Monday, September 12, 2011

Help! My Kid's Just Not Into Reading!

Let's face it. Despite all our efforts, some kids just aren't into books. Yet we know how important reading is for their life at school and beyond. Is there anything parents can do to change this attitude to books and reading?

In Australia, we begin testing children as young as five to see how many sight words they know, whether they are ready to read or not (don't start me!) Some parents perceive low scores on such tests as doom for their youngster's future, and panic. Sometimes the result of that panic - of drilling sight words, forcing kids to read caption books aloud, stumbling to sound out each word - can be that children are turned away from reading, and who can blame them? The really sad part is when they perceive themselves as failures, and give up trying.

Other kids may do okay with the mechanics of reading, but just not be interested in books at all. Maybe they prefer to play video games or watch TV. Maybe they would rather be outside kicking a ball. Parents might tear their hair out at this situation, then give up in despair. Others punish their kids by forcing them to keep trying to read aloud from remedial material. Both groups of parents ask themselves questions like "Why me?" and "Where did I go wrong?" Both groups of parents try desperately to do what is best for their children.

I am not an expert, so take everything I'm about to say with a huge chunk of salt, but I don't believe either approach above works.

Don't give up if your kids just aren't into reading. I admit it, maybe they never will be. But here are some things you can try that might improve things for both of you.

Keep reading to them, every day. Take the pressure off them reading to you, and you read to them instead. Make sure they can see the print if possible. Sit a child on your lap, with both of you facing the book, so you can run your finger along left to right under the print. Read fun books, and beautiful books, as well as homework books. Talk to your child about what you're reading. Play games with the words and discuss the illustrations. Spend quality, unrushed, one-on-one time with your child and the books. It won't be easy; nothing worthwhile ever is. But it will relieve the pressure on both of you, and that's a huge plus. It may even give your child a chance to enjoy reading. And that, to me, is the biggest plus of all.

Try them on non-fiction books in subject areas that tie into their hobbies, sports and obsessions. Caption readers have a place in reading, but few of them are riveting. Some children are interested in books that are well above their reading level. Perhaps they LOVE dinosaurs, or insects, or front-end loaders. Find books that are a match for your kids and read to them. Encourage them to talk to you about the pictures, discuss the subject generally. Remember, the mechanics of reading is not the emphasis. The love of reading and books, and what pleasure they can bring us is the emphasis.

Look around for magazines that might pique their interest. The great thing about magazines is that they don't usually have long items of text. Instead, you'll find short stories, short articles, text boxes with bullet points, illustrations with captions - lots of snippets and textual treats. For a child who is beginning to read independently, but not sold on the whole reading thing, a chapter book can be off-putting. The format of magazines may be much more attractive.

Don't discount picture books, comics, cartoons, and graphic novels. Look for them in your local library or book shop. Ask a librarian to recommend some to your child. Some publishers produce junior novels that are perfect for young readers who still like illustrations with their text. Please don't assume that your child should do without pictures because he or she is in a certain grade. I know people who are intensely visual learners who simply prefer to read that way. Our society seems to have some sort of snobbery about this, insisting all text is the way to read. Who says?

Do you watch TV shows or movies with your kids? Turn on subtitles if they're available. This is another way for kids to see words that are being said, and reinforces both reading and spelling.

Writing can be a way into reading for some kids. They enjoy telling stories, and may be interested in you writing down their words to record a story. That writing can be the basis of learning to read. Of course, at first the "reading" is simple memorisation, but that's an important milestone in the journey to reading. Gradually children make meaning from print, especially if you play games that help them. They learn that the B at the start of their name is also at the start of Brontosaurus, and eventually begin to recognise whole words.

Some kids aren't into reading. Perhaps they will always prefer words to be sung, said on screen, spoken or performed. And that's okay. But other kids may not yet have found the key that will unlock reading as an enjoyable process for them. It's those kids I don't want to give up on. Let's keep reading aloud to them, sharing our own enjoyment of reading with them, and looking for that key.

Over to you, The Book Chook readers. What other tips do you have for parents of kids who don't like reading yet? Please leave a comment if you're one of those lucky readers who can make my comment system work for you! And if you're interested in children's reading, click on Reading in the right sidebar for more articles.
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