I have always loved to read. ALWAYS. That’s why I was completely baffled when my son was a reluctant reader. I just can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to read!
After some chats with his teacher, cornering my favorite librarian at an uncomfortable intensity level, and some help from the internet, we have made a lot of progress!
I learned a lot from the internet on this quest to help my child fall in love with books – this page of articles and bookslists from Scholastic was my personal favorite resource for a lot of good information. (Although, heads up that I don’t personally agree with all of the books they recommend.)
However, there is a lot of stuff that we learned as we went. Since he’s made such amazing progress on this reading journey, I want to share 5 tips for helping your reluctant reader that I did not find on the internet. Happy reading!
P.S. Tips from the internet are great, but make sure you’re keeping tabs with your child’s teacher and getting your child reading help if they need it. First step in helping a reluctant reader is making sure they have the reading skills they need. It takes a team to raise a reader!
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5 Tips You’ve Never Heard for Helping Your Reluctant Reader
1. Stop Feeling Guilty
You know that quote that’s all over social media and book blogs? It’s by Emilie Buchwald, and it says, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
Forget that quote.
I’m sure Emilie is a nice person. I’m sure she meant well.
But OH. MY. WORD.
Sayings like that are so guilt inducing! Because what does that mean – if only I had read more to my kid he’d actually love to read??
What, did I just not hit the magic number of times through If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?
Shoot, if only I’d gotten him the entire library of Sandra Boynton books, instead of just half of it!
Yeah, that’s hogwash. Because I read to my child CONSTANTLY. And here we are.
So, forget any fancy quote picture on social media that makes it sound like there’s some magic formula, and don’t let the guilt creep in.
Holding guilt does nothing to help your child fall in love with books. Your guilt can make you snippy when it’s time to read. Guilt can make you angry at reading time, especially if one kid loves books and the other doesn’t and you parented them EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. (Can I get an, “Amen!”?)
So, let the guilt go.
And next time you see someone post some beautiful picture of anything on social media that implies that simply reading to children will make them great readers as they age, you have my permission to snarkily wrinkle up your nose and say, “Bless their heart.”
2. Provide some Mad Libs, Jr. instead of a normal book
Mad Libs are those fun fill-in-the-blank activity books to make super silly stories. (Also, they have an app now, because we’re living in the future.) My kid loves them! He takes the time to fill in all of the blanks, then reads aloud the silly story. He doesn’t even realize he’s reading!
Seriously, such a great way to practice reading comprehension. And they’re FUNNY!
Don’t discount this as reading time, just because it wasn’t reading a book!
Heads up that plain old Mad Libs books are meant for adults, and what you want to buy are Mad Libs, Jr. I learned that the hard way when the first Mad Lib in the book I bought for my 6 year old was about making wine. Now we stick to the Jr. version.
(This is not sponsored, Mad Libs does not know or care who I am. I’ve just had great success getting my elementary aged reluctant reader child to read them and I highly recommend them. This is his favorite: Mad Libs, Jr. Sports Star.)
3. Search-and-find books that list the items to find count as reading
At least, they count as reading in our house. I’m talking about the books that list the items to find, instead of giving little pictures of what to look for.
My recommendation for ALL elementary reluctant readers, or children with difficulties reading, is Ultimate Hidden Pictures Across America by Tony Tallarico. It’s great because there are also little speech bubbles of jokes throughout the book. It is a little bit older book, but it’s still fairly easy to get a hold of. It’s a fabulous seek-and-find book for reluctant readers because there are TONS of words for such a picture-heavy book.
Heads up that it is black and white, so probably not for the littlest readers, because they won’t be as interested.
4. When picking books for kids who don’t like to read, look for characters with charm
You might have heard that kids like books where the main protagonist reminds them of themselves. In my experience this hasn’t been very successful with elementary aged reluctant readers. Instead, characters that the kids want to snuggle win the day! If your kid hates reading, look for graphic novels with charming, endearing characters.
My number one recommendation for reluctant readers that really lays on the charm is The Owl Diaries series. The owls are super cute, the book is fully illustrated with a minimum of words, but there’s enough heft that it looks and feels like a “real book.” There is something to be said for kids who are reading below grade level to feel like they’re reading an actual chapter book, even if there aren’t a ton of words.
DO NOT THINK THESE ARE ONLY FOR GIRLS JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE PINK COVERS!! Boys enjoy books like these, too. There are just so many pictures, and maps, and things like that, they’re perfect for either gender who is having difficulties reading.
5. If charm doesn’t work, kids who don’t like to read will love a book with “ick”
Some kids who don’t enjoy reading love the gross factor. Lean into that. There’s nothing wrong with excessive farting being a legitimate plot point.
For these kids, I recommend The Bad Guys Club series. It’s a graphic novel chapter book series by Aaron Blabey. So many fart jokes! And action sequences in a chicken factory! And an alien that has butts for hands!
This series might not be right for all families (I mean, there’s a character with butts for hands), but certainly has the bodily-functions factor that many reluctant readers love. I’m picky about content like violence, bad attitudes, or crushes, but I’m ok with this series. It doesn’t have any of that stuff – just fart jokes.
These elementary kids who don’t like reading but love the gross books should definitely be steered towards the non-fiction section. There are a lot of really awesome non-fiction books that have a lot of ick, too, like This Book Stinks! Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash. I HIGHLY recommend that one for girl or boy reluctant readers in third grade and up.