Helping a Reluctant Reader to Enjoy Books

I’ve been busy leading a mini-workshop at church for the past couple of weeks.   With Dad gone and our church a bit far from home, the kids have had to tag along and busy themselves while I’m teaching.   A dear member and  friend noticed that the girls occupied themselves with books, and began her lament to the oldest regarding her young son and reading.   According to the oldest, her conversation went something like this:   “I can’t get E______ to sit down and read.   He doesn’t want to listen while I read.   I don’t know about his choices…”  

Admittedly, our son was never a “boy” boy.  I think that, between having a older sister who immediately asserted herself as a third parent, and having a brief stint in traditional school, he started homeschool with an understanding of what sit down and listen means.   If anything, the youngest, without that more formal environment as a part of her educational experience, is more antsy when it comes to sitting for extended periods of time.   But over the years, I’ve discovered a few ideas, even if I don’t have to implement them all, about helping a resistant reader take more interest in books.   These ideas are primarily for younger children, but the same theories work for an older child, if not the exact tactic.

1.  Capture your audience.   I sometimes read to our youngest while she’s in the bathtub.   The water’s soothing, and more importantly if your child is busy, he or she can’t go anywhere!    It’s a great opportunity to slip a book in, whether it’s a few pages or, if your child really loves tub time, a chapter of a longer book.

2. Busy the hands, but quiet the mouth.    When my husband “subs” for me occasionally, he gets offended that the kids are often doing other things while he’s reading.   The oldest is forever drawing her fashions; our son is choreographing a major production (at least that’s what it looks like from where I am).   The youngest is my snuggle buddy, but even she will pull out the Play-doh when she’s in the mood.   Once she made miniature food for her dolls.

The point is, even if the child does not look like they’re listening, but they are.   I picked up that tip from Sally Clarkson when she spoke of her ADD/ADHD son who listened in on a reading of the Trojan War, intended for his older siblings.   Ms. Clarkson was shocked when her son used his blocks, or something similar, to create a fighting scene from the book.   The key is, his mind was absorbing information through his subconscious; he was learning.

3. Narrate shorter passages.    If you test comprehension in some fashion (and not all reading should be tested for comprehension), an easy mistake–and one that discourages a child quickly–is to expect too much too soon.   If you have a child who doesn’t like to read, for whatever reason, and you choose to evaluate how well he/she is listening, consider using shorter passages, and more infrequent narrations.   I shared more thoughts on this in earlier post based upon a customer’s question.

4. Read books that interest the child.   I say this with a caution that we must be the child’s ear and eye gates before that child becomes discerning enough to turn away from some items.   I can remember years ago when a friend of mine shared how much her son loved the Harry Potter series.   You may have your own opinions, but Harry Potter is not on our reading list, and, until then, it wasn’t on hers, either.   What shocked me more than the reading of the books was why she allowed him to read the books.  “There aren’t that many books for adolescent (the term before “tween” entered our vocabulary) boys, you know?”   I’m thinking, so you let your kid read something you don’t approve of because of a lack of perceived options?

If there is one thing a Charlotte Mason approach exposes you to, it must be books–loads and loads of books.   I could list a number of books we’ve read for school, but I thought I’d share more of the “boy” books, which are suitable for girls or boys, that we’ve read as “free” reading or as a group read-aloud.   There are also selections here that our son enjoyed during that little boy and pre-teen stage.   The fact that several of these are series should in no way qualify them as twaddle.  Based on our experience, they are everything that a living book should be:

The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald

The Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur (rewritten from the original Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators)

Goonie Bird Greene by Lois Lowry (a story about an elementary school girl, but hilarious enough for a boy to enjoy without thinking it’s a “sissy” book)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

Little Britches, Man of the Family, etc., by Ralph Moody (probably a simplistic misjudgment of his style, but I would equate the Moody books with the male equivalent of Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol

Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron

Henry Reed, Inc. series

The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

5. Use your voice.  One of my favorite Charlotte Mason mentors, LindaFay, states this much more eloquently than I would.   The point is, use different voices for different characters; make your reading slow enough for a child, especially a small child, to capture your words.   Make the book live and breathe for the child.

Once you spark an interest in reading, and it may take time and patience, you can continue to set an environment for reading by placing books all over your home, especially those with attractive covers.   In that way, you potentially steer your child’s interest away from television and other attractions, and more toward books.   Most importantly, role model the fun of reading by reading yourself.   Just 15 minutes a day can change your life.    From, ‘the average American reads less than 2 books per year- one and a half to be  exact, with almost two thirds of those going unfinished.  On the whole,  Americans have lost the habit of reading good books…CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies  read, on average, roughly FOUR BOOKS PER WEEK!  That equates to about 200  times the average for the rest of America,…’       Article Source:

God bless you!  Happy reading!!

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5 thoughts on “Helping a Reluctant Reader to Enjoy Books

  1. I read to my kids at breakfast or lunch. I set my food aside and read Bible stories and african/south american folktales. i usually eat faster than they do, so it works out okay…unless they say read it again, read it again…then my food may need a short stint in the microwave to be warm again. with regards to my kids reading for pleasure…i do not believe in the existence of twaddle…there are plenty of star wars books around my home for my son to read at his leisure and he works his way through them…wanting to become a jedi knight is a strong motivator.

    1. A.J, Great response. I’d forgotten to mention reading when food is on the table, which definitely captures our three, at least for a minute or two. I often put off my own meal, choosing instead to read to them while they enjoy lunch or a snack. This is similar to my busy hands theory. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I really am encouraged by this post-thanks. My six year old has little interest in reading or listening to me read and I since I am new to Charlotte Mason, I think I was overly concerned about the twaddle thing. I am going to look into some of your suggestions, especially trying him while he is in the tub! I was feeling so discouraged this week and I felt like I was simply chasing him around the house with a book of poetry lol. My daughter was a reluctant reader (she is in her teens and went to traditional public school until two years ago) and has just begun to actually read for pleasure. I think I feared my sons not being “readers” either, and carried some of that into my homeschooling.
    Thanks again!

    1. I’m so glad that I was able to help in some way. Sounds as if you have a plan, and don’t forget that meal times are a good captive audience moment as well. Also, audiobooks in the car have worked well for us in helping to slide one more book in. I’d love to “hear” your success story! Blessings!

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