“Help, my child isn’t reading!”

I had a couple of really interesting chats recently with parents concerned about their children’s reading habits. They weren’t reading. They don’t read. They don’t read challenging books. They won’t pick up a book. And when all you see in the media is reports about how children don’t read, and this means your child in particular, that’s a tough subject to deal with.

So, here’s some advice on what to do in those situations. I don’t have children, but I’ve helped a lot in a variety of situations. More to the point, I don’t have any ties to advanced reading schemes or organisations who’d like you to purchase their product to help you read better. I’m in this for you and your kids, and let’s do this together.

Any tips you’d like to add, do let me know.

  1. Model good reading behaviour in the house. Have books present and as part of your daily lives. Make sure that you read visibly in front of your child.
  2. Sign up to the library, and go there as part of your routine. Don’t worry if they don’t pick up books the first time, just have a cup of coffee or something and pick up a book yourself, and then head home. This isn’t about getting stressed.
  3. Stop talking about the subject. If you’re worried that they aren’t reading, and keep having a go, then I know I wouldn’t want to read in the slightest. I know this is hard, and I have my utmost sympathies for those going through this. We want the best for our kids, but badgering and flashpoint conversations aren’t going to do that.
  4. See what they’re interested in and embed reading around those opportunities. For example, if they keep watching you cook or want to help in the kitchen, get them to help plan meals and read recipe books. Help you write out a shopping list. If you’re putting together shelves or something and they want to help, get them to read out the instructions.
  5. Take them for a visit to a comics shop, or to a comics festival. Again, this isn’t about ‘reading’ per se, but rather the exposure to literature and formats that they’ve maybe not particularly recognised.
  6. If they’re into computer games or coding, recognise that these are pretty valuable reading experiences in themselves. Quiz them about the games narrative, or get them a non-fiction tie in.
  7. Talking of tie-ins, if a kid is interested in a subject then they’ll tend toward reading the tie-in. Check out books by Youtubers, books about Minecraft, books about Warhammer 3000.
  8. Explore alternative reading formats. Audio books whilst in the car (captive audience), or spaghetti letters on toast. Something weird, something interesting. And again, if the parents aren’t interested, then why should the kids be? Make reading a full family act.
  9. Read out loud wherever you can. Even if it’s just to your partner, or to gran and grandad; this is about modelling good reading behaviour and showing the benefit of literature. Plus, it’s fun.
  10. Your child is probably reading more than he or you thinks. Celebrate the moments where you connect, and make reading a treat. Have a bun, have some time together, and don’t worry. You got this.
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3 thoughts on ““Help, my child isn’t reading!”

  1. Our experience with three kids was immensely varied. Number 1 read voraciously once she’d learnt the mechanics and was even even called upon to read to her contemporaries in nursery class and Year One. Number 2 didn’t really speak till she was 4, appearing to be in a world of her own, reads selectively but can take it or leave it; nevertheless she is able to express herself well in writing. Number 3 we didn’t know was dyslexic till he got to uni (doing photography, apparently the choice if many dyslexic students) but got by being extremely socially aware. Extraordinarily enough the first novel he read for himself was ‘Midnight’s Children’ when taking a gap year not long after graduating.

    Any lessons to be drawn? I’m not sure, but perhaps kids find their own level. We both read, read to them especially at bedtime and have always had shelves stocked with books so we must have modelled good practice. I suppose that’s the most one can do; and I do entirely agree with your advice above.

  2. My 21-month-old grandbaby already loves books and going to the library. I found even at that age she will pick up a TV tie-in book (e.g. Peppa Pig, Mr Tumble, Meg and Mog) in preference to something she doesn’t know, so that is a good route into reading. At the library she basically just enjoys pulling all the books off the shelf, but as long as she’s happy I’m happy!

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