what to try when kids can read but won't read

What to try when kids can but won’t read

Most children are divided into 2 camps when it comes to reading.  Those who are bookworms and always have their nose in a book, and those who just will not read (some might struggle, others can but just won’t read).  If your child is in the ‘won’t read’ camp, it can make you feel like yours is the only one when you hear other parents talking about all the books theirs read, and you’re struggling to get yours to do even the school reading they’re told to do. Rest assured, it’s not just your child.

I was always in the bookworm camp when I was a child, and even now I still read a lot.  My brother was more in the ‘can’t be bothered’ side because he would rather have been out with his friends. He didn’t see the point of reading for leisure, although when he hit 10 he did go a bit mad for Willard Price and Hardy Boys books for a while. But he’s never been a reader of books or even magazines although he’s very good with words and writing.

N takes after him. After a slow start to reading in key stage 1, it clicked in year 2.  His reading level is ahead of his age although his comprehension needs work. My belief is that this is because he just reads to get through a book rather than enjoying it and really taking it in. He can usually tell me what a book’s about that we’ve been reading, and at home he can deal with homework comprehension, but reading really is the key to so much in school work. Even in maths, if children don’t read and understand maths text and work out the correct formulas to use to get the answer, their maths will suffer.

what to try when kids can read but won't read

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So I’ve had the long haul of trying to get N to read.  We’ve tried a lot.  He’ll read quite a bit in school, although it’s predominantly silent reading alone. After years of making him read for homework, now he gets more other homework, he sees his work as done. I even struggle to get him to read at all during the week, let alone daily.  The only time he’s happily done, it was for the Christmas holiday challenge of getting through a book – he worked out it would be 21 pages a day, and he did it. But not a lot since.

We’ve even had the head teacher thinking of ways to try and get him reading things other than books. But he will just flick through farming magazines, isn’t interested in comics, or song lyrics.  A children’s newspaper while we actually had it arrive had him reading sports pages and a few other articles that caught his eye, but for the last 5 months it’s not turned up so I’ve had to cancel. And he’ll flick through Guinness Book of World Records.

Even adding books to a tablet, giving him a treat of reading on screen ddn’t excite him.

The only things that’s had him reading cover to cover was buying him the Champions Tennis programme which he’s read over and over.  Trying to find a tennis magazine has proven hard though.

I do despair and we’ve certainly not cracked it yet. I don’t think we’re ever likely to, but I won’t stop trying. He loves books, borrowing from the library or buying new books. So it’s not like he doesn’t like books or stories. It’s just nothing motivates him to want to read books for leisure.

I’m sharing the different things we’ve tried and hopefully one will work for your reluctant reader. All are presuming children can read but just won’t.

What to try when your child won’t read

1. Try different types of reading material

Reading isn’t just about books. It includes anything.  Food packets, magazines, instructions.  I find N will read things if he wants an answer to something, so get them to look up things.

2. Try a children’s newspaper

There’s a few around (we loved what’s in First News, but have had an absolute nightmare with Sept to February only receiving 3 copies and no explanation of where the weekly paper has gone missing), and some have really good offers to try them out. We’ve just ordered The Week junior magazine, so we’ll see how that goes.

3. Watch Youtube with song lyrics

Most children like music, so try giving them song lyrics. Karaoke is an alternative, but our Amazon Prime music on screen usually includes lyrics too.

4. Try screenplays

It’s a different way of reading, and can be hard to get heads round the different people speaking, but you could read together and act out, or they could find it’s a type of content they like to read.

5. Audio books

Now I don’t class audio books as reading personally, it’s listening to book readings. However, an audio book while reading along with it, can help understanding and speed up their reading. Double taking it in which might help if you’ve a learner who’s better taking in spoken word (I think that’s N).

6. Cook together

N enjoys cooking, and he’ll look at his own recipe book to work out what he wants to cook, but I can also get him to read out my recipe books if we’re cooking something from them.  He doesn’t think of that as reading!

7. Try reading programmes

If they’re an electronics fan, try a reading programme like Reading Eggs. We tried it years ago to get him started with reading but he didn’t enjoy it or do it regularly enough. But once they can read, there are tasks for older children to progress their reading, so worth giving them a go.

8. Share the reading together

Once they’re on chapter books, at bedtime story time, try sharing the reading. A paragraph each or page each, or even chapter.  I know lots of N’s friends whose parents used this method.  Never lasts long here, but is better than nothing.

9. Use home books as school reading books

If children are free readers, they might be able to choose their own books rather than borrowing from class bookshelves. Ours can use the school library, but N also uses books we’ve bought at home to take into school for reading.  I’d like him to read the books himself at home, but as long as he’s reading them and enjoying that’s the main thing.

10. Set a timer

More for homework reading than pleasure, although can be used for both.  If they can get into the habit of reading little and daily, then it’s a start.  Either have a set time that the whole family have quiet reading time, or just set a timer to say when time is now free.

11. Set a challenge

For someone who isn’t that competitive, if N thinks there’s a competition or that someone thinks he can’t do something, then he’ll make sure he does it.  Whether that’s reading a whole book over a 2 week period, or getting to the end of a book before a friend, it works.  It doesn’t always help his understanding of the book, but my theory is the more you read the more it sinks in for other subjects and skills. Plus, if he’s reading that much, it’s in bigger chunks of time so more likely to be remembered.

12. Watch the film version

So many books have been made into films, why not try reading and watching the film.  You can then help the understanding, by discussing what was different in each.

13. Try overlays

Some schools try children out with coloured overlays when they’re reading. Not many know about it but some children and adults have what is known as visual stress (or Irlen syndrome). This is sometimes tied up with dyslexia because many dyslexics also have visual stress. But it’s actually eyes reacting differently light and struggling to see on the page. Different coloured overlays can be tried. There are mixed scientific results but some find reading much easier afterwards. So while your child may be able to read, if they are slow, or not as fluent as they could be, or lose their place a lot, then you can get tested (the NHS doesn’t cover it).

Our school tries out different overlays to see what helps, so N was given a blue one which he says makes it much easier to see where he is when reading. Overtime, if there’s a real improvement and we get him tested, he might end up having glasses with a tint in to help. As standard eye tests don’t cover this, you might never know unless it’s picked up by school or elsewhere.

14. Buy books together

Going to a shop like Waterstones is brilliant because the staff there really know the books and will make recommendations of books similar to those a child already enjoys.

In the past we’ve also used rewards, and he’s not meant to have screen time before he’s done some reading. But that’s fallen by the wayside.  Rewards aren’t good for instilling enjoyment though, and that’s what I want to get to.  We need to get back to the reading before screens although it’s hard to police early in the mornings when N is the only person up.

I hope these ideas prompt something that may help encourage your children to read more willingly.

What other methods have you used to encourage your children to read?

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One Comment

  1. My youngest used to hate reading when she was forced to read every night with a book from Primary school. It became a chore and it put her off. I think I tried most of these things but now that she doesn’t have to read apart from at school she chooses too. Phew! With her I think it was just an age thing. Some nights now I have to pull a book out of her hands so she will go to sleep. lol x

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