Illustration by Shannon Wright
With the start of the new school year, you’ll probably be spending time helping your new and emerging reader strengthen his or her skills. It can be a challenge, since not all kids want to read. But if you believe your child’s literacy skills increase only by reading a book, think again. To discover hidden reading gems, think of yourself as a reading detective, always on the lookout for situations where your child is flexing their literacy muscles. Children shy away from reading when it becomes more difficult, which can lead to losing confidence in their abilities. Your mission is to prevent your child from identifying as a non-reader.
Spend a few days observing how frequently your child reads — the results may surprise you.
Celebrate the graphic novel. Comic books and graphic novels can ignite a reluctant reader’s interest and many titles go beyond the typical superhero genre. There are graphic books that detail Barack Obama’s life, sports figures, even graphic novels of Shakespeare’s classics. Visit your local library; you may be impressed by the variety of graphic novels geared toward readers of all ages. Choose one for yourself so you can see why so many readers love this art form.
Look for magazines or websites dedicated to your child’s interests. There are magazines dedicated to teen TV stars, dolls, video games, cars, and almost any hobby or sport you can imagine. Visit a local bookstore for inspiration. Offer this new material in a casual, no-pressure way such as, “I picked this up for you because I thought you might be interested in the topic.”
Play a video game with your child. Many games have a considerable amount of reading on screen, from instructions to conversation bubbles. Pay attention to how well your child comprehends the language, and later, you can point out how much they are reading.
Read the same book your child is reading at school or at home. Talk to them about the story. That conversation will help you gauge their comprehension. If reading is strenuous or challenging, offer to read some of the material aloud. Being read to, no matter your child’s age, can help with literacy skills. Borrow or download an audiobook from the library; even listening to a book increases reading skill.
Take note of instructional reading. Games and electronic gadgets usually come with manuals. Ask your older child or teen to help you set up a new gadget by reading the manual and working with you. If in the midst of this reading you get confused, model rereading for clarification because reluctant readers sometimes think other people read and comprehend all text correctly the first time.
Remember that researching online involves scanning and browsing, two important literacy skills. Notice when your child is making use of this skill. If they like video games, they may already be reading tips to improve their game play. Suggest other reasons for research, such as reading movie reviews to decide upon the family movie, or a fun place to go for vacation.
Notice their every day reading, like text on the cereal box at breakfast. This is an opportunity to talk with them about nutritional information, and then encourage them to compare the various choices in your cupboard. If they go grocery shopping with you, send them off to find a cereal with certain qualifiers such as 3g of fiber or a brand that doesn't have sugar listed in the first three ingredients. This will be good for both their scanning skills and their health.
Board games are an unexpected source of reading. Many fantasy board games require reading about the creatures and their powers at every encounter. Players often do not notice how much they are reading because they are having too much fun. Take this opportunity to compliment your child's reading skills.
If at the end of your literacy detective work you feel your child is not reading enough, take heart — you have learned more about what excites him or her, and this will help you help them choose captivating reading material. Reading should be fun. Never stop looking for clues about how to engage your young reader; you’ll eventually meet the right books.
Sue LeBreton is a health and wellness journalist with a passion for reading. She has been a literacy tutor, and her son is also a reluctant reader.