get the feel of how much adventure there is in books without any of the stress of a print book. It also allows them to build their confidence because they can participate in conversations about books without having strong reading skills. We listen to audiobooks in the house and in the car. You can also put them on a small iPod Nano for your child to listen to before bed or during quiet time.
Do activities that coincide with the books you’re reading together. Make cupcakes and let the kids decorate them to go along with the book If You Give a Cat a Cupcake. We do activities to correspond with many of the books we read together. Some of my favourites were the activities we did to go along with Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, The Kissing Hand, Fancy Nancy, and A Bad Case of Stripes.
Take them to see the movie version of a book after you’ve read it together. Discussing the similarities and differences after seeing the movie will help them to see how much richness can be found in books. Sometimes I plan the books we are going to read based on when the movie will be coming out. We just finished reading The Jungle Book because I had heard that a new movie version was coming out.
Let them see you reading for pleasure. I often read books for education purposes but I try to also read books for no reason at all other than enjoyment. I usually only have time for this on vacation or over the Christmas holidays, but I make sure that the kids see me with a book in my hand. I make comments sometimes about how I just can’t put the book down and they know it’s true as I try to juggle cooking supper while holding a book!