5 Things to Try When Your Child Can Read, but Doesn’t

You know those people who make you feel like you’re a failure as a parent if your child isn’t reading at least three years above grade level or reading chapter books independently by kindergarten? They push my buttons, too. Parenting has a way of keeping us humble. The reality is that sometimes even when we’ve tried doing all the “right” things, we still end up with reluctant readers.

What about when a child has completed a reading program but still isn’t eagerly seeking out reading material? Here are five things to try: 

1. Book Teasers

Simply put, a book teaser is a brief read aloud from a book. To really boost your signal with book teasers, you’re going to need to do a little work on the front end. Choose a book that’s in your child’s “just right” reading zone (not too easy, not too challenging). It’s got to be the kind of book that sucks the reader in almost immediately, the kind of book that hooks a reader and demands to be devoured. During a readaloud time, you’re going to read just the first chapter of the book. If your child is resistant to readalouds, consider just starting without warning while the child is otherwise quietly engaged, maybe crafting, eating, or playing with Legos. Even if the child tunes you out at first, more likely than not, you’ll find that you soon have a listener who’s engrossed in the story in spite of him or herself. Then when you’ve finished that first chapter, ideally ending with a cliffhanger, you’re done, you big tease. When the child asks what happens next, let him or her know where the book will be located. Drop the mic.  


2. Bathroom Books 

Sitting on the toilet is boring. So is sitting in the car. Use that. Comic books and joke books are perfect candidates for bathroom and car book baskets because they’re practically irresistible to kids, and the format lends itself to just a few minutes of reading at a time. No, it’s not Shakespeare, but think of these as the gateway that will get you there one day.  


3. Let It Be Fun

Would you be excited to pick up a new book if after finishing it, you knew that you would be required to write a book report, take a quiz, or answer comprehension questions? Sometimes with all of our great intentions, we adults have a tendency to steamroll all the fun right out of reading. Certainly, we need to attach thinking and writing exercises to books, but we don’t need to do it all of the time. If you have a reluctant reader, consider throwing out accompanying assignments for a while, and just let reading be fun. How will you know that they’re reading if they aren’t doing worksheets or answering comprehension questions? You’ll observe them reading, and, we hope, eventually talking to you about getting more books. Let that be enough, at least for a while.  


4. Appeal to an Obsession

Whether it’s bugs, puppies, World War II, the Titanic, gymnastics, or… whatever, find books about that subject and keep presenting them. The more reluctant the reader, the more you should steer towards books that are picture heavy. I’ve yet to meet a kid who couldn’t be enticed to at least flip through a book or magazine about a subject near and dear to his or her heart. 


5. Give Some Thought to the Possibility that There Might Be Something Else Going On

It’s not easy to let your mind go there, but if your child reads very slowly, struggles with following directions, or has a hard time retaining information, it’s worth a chat with your pediatrician or another developmental professional to see if an evaluation is appropriate for your child. A learning disability diagnosis can truly be a gift for your child and your family if it means getting directed toward therapies and accommodations that can open a world of hope and make learning fun again.