The benefits of reading from an early age are well-documented. Reading for pleasure has been proven to help students develop more extensive vocabulary, greater concentration, more accurate spelling, higher levels of creativity and imagination, greater empathy and confidence with social interactions, better information processing and reasoning, enhanced long-term memory, and can even boost mental health and wellbeing.
In fact, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status, and that there was a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment. A recent UCL study that surveyed over 40,000 students similarly found substantial evidence that pupils who enjoy reading high-quality books daily score higher in tests, whilst a New Zealand study found that frequent readers tend to behave better and have higher levels of motivation.
However, our increasingly digital world has made it more and more difficult for parents to instil positive reading habits in their children, and, unsurprisingly, reading for pleasure tends to drop off in secondary schools as students become more distracted by their devices. I have had numerous conversations with parents who struggle to re-engage reluctant readers, but the good news is that there are lots of strategies available that have been proven to be successful:
- Make time for reading. Students thrive off routine and structure, and so the first thing parents can do is ensure that they block off time each day where their children can read without any distractions. Little and often is key; twenty minutes before bed is ideal as it’s a calm, mindful activity to help pupils unwind after a busy day.
- Model good reading habits. The easiest way for students to learn good reading habits is to copy someone else as inspiration. You can even make reading time a whole family affair and get siblings involved, so that everyone is in it together. You can then discuss what everyone is reading and help your children to become confident talking about books.
- Find what sticks. Sometimes the key to unlocking a love of reading is finding an author or genre that your child enjoys, or a book that reflects their interests. Reluctant readers can often struggle with the imagination required for fiction, and so often prefer non-fiction and learning about ‘real’ things.
- Remember variety. On the other hand, some students can easily get stuck in a ‘reading rut,’ where they tend to read books that are familiar, comforting, or not particularly challenging; for example, some pupils can become very reliant on reading graphic novels. In order to push them out of their comfort zone, try taking them to your local library and let them choose something new – it’s important that they have agency over the decision so it doesn’t feel too forced.
- Try different reading strategies. Some students simply struggle more than others, and so may need more support. You could try reading to your child; sharing the reading out loud (for example, reading a play together); listening to an audiobook or reading along to an audiobook; or echo reading (where a child repeats back what you have said).
- Make it competitive. Turning reading into a competition or challenge can often help to motivate students who may need an extra boost. There are lots of reading competitions available online, or you could make your own, for example ‘read 13 books before you’re 13.’ You could even get your child to take part in the international Kids’ Lit Quiz, or complete Book Trust’s reading quizzes; the important thing is to make it as fun and enjoyable as possible, and so focus on rewards rather than punishments.
- Try a book review website. Book review websites such as Toppsta and Lovereading4kids are a great way to add a new dimension to reading as they invite children to sign up to become reviewers. Your child can select the books they are interested in reading, and publishers then send a free copy to your home in return for writing a short online review. This is a particularly good option particularly if your child does not have easy access to books.
- Try before you buy. There is nothing more painful than watching students slog through a book for months when they clearly don’t enjoy it. Instead, Lovereading4kids offers thousands of extracts so that students can read snippets and work out what fires up their interest before committing.
- Join a children’s book club. There are a number of online book clubs for kids, including Scholastic’s Book Clubs, which offers hundreds of book recommendations, excerpts from new releases, quizzes and activities, competitions, author profiles, and a Book Wizard tool that will make customised suggestions based on age, interests and ability.
- Put on subtitles. If your child does watch television, then make sure to always put subtitles on, as there are numerous studies to prove this can boost their reading skills. The BBC recently launched a campaign on this: children who watch eleven hours of TV a week with subtitles on will be reading the equivalent to all seven of the Harry Potter books or all three books in the His Dark Materials trilogy!
If you are still struggling for inspiration, you may want to try these recommended books for boys and girls, and Book Trust also has a whole page for suggestions for reluctant readers. Encouraging reading for pleasure may require quite a lot of effort now, but it’s an investment that will pay off in dividends.
Written by Kristina Murkett
English teacher and freelance writer