So Your Child Still Isn’t Reading – Helping Late Readers (Episode 317)
Do you have a late reader in your family? Or do you feel like you're constantly fighting an uphill battle trying to convince your children that reading is fun? I feel you. I've been there, and it can be a long process.
I brought my 13-year-old daughter Ellie into this conversation, because, of all my kids, I questioned if I could ever get her to sit still long enough to read a book, much less remember what it said!
My Kid Hates Reading!
How do I get my kid to like reading?
How do I get my child motivated to read books?
My child is a late reader and is going to be so behind!
I understand the fears that can creep in when you have a child that just isn't doing things at the same pace as "other kids". The reality is that we all mature at different paces, and, while mainstream schooling may shuttle kids through in groups, even there, not every kid grasps concepts at that "perfect developmental age." Being a late reader isn't a nail in the coffin for reading issues for the rest of your life, however.
I'm not here to say just wait and it'll finally happen, and I'm also not saying you don't get any support.
What I'm saying is that force doesn't typically foster a love of something - and the more we can foster a desire from within to read, the more likely they are to want to and retain what they are reading.
Reading and Support
Now, before we go too far into some tips to get your child motivated, let's address the support aspect. I am an unschooling mama who believes in functional education. I also believe in "total communication". In the special needs world, that means using all means and ways to allow for communication vs. just being stuck down one path. So working with a child with a cochlear implant may mean using speech, sign language, and written words to communicate.
I want "total communication" opportunities for my kids to learn. And that means providing them with support every step of the way. When my oldest showed signs of dyslexia and we seemed to keep getting stuck at the same thing, I hired a tutor to help her and give her a different perspective to work with.
If you're hitting a road block, look for what resources can support you. Some kids can really benefit from extra support or even just learning with someone different. We focused on as much exposure as possible. In addition to being willing to work with and help our kids learn, we opened the door for others to share their excitement about reading with them, and we read everything. There is so much to read in this world, and I naturally gravitate toward words - so I read everything already - why not share that with my kids?
How Do I Motivate Them?
We have always exposed our children to reading and letters. I naturally read everything I see, which often in turn means I'm reading out loud to the family. We talked with all kinds of people about reading and looked at strategies that would potentially help. I went from thinking my child would never read to having a kiddo who asks for college textbooks every Christmas. It sure didn't happen on my agenda, though.
When our girls were 3, 6 & 9, we hit the road to RV full-time across the States. We had an adventure every day. We've explored all over this country and met a ton of people. And, as amazing as reading is, it just didn't hold a candle to the real-life experiences we were having. All three of my daughters were late readers. My younger two extroverts just soaked up the attention of others and loved to be outside playing. Trying to get them to sit down with a book seemed impossible. And, the reality of it was, they were learning a ton already - and with me reading so much out loud to them, they dug deeper into the questions about what we were reading about vs. being simply stuck on the words. We soaked in a ton of learning, despite my younger two not having the patience or interest to learn to read on their own.
The truth is, though, even if your life is a big adventure, it gets more and more inconvenient if you can't read on your own. The older the girls got, the more of a pain it was to always ask what something said. They got more and more motivated to figure it out themselves.
Yet they still balked at having to sit down and read a book. So I asked my late-reader Ellie to share some things that helped open up her joy of reading, as now, at 13, she's quite a bookworm who loves snuggling up with a good book!
#1 - Start With What Sucks Them In
Exposure doesn't always equate to desire. We have exposed our children to books from the beginning. I'm a huge advocate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library - it's a wonderful way to stock up on great books at a young age.
Yet Ellie had a great point - she just wasn't interested in reading because, while she was exposed to it, she was also wrapped up in the thrill of adventure from what was in front of our faces. Pay attention to your timing. Your kids are learning about more than just reading, and there are times that learning something new in one area may delay in another. You see this with babies who may have sleep regression when they are learning to crawl, or walk, as they are so focused on these other new skills they are learning.
Pay attention to your timing. I always included reading and learning about letters and grammar, however, there were times we had way too many other things on our plates for me to make every experience a reading lesson.
Start with something that really sucks them in. I read a lot of stories out loud to them and got to know what they gravitated toward and what they got excited about. In our travels to Ohio, I took them on a tour of my Amish heritage, and we learned a lot about it. Ellie really got into it, so when I stumbled upon my old books, Ellie's People, I immediately wanted to share them with my girls.
It just so happened my grandfather gave me the first of the series when I was ten years old. I read the first book out loud to my girls and showed Ellie how I was exactly her age when I first got into them.
Armed with the confidence of me already having read the book out loud to her and her loving the story, and her fascination with the Amish culture, Ellie dove into the full series as her first books to read on her own.
She explained it was her interest in the story plus me paving the way for her to navigate the harder words by reading it aloud first that gave her the confidence to try it on her own.
I know how hard it can be to drag yourself through a book that just doesn't pull you in. I gave myself permission a while back to set it down and try another until I find one that grips me. Not only am I more likely to finish it; I'm going to be way more receptive to the message as well - which is definitely critical for the self-help books I love to read.
So find something that sucks them into a story so much they just have to get more of it. And yes, it's okay to pave the way, whet their palate, and then leave it to them to continue the story.
Bonus Tips and No Thank You Bites
On top of finding a book your child is interested in, it helps to keep two things in mind that Ellie brought up in the podcast episode.
Books on repeat aren't a bad thing. That kiddo who wants to read Green Eggs and Ham every night is still learning something with their repetition. It may be helping their confidence in deciphering the words, in speaking out loud, or in just feeling a sense of accomplishment that they can at least make it through one book.
Reading a book out loud to Ellie paved the way for her to feel comfortable enough to navigate it on her own. Just because you've read a story doesn't mean that isn't the one that will draw them in. Maybe they've heard the story and watched the movie of Swiss Family Robinson, and now it's their turn to read the book when they know the story by heart already.
And no thank you bites are a HUGE help. I've referenced these in so many episodes:
- Do You Force Your Children To Learn? (Episode 215)
- 8 “Fights” To Pick With Your Kids (Episode 306)
- What Are Your Non-Negotiables In Your Family? (Episode 73)
- 8 Tips For A Healthy Home: You Are What You Eat
Quick summary - I started "no thank you bites" with food, and serving something that didn't look too appetizing yet I knew my kids would like it. And I challenged them to simply try one bite. The point of the practice is to never form an opinion on something you aren't educated on.
You can't say you don't like something you've never tried. And you have to give something a chance. I remember my oldest being terrified to get out on the ice skating rink - it was new and she was nervous. I encouraged her to just try one "no thank you round", and then I couldn't get her off the ice.
For books, I ask that kids give it a try further than a sentence. Try some consistency for the first chapter or two. If they still aren't hooked, at least they gave it a valiant effort.
#2 - Read One Hour A Day
How much would your reading comprehension expand if you devoted an hour to it every day? I know we've been guilty of pushing our kids to read, yet making no opportunities for them to do so. Especially with a late reader, maybe now is the time to really create space for them to do nothing else BUT read.
Another bonus tip Ellie shared here is to read out loud. When we first started talking about reading for an hour, Ellie tried to "beat the system" by just staring at the pages and moving her eyes back and forth. Yes, she'd go to that effort versus just reading. So her daddy would ask her to read out loud to him.
In reading out loud, she couldn't gloss over the words she didn't know, and she was able to talk and work through the sentences to gain more comprehension and confidence.
And secondly, here is the other part. If you want your kids to read for an hour, you have to be willing to do the same. How often are you pulling the "do as I say, not as I do" with your kids? I remember getting so frustrated with them wanting to hop on tech as soon as they woke up....and then I looked down at the phone I had in my own hands in the morning.
When I started reading for an hour in the mornings, my girls were way more likely to follow suit. Practicing what you preach is helpful for them.
#3 - Follow Their Interests
The last one is to follow their interests. Yes, the first one is finding a book that delights them - yet beyond that, pay attention to their interests. It may be you have a child who actually goes deep into reading through Pokemon cards, or loves magazines for short spurts of reading to build confidence. I got some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books for my youngest to give her some quick wins with shorter stories that pulled her in.
You could use trivia cards, collector cards, magazines, comic books, even reading movie reviews, etc to help your child with reading. Yes, my oldest loves to read college textbooks and nature guides, and my youngest happens to enjoy adult business-focused books, like the super entertaining and engaging book, Fans First by Jesse Cole.
Sometimes we box things in thinking we need to just pull books for a certain age group when there are opportunities to read so many different ways.
When you go to the library, don't just open the door and tell them to figure it out. Some kids need a bit more guidance than that. I discovered that my girls were quick to reject just about every book. First, they felt overwhelmed by so many choices. And second, they weren't taking the time to really learn anything about the book beyond looking at the cover.
For a beginning/late reader, it can be intimidating to weed through reading the back summaries of a bunch of different books to find one that sucks you in - the hard work is simply in weeding through them. I learned I could help pique their interest way more by walking with them and reading out loud the summaries and talking with them about the gist of a book to help them navigate the overwhelming sea of words in a bookstore or library.
So follow their interests, and support them along the way - maybe reading the backs for them saves them the energy to be willing to dig into the chapters once they hear a summary they like.
What can you add in to spark more interest in reading at your home?
Ellie, who loves movies and loves reading now, recognizes how that can be an incentive. For every movie out there that was based on a book, you have a perfect incentive - to watch the movie, first read the book.
Not only do they have a reason to read the book, they often discover the book is much better than the movie!
I've learned that my frustration, anxiety, angst, and pressure do NOT motivate my kids to read more. My excitement about reading - modeling my own reading habits, getting excited about what I was reading, and sharing it with the family - were the catalysts for sparking their own interests. Get excited about books right alongside your kids. Share your interests as they share theirs, and celebrate the many ways your whole family may soak in more reading!