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5 easy steps to encourage your reluctant reader

I love books.

I spent much of my childhood and probably too much of my teen years with my head buried in a book.

Even now, I can’t think of anything lovelier than to curl up with a steaming cup of coffee and a good story ;)

As you can imagine, it practically drove me crazy that my daughter didn’t enjoy reading…

A reluctant reader

When my ten year old was enrolled in public school, she refused to read chapter books. Her idea of a good book was Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Bad Kitty books. Her teachers didn’t mind. Apparently, graphic novels are a great way to teach reluctant readers to read. As long as my daughter was reading something… anything, “there was no reason to worry.”

Here’s the thing. I worried.

Every time I attempted to read a children’s classic to her, this blank look would mask her face and she would exclaim in frustration, “I don’t understand anything. I don’t understand anything!” One night, I lost my patience and practically screamed at her, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING?!

I’m not proud of that moment.

That night, when the kids were tucked in bed, I turned to Google for some insight on how to get kids to read “better books.” One click led to another.

And another. And another.

You know how that works. I was no longer researching how to get kids reading, but had instead gone off on a tangent: I discovered the world of homeschooling. It turns out that homeschooled children have no trouble reading classical literature books. Books that have all but been obliterated in the public school system. It was kind of hard not to get sucked in, ya know?

Six months after I discovered the homeschool phenomena, we too had joined the bandwagon.

Candy books

It’s been over a year since we began our homeschool journey. These days, I have to remind my daughter to stop reading and turn the lights off at bedtime. If the title of this post didn’t give it away already, yes, she has moved on from graphic novels. Thank God.

A homeschool mum recently described to me how she taught her children to regard certain kinds of books as “candy books.” This is how she explained it to me: (and I paraphrase here)

“We shouldn’t feed our bodies a continuous supply of junk food. In the same way, we should limit the “candy” we feed our minds. Candy books should be an occasional treat for our brains and not the main source of its diet.”

Helping a reluctant reader

When we started our homeschool journey, my daughter dreaded her reading lessons. She was assigned to read just a couple of pages a day, but even this small task overwhelmed her. Most days, our lessons ended in tears. I was scared that if things didn’t change my daughter would forever associate reading with negative emotions.

So we slowed down.

Really. Slowed. Down.

It took us almost 3 months to finish our first book. The good news is that by the end of the story, my daughter had made the transition to reading on her own, and bonus! She declared it to be the best book she had ever read.

She has since added to her list of best books ever ;)

How to transform a reluctant reader

Here’s a step by step account of how we slowly progressed to reading children’s literature books. Hopefully, it will help some of you get over the initial hurdle…

  1. I read one or two pages a day out loud. After the reading, my daughter narrated what she understood in the passage we read. We did this 5 days a week for about a month.
  2. After a month, we started taking turns reading one or two paragraphs. We switched back and forth between us, still reading only a couple of pages.
  3. Once my daughter was comfortable with this set up we each read a page. We were still only reading two pages a day, but by this time, she was enjoying the story and was comfortable reading the text. She also realized that she could in fact, understand the book. This was a huge turning point!
  4. This is when I suggested that I read a chapter to her before bed. This was in addition to the two pages we were reading during our homeschool. She was fine with this set up and we continued this for about a week.
  5. After a week, I read a chapter to her at bedtime and then mentioned in passing that if she wanted, she could read another chapter to herself before lights out. The choice was lights out now or light’s out after she was done reading another chapter. It took a couple of days for the suggestion to take, but before long she was reading the book on her own ;)

It’s been over two years since we finished reading Heidi. These days, eight out of ten books she reads are classical literature books. Once in awhile, she’ll feel a sense of overwhelm when she begins a new book, but reading a chapter or two out loud with her usually bolsters her confidence, and she’s able to continue the rest of the book on her own.

Sometimes, she treats herself to brain candy.

Yeah. I’m okay with that.

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