The benefits of reading are indisputable. A growing body of evidence suggests that reading regularly improves a child’s academic attainment, as well as supporting their social and moral development. For example, UK-based charity The Reading Agency found that reading for pleasure significantly improves children’s test results, as well as being one of the most powerful factors in supporting their cognitive development. Despite this, it can be difficult to encourage children to develop the habit of reading for pleasure; The Reading Agency reports that children in the UK have less positive attitudes towards reading than in other countries, with 44% of young adults reporting that they never read for pleasure. If your child is a reluctant reader, it can be difficult to know how to overcome this. Below are some tips to help your child read a wide range of fantastic books, from quirky young adult novels to the classics.
1. Model positive reading practices
Think about whether you actively promote reading for pleasure through your own behaviour. Modern life can be frenetically busy, with reading often viewed as a luxury that must be sacrificed to make space for more important or ‘valuable’ tasks. Squeezing in a few minutes on a Kindle during the daily commute may not help your child to view reading as an important part of their routine. Try to make space for reading as a family; introduce at least half an hour per day where you read together (this could also be used as a welcome break from I-phones and technology) to instil the idea that reading every day is vital.
2. Provide a variety of reading material
If your child is disengaged by the texts they read at school, encourage them to choose books from a variety of genres and styles. If they find novels challenging, consider giving them a magazine about their favourite sport, or an autobiography by a musician or athlete they admire. Try not to dissuade your child from picking up much-loved favourites that might be deemed too ‘easy’. Under the revised secondary curriculum, children read classic works of literature by Dickens and Austen; these novels are brilliant in their own right, but are understandably hard work for many fourteen-year-olds. Allow your child to relax with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson at home; this will help them see reading as something they do to unwind, as opposed to a goal-oriented task that they ‘have’ to do.
3. Motivate your child through a record of achievement
Create a visible record of how much your child reads each month, perhaps using a sticker chart or a rewards scheme to give them a sense of achievement. This works especially well with younger children, who may struggle with confidence when tackling more challenging books. Many schools operate a reading passport system to encourage students to read more widely, and it would be fairly easy to replicate this at home. If your child has an English tutor, they could work together to create a record of reading over time so that your child develops a sense of accomplishment.
4. Design fun activities based around their latest book
Try to create fun activities based around their books to bring the words to life. When teaching Lord of the Flies at a previous school, we brought in a false ‘camp-fire’ and face-paint to create a sense of how the characters are living outside the confines of society; this led onto a discussion of how painting your face might allow you to behave differently. If your child is reading a book set in WWII London, for example, you could try recreating a recipe using ‘rationed’ ingredients. Younger children might especially enjoy a themed ‘treasure hunt’ based around their current book.
5. Engage with your local library
Libraries are a brilliant resource; your local librarian will be well-versed in the latest children’s titles and can recommend a range of books for readers at any level. Libraries also often run ‘Extreme Reading’ challenges over the summer holidays; the sense of competition this fosters can be highly motivating. A weekly library visit also gives your child the independence to choose from a range of titles. Give your child the time to browse freely; having a sense of ownership over what they read will make them feel more positive about reading overall.
6. Read to your child
Whilst some children sadly do fall out of love with reading, no child in the world dislikes stories themselves. You will be surprised how even older primary children love being read to – this helps your child to associate reading with relaxation and comfort. If your child has a 7+ tutor or English tutor, they can also use part of the lesson to read to your child and explain any complex new vocabulary. For older teenagers, they might enjoy an audiobook while out on a run or on the way to school – this can be a brilliant way of familiarising themselves with exam set texts.
7. Encourage them to make connections between reading and the wider world
Reading not only encourages academic progress; it also gives children an understanding of the world around them, helping them to empathise with others. Encourage your child to make connections between a particular character and their own feelings. For younger children, this might involve asking them questions such as How would you feel if you were [the character] at this moment? What would you do? For older children studying for exams, a GCSE English tutor can assist in helping them relate their set texts to broader societal issues. For example, if a child is studying Macbeth the tutor might ask them to compare Macbeth’s tyranny to current examples of corruption or abuse of power. Making such links helps your child develop a deeper and richer understanding of the literature they read.
Equally, many teenage readers find fantasy or sci-fi genres off-putting. There are a range of YA titles now, from Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give (about racially motivated police violence) to Sally Nicholls’ Things a Bright Girl Can Do (about a young woman’s participation in the suffragette movement) that may appeal to teens eager for grittier, more realistic fiction.
8. Communicate with school
Liaise with your child’s teachers to find out which set texts they will be covering in advance, and ask for advice about how to assist your child in tackling more complex literature. At GCSE or A Level English Literature, it will be useful for children to read any set texts before the start of term – ask their teachers for recommended ‘key chapters’ you could read with your child. You could also seek advice about the best film adaptations to watch to support learning. Obviously these are no substitute for the books themselves, but critical analysis is impossible without knowing the plot and key characters first.
9. Is there an underlying issue?
For some children, their reluctance to read is being used to mask a particular literacy issue such as dyslexia. If you feel your child may have difficulties decoding print, discuss this with them and ask your child’s SEND coordinator for further advice and support. The Independent has also published a list of recommended titles for dyslexic or reluctant readers – reading some of these with your child can help to build their confidence.
10. Use praise
It can be frustrating if your child dislikes reading, especially if you have fond memories of reading as a child yourself, or an older sibling was precociously reaching for Jane Eyre at the same age. Avoid criticising your child for their reluctance to read, as they will then associate reading with embarrassment or negativity. Try to praise your child for reading at every opportunity. Ask them questions about their favourite books or stories, and use this as a springboard for discovering other titles that may appeal to them. Allow them to change books regularly, have a few books ‘on the go’, re-read old favourites and give up on books that bore them. With a flexible and encouraging attitude, your child will develop greater confidence as a life-long reader.