Most folks have sent their kids back to school now that we are a decent way into September. They should be getting an idea about their homework levels. This also means the return of struggling with their weaknesses and for some folks that’s reading.
While I understand this is completely overwhelming for parents, dealing with struggling readers was actually the favorite part of my job when I worked at the bookstore.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a good challenge to recommend books and have a child say they had already read it, but when there was a kid that was being dragged into the section to pick an outside reading book part of me got a little bit excited.
I have already made a post where I discussed some of the things to avoid when it comes to reluctant readers or struggling readers but this post is going to be the exact opposite. This is a post for folks who are tired of the nightly battle because they outright do not want to read.
My first tip is to try audio books. This is a really great way to meet those time limits. My younger brother had a hard time focusing on a book for a half hour straight and then it was a struggle because he needed to spend way more time than necessary reading to compensate for the time he spent distracted. Most audio book apps (like audible or overdrive) have a built in timer feature. Generally it is marked as a snooze feature (thinking if you listen before bed you wouldn’t want the book to continue once you are asleep) however this is a great way to keep kids focused for their set amount of time.
The other benefit of audio books is for those kids who are actually struggling to read. It may take them much longer to get through the book than their peers which can be frustrating and embarrassing. It is important that they have the physical book in front of them as well so that they can associate the words they hear with the words on the page, increasing their recognition of words as a whole rather than needing to sound them out. Audio books are purposely read very slowly and enunciated so that they are comprehensible. Kids are used to hearing the words and when sounded out they may not associate the letters they see on the page with the sounds they hear. Over time hopefully they can read better on their own as well. Don’t think of it as a crutch, think of it as training wheels that help boost confidence so that when they fall away, you don’t even notice that you were doing the work the whole time.
This may be a harder version of the last one, but you as a parent can also be a great assistant in reading. You can be the narrator or you can take turns with your kids. I made a whole post about how I love reading together even for kids who have learned to read on their own because it is a great bonding moment and your kids will be excited not only to spend time with you but to read together.
The key with this suggestion is that you need to be patient. I realize that this is asking a lot of a parent. You work all day, you have to worry about dinner, and housework, and bills. The last thing you want is to spend half an hour struggling through a book that is boring. You don’t want to do it, your kids doesn’t want to do it, so this just leads to more fighting. In that case, spending money on an audio version might be the better option because your own reluctance to spend the time reading is going to rub off on your kid. If you are excited about it, or if you can act excited about it then that is going to have an impact on your kids (especially the young ones who have yet to really cement the idea of what is cool or uncool).
The next option is to offer a choice. One of the things that can be part of the struggle is the content of the book. When a kid isn’t interested in the content of the story they will be less willing to struggle through the reading process. This may mean that you abandon a book and get a new one. If book reports are a necessary part of the homework assignment, realistically there is a time limit on the number of books you can abandon, but if the goal is just to get your kids reading consistently, the books themselves are less of an issue.
While it may not always be interesting to you as a parent, if there is a particular subject, character, or series that your child is interested in, there is more than likely a book featuring that. Giving them those stories or stories similar to them will be an easy way to hook the child on the content. It is easier to read when you want to find out what happens next. This will facilitate learning and foster curiosity. This may seem obvious, but many of us (especially after years of education where the choice was taken away from us) become so fixed on finishing a book that the idea of abandoning it part of the way through isn’t even on our minds any more. Remember that this is a marathon not a sprint, the point is to help them read not to help them finish books.
Some of you may have seen my post where I talked about summer reading challenges but they apply year round. I personally use them to help me diversify my reading. Kids like to feel like they are progressing or spending their time in a worthwhile way. They would rather be playing than working. If you turn the work, into play, they will learn without even realizing it. You don’t need to come up with your own challenges and rewards, there are plenty out there (see this pinterest board for instance). However, you know your kids the best and will be able to tailor any challenge or game into something they will want to participate in.
This is especially helpful when there are multiple siblings. There is nothing better than some healthy competition to get kids focused on a task. They may not care about reading in general but if they see a sibling is earning rewards they will want some too and that will spark them to do well (even if it is a bit like reverse psychology). This could be considered a simple reward system, but the idea is that they are willingly doing something they would normally fight over and with as little effort as necessary on your part.
This last suggestion is perhaps the easiest one and you can combine it with any of the others in a way that seems to fit your lifestyle. The idea is simply to multitask, find a way to work the reading into your schedule so that it isn’t an additional task, but just part of something they prefer doing. If you are a parent on the go then perhaps playing on audio book in the car as you travel between oboe lessons and dance class will meet the requirements of reading without taking additional time. Perhaps your kids have a hard time sitting still for that long, break out the coloring books and read aloud to them while the visual parts of their brain are occupied. Perhaps, you make reading part of your nightly routine and each of you take up a part of the story, Dad reads while everyone else brushes their teeth, Mom reads while the dishes are being washed and the table cleared, the kid reads the last bit once they are tucked in and they know that once they are done they can go to bed and most of the work has already been done for them.
There are endless possibilities here, but if the reading is part of the routine, or part of another obligatory task then it stops being its own struggle and becomes an enjoyable way to pass the time.
These are just a handful of suggestions and I am sure that there are parents out there who can attest to or add their own tips and tricks in the comments below if they so choose. I would love to hear from teachers or librarians as well for their go to methods of promoting reading! If you have any questions or have a suggestion for another post that I can do on this topic do let me know as well. I am planning to create lists of books that are great to read for both parents and kids (that way you are excited to read with them rather than dreading the endless stories about pony girls who turned into real girls and are going to have a slumber party… unless you are into that).