My Child Can Read–
But Hates to Do It.

by Marilyn Kay, M. Ed.
Director, The Reading Group, Urbana, IL

Maybe you’re the parent of a child who can read.
It’s just that he or she doesn’t want to!

Sometimes a child who could be a really good reader resists reading and shows no interest in reading for pleasure. Is there anything you can do to change this, to foster a lifelong love of reading and books? Yes! Here are a my suggestions:

1. Select a topic your child your child is really interested in.

All kids are passionate about something: the White Sox, Barbie Dolls, Pokemon cards. As you know, there are books about everything. Make a point of looking in the public library or local bookstore for books on your child’s favorite topic at all reading levels. You can even include oversized picture books from the adult shelves (say, on maps or doll houses or airplanes). A boy I know who was preoccupied with knights and armor was so fascinated by large illustrated books on medieval warfare he started reading those books all by himself.

2. Strategically scatter the books around the house.

Once you’ve gotten a few of those “irresistible” books, casually scatter them around the house. One mother recently reported that her daughter picked up several books from the coffee table to “try out” and has already finished one of them. “If I’d handed it to her and asked her to read it, she would have resisted,” said the mother.

3. Make library or bookstore trips a regular activity.

Begin taking your child to the bookstore or library to make his or her own choices. Make it a regular outing. It’s fun to cultivate the friendship of the children’s librarian or the bookstore owner, who can set aside special. Or you can surf the net together and buy books on-line through amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, which some kids will especially enjoy.

4. Make a chapter book exciting by reading the first few chapters aloud.

If your child is old enough to enjoy chapter books, try reading the first two or three chapters aloud. If you stop at the exciting parts, the child may get impatient and start reading ahead! The Box Car Children by Gertrude Warner is full of adventures and highlights qualities such as cooperation and initiative in children. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, The Hobbit by Tolkien, and the Harry Potter books are excellent for reading aloud. Of course, your child’s responses can help you choose the books he or she will like the most.

5. Use a video to introduce a story.

Trying choosing a video and two or three different versions of a favorite children’s classic, like The Wizard of Oz or Tom Sawyer. After watching the video, compare the different versions of the book with your child. How is the language the same and different? What about the illustrations? Which version does he or she like best, and why? How well did the movie-makers do in capturing the essence of the book? Read one of the books out loud to or with your child. Encourage conversations about how he or she pictures the characters and setting.

6. Set up an after-hours reading lamp in your child’s bedroom.

Explain that the bedtime hour will stay the same, but reading in bed after the bedtime hour is fine. One mother reported that she gave her eight-year-old a flashlight for bedtime reading, and this semi-clandestine after-hours activity prompted a nightly ritual of reading for pleasure.

7. Help your child find ways to identify with story characters.

It’s fun to act out scenes from stories or discussing how the character feels or looks. This Halloween you might want to encourage your child to dress up as a favorite storybook character. Learning to love a book comes naturally when a child can identify with a character.

8. Restrict TV watching.

The American Medical Association has warned parents of the negative effects of too much TV. They recommend that you reduce the amount of TV children watch and take control of the selection of programs. When our son Gordon was in middle school he started to watch TV three or four hours a night. The TV broke down, so we put it in the closet instead of taking it to the repair shop. Gordon was upset at first, but soon he started spending more time on his schoolwork and he began reading for pleasure. When we finally got the TV fixed, he was already in the habit of reading!

9. Be patient.

Keep in mind that some children have specific problems that make reading difficult. Be sure to continue reading to your child and giving pleasure through the ears! A tape player can help children enjoy books through listening.