Our journey with a reluctant reader
OK, confession time: My daughter (now 8) used to be a very reluctant reader. VERY. Every syllable was a chore. Reading time lead to tears, frustration and self-esteem struggles. It was terrible. More confessions: I am a word lover. I make my living as a freelance writer and editor, I have worked in the publishing industry in one way or another for most of my career (even before freelancing). I an avid reader. I cannot pass a bookstore without going in. When my daughter wanted nothing to do with reading, I was more than a little sad. I had visions of us taking trips to the bookstore together, excitedly picking out new tomes to read, talking about our latest finds, and generally bonding over the written word. So such luck, it seemed.
Fast forward to the end of Grade 2. She was struggling in French Immersion, which was affecting her ability to read and write in both English and French, and her self-esteem was taking a hit. We made the decision to transfer her to an English-only school after March Break. She did not love the idea, as of course she wanted to stay with her friends, but we pushed ahead anyway.
And boy, am I glad we did.
In the weeks and months following the transition, it was as though a light switch came on. She lucked out with an amazing, enthusiastic, dedicated teacher, for one thing. The teacher made learning to read fun and interesting. The teacher recommended that she take part in the school’s 3-week literacy camp. Now, I’ll be honest here: C did not love the idea of this, and keeping on with the honesty theme, it was a chore to keep her engaged in it. She felt like it was punishment for not being a good reader (which of course it wasn’t meant to be). But we made it through those three weeks. Over the summer months, we started to see a change. She was interested in reading. She started to read on her own, with no coaxing or convincing. I was cautiously hopeful.
By the time September rolled around, she was hooked. Her Grade 3 teacher (who was the same one from Grade 2, thank goodness!) couldn’t believe the change in her. She was all of a sudden reading at and above grade level! Now, in the second half of Grade 3, she cannot get enough of books. We've gone from "Do I really have to read, Mama?" to "Can we go to the library? When can I go to the bookstore? Can I spend my birthday money on books?" Total transformation. So, what happened?
I can’t take all of the credit. Having a great teacher in her corner certainly was a big help. But I do have a few pointers that seem to have worked – and continue to the work – for us.
Model the behaviour
If your kids never see you reading, they won’t want to do it either. On the flip side, if you kids see you regularly taking time out to read (on the page, not a screen) they will want to emulate you. They’ll see that reading is fun and relaxing, and they will be more inclined to want to do it, too.
Make it an event!
No kid wants to do anything that isn’t enjoyable. Reading is the perfect activity that can be both a mixture of enjoyment and education. Designate some reading time and join in on the fun. Grab your own book, make some snacks, cozy up on the couch and make reading time. You’ll make memories along the way.
Let them take the lead
One of the best things you can do to encourage a reader is to let them take the lead. What are they interested in? Whether it’s dinosaurs or Shopkins, My Little Pony or earthquakes, let them read what they are interested in. There are almost always books at an appropriate reading level that are on topics they are interested in. Ask your librarian for guidance.
Get them a library card
Libraries aren’t what they used to be. Gone are they days of the dusty stacks presided over by a staunch librarian, glasses perched precariously on the tip of her nose, an ardent “shh!!” locked and loaded for the next offender who dared to speak. These days, your local library is a treasure trove of (free!) resources for your kids, presented in a fun and engaging way that encourages learning and play simultaneously. By getting your child her own library card, you give them ownership. They will love picking out their own books and getting to check them out themselves.
Use a flashlight!
This is one of my biggest tips for readers who struggle with focus (which, in my experience, is nearly every new reader). Let them read in the dark! Let them pick out a book and arm them with a flashlight. With all of the other lights in the room turned off, the only thing they will be able to see and focus on is the book in front of them. That helps to keep their focus on the page, and they’ll think it’s pretty cool to read in the dark! Win-win.
There you have it: A little glimpse into our journey toward raising a reader. Let me know below what your experiences have been. I’d love to read them! Gotta run for now. We’re off to the bookstore.
Have a great day!