"I don't like to read." That statement must be the granddaddy of all self-fulfilling prophecies.
If a reluctant reader lives at your house, a bit of sympathy is in order. The daily dose of assigned reading is definitely medicinal:
Read the story that begins on page 86 called "How Betsy Ross Lost her Thimble." Answer the questions on page 98 that will show what you have learned about this patriotic woman. Do workbook pages 89-92.
Reading of this sort is guaranteed to keep children busy for hours. It is also guaranteed to kill all positive feelings about reading. It - quite literally - kills joy.
Parents absolutely cannot depend upon schools to inculcate love of reading
in their progeny. If a parent is lucky, s/he will have a teacher who knows
and loves books - but don't count on it.
The responsibility rests four-square upon the beleaguered parent. To be absolutely certain that your youngster develops a love of books, you must do the job yourself.
Every bit of advice that you've ever read or heard about reading aloud to your pre-schooler is absolutely true. Five years is a very short time out of a lifetime (I'm not talking about how long it seems!), and not a minute spent reading aloud to your child is wasted. A blessing on the heads of all parents who read aloud to their older children. It is a bond that will never wither.
In the early stages of reading, any type of reading that a child finds pleasurable is worthwhile. I have a very high regard for trash, and any old trash (clean, of course) that keeps a youngster practicing the skill of reading is a practical, positive help.
The "I don't like to read" syndrome becomes much more serious after children have really mastered the mechanics of reading - but don't read. These children are no longer technically "non-readers," but they are definitely reluctant. I often refer to them as "transitional readers," because they have simply not made the transition from picture books to harder books. Never having found a harder book that they really loved, they remain stuck in a sort of "pre-book limbo." They can remain there forever.
Adults do not always realize the mental effort a young reader must expend in order to read a whole book. The child is involved in a multiplicity of mental tasks. The reader must decode the words, furnish the mental pictures at the instant of decoding, remember what has gone before, and generally respond emotionally to what is read. Reading a book is hard! (Is it any wonder that most children prefer television where both the words and the images are provided? Who among us isn't attracted by what is easiest?)
While "real readers" are making intellectual strides, the passive resisters in the reading department are hurting only themselves. The child who maintains, "I don't like to read," and doesn't is never going to learn to like it. Not only will this youngster fall behind the readers in plain ordinary skill and vocabulary, this boy or girl will miss the books by the great and good authors.
Children who can read should be reading on a daily basis. The reading schedule should be consistent but not rigid - lest the cure prove worse than the disease. Every reluctant reader should be reading a minimum of thirty minutes a day. One method of obtaining the desired result without mutiny is to tell your child that s/he can either turn out the light or read for thirty minutes. Sooner - or most probably later - some character in a book will be stuck in a terrible predicament, and the child will read for thirty-five minutes without realizing it.
I have been absolutely awash in reluctant readers for years, and they have taught me plenty about themselves for years, and they have taught me plenty about the sorts of books they like. They very sensibly judge books by their covers. If a book doesn't look attractive, forget it. If the print is too small, forget it.
They especially enjoy a book with episodes. A book in which each chapter
is a separate episode does not require the sustained mental effort and
memory that a book with the climax at the end requires. A book of short
stories does not work as well as one of episodes, because the reader must
adjust to new characters in every story. Known characters with familiar
personality attributes work best (hence the great appeal of series books).
The books with the greatest chance of hooking the transitional readers
and pulling them out of the pre-book limbo are the humorous ones. And
books of humorous episodes are the very best of all!
With fifty really funny books, the world could be saved from illiteracy. With five less than fifty, the world might still be saved with thirty with twenty. Unfortunately, there are relatively few truly funny books for children. That's the bad news. The good news is that there are any number of amusing books, books filled with good humor.
The other good news is that with consistent, kindly persistence, your reluctant reader can be brought around. Parents are willing to put forth this sort of effort where musical or athletic skills are involved. Reading is equally, if not more, important.
The attached book list, suitably titled What-Kids-Who-Don't-Like-To-Read, Like-To-Read might help entice your reluctant reader. Just remember that this sort of list needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, because no one - absolutely no one - knows exactly which book will appeal to any given child. We're all in this together - authors, parents, teachers, editors, librarians - and we all need to be alert to the responses of children to books. If your child comes to you with shining eyes and says, "This is the best book I've ever read!" - that is a magic moment. Sound the trumpets!
Kemie Nix is the longtime children's book editor of Parents' Choice and the founder of Children's Literature for Children (http://www.childrensliterature.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing children and books together.
What-Kids-Who-Don't-Like-To-Read-Like-Read: The Reading List
Sure-to-please books for all ages.
A Fiddler's Voice
The magic and intimacy of reading aloud.