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"But Mom, I hate to read!": Tips for reluctant readers

Show your reluctant reader that books can help him do the things he loves.

By GreatSchools Staff

"But Mom, I hate to read!" These words make any parent cringe, especially one who loves to curl up with a good book. But some children, even those with strong skills, would rather do anything than read. Others have learning difficulties and find reading a struggle.

What can you do to encourage your reluctant reader?

Connect reading with your child's passion.

Whether it's soccer, skateboarding or space travel, get a subscription to a magazine on that topic. Also consider general magazines for children, such as Highlights, Nickleodeon or Time for Kids. If it has his name on the address label, a magazine becomes a personal invitation to read.

Tell your child a joke or a riddle — and pull out the book where you found it.

Joke books, riddle books and books of sports trivia are irresistible to some of the most reluctant readers. Keep a book like this handy in the car, in the kitchen, at the doctor's office, on vacation or at the ballpark.

Read books with your child that have silly drawings or humor only a kid would love.

You might not like the humor of the Captain Underpants series, but your 9- to 12-year-old may love it.

Show your child that books are the keys to achieving a desirable skill.

Does she want to put sequins on her jeans? Does he want to do magic tricks? Does he want to learn to care for a new a pet? Show them how books can give step-by-step instructions.

Introduce series books.

Some may not be great literature, but they can entice a less confident or skilled reader because of their predictable themes and familiar characters. Reading books like the Encyclopedia Brown series can help your child prepare for more substantial reading.

Avoiding pitfalls as you encourage your reluctant reader

If you have a son who is a reluctant reader, ask your librarian which authors have a following among boys. Walter Dean Myers, for example, writes about a wide range of topics from basketball to biography. Many of this award-winning author's books are more appropriate for teen-agers. Slam!, published by Scholastic Paperbacks, is about a Harlem high school boy who loves basketball and struggles with school. Shooter, published by Amistad, focuses on the aftermath of a high school shooting.

But Myers also writes books for younger readers. Among them: The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, published by Scholastic Paperbacks, and Smiffy Blue, Ace Crime Detective: The Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories, Rebound by Sagebrush.

California school librarian Ellen Phillips has worked for years with readers, both enthusiastic and reluctant, in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo, CA. She says summer is the perfect time to explore books that aren't required in the classroom.

"My feeling about 'free reading time' is that it has to be free," she said. "To say you have to be reading a novel is unrealistic for some kids. Some kids just don't enjoy fiction."

Phillips and other reading experts underscore the importance of reading with your child.

"One of the big mistakes parents make is to stop reading to their kids once they can read chapter books," said Phillips. If you have an older child, she suggests reading the same book at the same time and then just chatting about it.

"It helps you know if they're comprehending what they read, and it also gives you something to talk about as kids get older," she said. "We sometimes drive some kids to hate reading by making them do something after they finish a book — make a diorama or write a book report.

"As an adult, think about what you do when you finish a book you like. You tell someone about it. Basically, you just have a conversation."

And summer is a great time for a good read and a good talk.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

10/19/2011:
"Awesome. It hit home the issues and gave great ideas. "
09/27/2011:
"I think finding a book at the appropriate reading level is key - and make it fun. Graphic novels are a great choice. I am a mom of a reluctant reader and I found that GN are fantastic. I blogged my reasons why here - http://www.jennascribbles.com/struggling-readers/graphic-novels-for-strugg ling-readers-4th-5th-and-6th-grade/ "
02/4/2010:
"this article is interesant...thanks for your help"
10/12/2009:
"Sounds interesting; the only problem I have is that I think 11 and 12 year olds are a bit old for Captain Underpants. I think I read it from about 5 to 8, maybe."
06/23/2009:
"I appreciate any efforts to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it. That's because I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much. My blog, Books for Boys http://booksandboys.blogspot.com recently reached # 1 on Google. Keep up your good work concerning reading. Max Elliot Anderson"
05/19/2009:
"I have gained so much insight from your emails, I will be sharing this site with other parents..."
09/17/2008:
"Recently, my son's first grade teacher said that she is concerned with my son's vision because he writes his 'S', 'd', and 'b' backwards sometimes. Isn't this a normal habit for 6yrs olds/1st graders or should I be concerned too? He's passed all of his vision tests. Thanks, "
07/31/2008:
"I think it is a good idea for the parents to recieve great tips on how to encourage our children to read. My daughter used to love to read. Now, I hardly see her pick up a book unless we tell her to. I want her to find her passion in reading the way she used to have. It is an important part of her life. I plan to use these tips on all three of my children."
07/18/2008:
"Hi, I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com and my Books for Boys blog is at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com Ranked by Accelerated Reader Max Elliot Anderson Read about my message to kids in a bottle: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/5/prweb983364.htm "
07/16/2008:
"Reluctant readers might benefit from a training program that addresses foundational language and reading skills, like Fast ForWord. (I sound like I'm pitching the product, but in realty, I'm just evangelizing - my son went from struggling, reluctant reader to reading lover after doing Fast ForWord. "
07/3/2008:
"I have the reluctant reader that's starting to on chapter books. The tips present hope. I'll respond, mid August 2008, on how well the advice works. "
06/20/2008:
"As a reading teacher, these are some of the same ideas we try to focus on. I think it's important to read to children and to share with them what we are reading. Often kids do not see the value of reading, which is such a needed skill in life!"
02/1/2008:
"Why should kids want to read? Every time they open the newspaper or TV news they see examples of government screwups from people who didn't read - who have apparent immunity from the disastrous consequences of all other normal folk expected to read who are not entitled to immunity. With a nation like this, who needs reading?"
08/10/2007:
"Some of these students who hate to read may suffer from dyslexia. So many go undiagnosed until the age of 9-10. Please tell these readers to be open to this possibility. Extra help in phonics does not correct this. They see in 3 dimensions and they need to touch, hear, and know the meanings just as much if not more than reading (seeing) it."
08/9/2007:
"I have had sooo many issues getting my child to read and write better. He's going into 3rd grade and is below reading level. For the longest we had the issue of 'he can't read yet' so now he uses that excuse all the time. I have tried to be stern, I have tried to be fun, I have tried to let him read what he wants..and he won't get that thought out of his head and uses it to not read...He also won't pick out books at the library...HELP!!!"
07/13/2007:
"We love the Chicago Public Library summer reading program. There are stories, art activities and stories by the authors. And the child reads a certain number of books, depending on age, and they receive a t-shirt. They receive prizes along the way, and their name is entered into a raffle for bigger prizes. And at the end of the program, if the child has completed the reading requirement, there is a private field trip just for the reading program. Last year we went to the Museum of Natural History and was give a guided tour of the King Tut exhibit after normal museum hours! "
06/20/2007:
"I also suggest books on tape or CD for the reluctant reader. Maybe they are hesitant because they don't know some of the words. You can get free books on tape from the library. Then they can read while they listen. Some children are audio learners, not visual and this really helps them. "
05/21/2007:
"I have a son with Asperger's Syndrome, who is very smart but hates to read. His main interest is Nintendo's Mario and anything to do with video games. Do you have any book suggestions? I love to read and would just like to pass is down to my child."
04/26/2007:
"These are some great ideas. I have 2 daughters who are reluctant readers, I'll try some of the ideals tonight."
11/16/2006:
"I don't know if these actions will help every child who is reluctant to read. However, my mom started reading books I read and talking to me about them over two years ago and it has really helped me appreciate reading. i am glad you are letting parents know ways to help their child read and appreciate it."
10/27/2006:
"Trust me when I say that I've tried every trick in the book,every single one that you mentioned, nothing has worked and I havent stopped subscribing to all the sports and fun magazines that my boy likes. He is in the 7th grade and I still read to him. Now you tell me what to do. "
09/29/2006:
"This is a great article! My second grader used to love to read, and now he's very reluctant to do so. It's great to have a variety of new strategies and specific titles to try. I do have a problem though with the discussions, his replies to my questions are always, 'I don't know, I don't know.' Do you have any suggestions for that? Thanks again, New Jersey"
08/15/2006:
"I've been reading chapter books to my son since he turned three. We've read all 35 of the Magic Tree House books and we are on the Secrets of Droon. It has become a bedtime ritual. By the end of his third year, he was reading his smaller books to me, Dr. Suess, Mercer Mayer. But then when he turned four, he didn't want to read outloud anymore. I was bothered a bit by it, but decided to just go a different route. He is into super heroes, spiders and weather. So when he goes to the library with Dad, he gets to pick out what I read to him and what he reads to me. This has helped him tremendously with his continued reading and he is more than happy to read outloud again."
08/14/2006:
"This article really directed me to find books that my 8 yr old, very reluctant reader can relate to and actually be interested in. I'm going to give it a try. Thank you, P. Tougeron"
08/14/2006:
"I liked the article and shared it with my son, who is 7 and going into second grade. He is a seemingly effortless learner. However, he does not like to read. He is very capable and does well while in school. My husband and I are both book people. Even his 4 year sister likes to read. Any suggessions? We have gone to the library and was helped with finding books he's interested in. But, still no spark."
07/6/2006:
"Good article. Very helpful and offered good tips."
07/5/2006:
"I'm a 14-year old girl and I learned to read very quickly and at a very young age and I love to read, so I found it very strange to see my younger brother struggle so much with reading at the age of 10. I have always hated doing the assigned work after reading a book at school. My friend and I had a motto, 'We love to read and we love to write, but we hate writing about what we read.' However, this never stopped me from reading as it did my brother. I think that teachers should just have discussions after a book with the class or give a list of choices on which type of assignment each individual child wanted to do. I will definetely tell my parents about these tips for my brother. Thank you very much."
07/5/2006:
"Right on single dad from Georgia. Info in the article is good, but it gets very annoying that the world is geared for moms and kids. I am a single dad of four from Illinois, and I will be using some of these ideas this summer too."
07/3/2006:
"HELLO I AM A SINGLE DAD OF TWO ELM SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN AND WOULD LOVE TO SEE EVERONE START BEING A LITTLE MORE POLITACLIY CORECT EVERYTHING IS MOMMY THIS AND MOMMY THAT SORRY IF I SEEM OFF HEREI JUST GET SO ANYED WHEN I HAVE TO CHANGE THINGS WHEN I READ THEN TO DADDY ALOT OF SINGLE DADS OUT THERE THANK YOU JUST A LITTLE SOMETHING TO THINK OVER SINGLE DAD IN GEORGIA"
06/22/2006:
"I THINK THIS ARTICLE IS GREAT! IT WAS MEANT FOR ME TO READ,BECAUSE MY 9 YR.OLD SON CAN READ BUT I HAVE PROBLEMS GETTING TO READ.IT AGVE ME SOME GOOD TOOLS TO WORK WITH THIS SUMMER AS WELL AS THE REST OF THE YEAR THANKS"
06/13/2006:
"I have 3 sons and have used different strategies on each of them. I often had them earn tv time by reading. They can watch tv for the amount of time they spend reading. I may send them to bed a little early but tell them they can stay up if they want to read in bed. My youngest actually got tired of listening to me read novels to him, still he didn't want to read them himself either. He had magazine subscriptions but wouldn't read them on his own. I read the first few issues with him and now he reads SI for Kids and NG World, cover to cover as soon as he gets them. I often have to bring armloads of books for him to find one he really likes but when he finds the right book, he can finish it regardless of length. I know I am giving them wonderful memories and valuable skills by keeping a variety of reading materials all over the house. Trivia books like Ripley's and Uncle John's Bathroom readers are always a hit."
04/14/2006:
"This article on encouraging reading is fabulous! I love how this article relates to my first-grader. I can already tell these tips will work, and I have only read the first three. Thank you GreatSchools.org for what you provide for parents and children alike."
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