Ask Reading Kingdom: How can parents encourage reluctant readers to explore?


If your child is struggling with reading you may have received the common, well-intended advice “to be patient.” We do not think you should wait if your child has problems with reading – the single most important skill he or she needs in life.

Kathleen (Teacher) asks:

What are realistic ways to engage parents in encouraging reluctant readers to explore?

Dr. Marion Blank answers:

It’s important that the word “realistic” appears in the question. Many parents in today’s world face so many demands and they have little time to take on the task of demonstrating to their children the pleasures that can be found in the world of books. It’s vital that the effort not be “one more chore” but rather a pleasurable experience enjoyed by both parent and child.

While it may be counterintuitive, one of the best “realistic” approaches for reluctant readers is to take a somewhat indirect route where the focus is not on books but on films. That medium offers highly appealing, well-constructed and fascinating material that yield much of the same information and emotions that can be gained via reading. Many books, spanning a wide range of ages, have been turned into films—To Kill a Mockingbird, Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web, Hugo, Gorillas in the Mist, to name just a few. By sitting with a child and watching this material, parents can achieve much of what a motivated reader achieves in reading the same books. As the process takes hold, the parent can start showing the actual books and begin reading passages that mesh with and amplify what is seen in the film. The key is to create an enjoyable, interesting experience for both parent and child.

In line with the question that was asked, the comments above are focused on “reluctant readers.” Typically these are children who are in the primary grades or beyond and have experienced difficulties in reading. The situation is very different if the focus is on interacting with younger children who have not yet experienced the pain of reading failure. For those children, bedtime reading is the best path. If done regularly with a wide range of material, the outcome is usually a deep love of books. Unfortunately, under the pressure of school achievement – even in nursery school age — many parents have told me that they have abandoned traditional bedtime “fun” reading in favor of drill type tasks such as reviewing sounds and letter naming. They have been told that this is necessary to help their child cope with the demands encountered in the school day. This means that the child is experiencing, both at home and at school, the least pleasant aspects of reading. That is a sure-fire formula for creating “reluctant readers.”

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