Tackling the reluctant reader

Tackling the Reluctant Reader

Image credit: J. Ott – www.flickr.com – used under Creative Commons.

Tackling the Reluctant Reader

Author: Aislynn Matthias-Rosser.
8th February 2021.

Like many of our parents, I am currently working from home, whilst simultaneously trying to keep an eye on my own children, as they navigate their way through days of live lessons and tasks on Google Classroom. There have been many challenging times. My youngest, moaning and stomping off because I am teaching “again” and can’t help him with his work. My eldest, spending hours and hours losing himself in Minecraft in between lessons, which I let him do because I am teaching and can’t entertain him. The guilt has been tough, but I have also tried to be kind to myself and accept that we are all doing the best we can.

However, also like many parents, I have struggled to keep my children reading in lockdown and as an English teacher, with a house crammed full of books, this is a pill I have found particularly difficult to swallow.”

David James, former Portsmouth and England goalkeeper, quoted in The Guardian
When I was a child, I was one of those children who would devour books, hiding away in my bedroom, reading for hours on end. I used to imagine I were the characters in the books I read: The Little Princess, locked away in an attic (I demanded my mum would bring my breakfast and lunch up, as I wasn’t allowed out!); Lucy in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe having toast and tea with Mr Tumnus; George from The Famous Five, with her tomboy attitude and best friend Timmy the dog. I nagged my parents incessantly for a dog and insisted on having my hair cut short, like George, and remember how proud I was one day, to be mistaken for a boy by a member of the public. Reading was literally moulding my identity, helping me understand who I was and what I valued.

My eldest son is more similar to me. He once told me how much he loved reading as ‘he could see the story in his head and it was like he was Charlie!’ (Guess the novel!)

But my youngest is very different. He doesn’t see pictures in his head in the same way and will never open a book unprompted. This is a frustration many parents have shared with me over the years. Why doesn’t their child like reading like they did when they were a child?

Over the last year I have read more books than I have for years. In a way, this has been helped by ‘running out of’ TV, something we never used to have to worry about with our limit of four terrestrial channels and children’s programmes only on at lunchtime and after school. It has made me realise how so much in our modern world pulls our children away from books and reading and has got me thinking about how we can try to help our children access the stories which brought such pleasure to many of our own childhoods.

Atticus (again, guess the novel...) may not like reading but he is a very sociable little boy and loves cuddle times. We have made the most of our extra time together this year, snuggling up to read together, sometimes him, mostly me. We fit it in when everyone is bored and wants a break from lockdown.

His reading is improving: he is learning vocabulary from hearing me read to him and he is talking about the stories he is experiencing. He is now starting to dip into some of these in his own writing, creating characters with non-standard ways of speaking like Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon or Gollum from The Hobbit. We have watched the films from these books and then talked about how films are different from books and which are better. We have agreed that maybe The Hobbit feels a bit slow for today’s generation of children and that the film brings in much more action to counteract that.

Overall, despite him not having the love of reading I had, he is starting to get the knowledge of plot, character and genre which I hope will help him with his writing and ultimately in his GCSEs when he gets to that stage. More importantly, I am also sure that although he does not have a love of reading, he does enjoy sharing stories together, whether that is through the narrative of film or through shared reading. He is not an introvert like I was and will never be one to pick up a book on his own. And that is okay. It has made me reevaluate what I love most about books: their ability to forge connections between people through the process of telling stories.

Tips for encouraging reading in KS2/KS3

  • Choose books together. Browse websites and online reading platforms.
  • Share the reading: you read a page, they read a page; you read the narrator, they read the characters and do voices.
  • Ask them questions about what they have read – Can you describe that scene to me? Why has that character done that do you think? Do you know what this word means? Would you have done the same thing in their situation?
  • Try and make reading time feel like a reward; time when they get you all to yourself.
  • Audio books are also great for helping those less enthusiastic readers to still experience the best of children’s literature. This can be part of a nighttime routine, a way of helping children switch off from the realities of the day and fall asleep.
  • Read some short stories or poems to older children to help expose them to more sophisticated themes/styles. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is such a great poem with lots of poetic techniques and gothic imagery; it also appears in a Simpsons episode, which can help children engage (the same is true of Poe’s short story The Tell Tale Heart). The Lamb to the Slaughter is also a great story written by Roald Dahl (for adults actually) which my two loved me reading to them.
  • If they do not know what to read next or don’t have access to books easily at the moment, explore websites together, such as https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books. The British Library has made many classic children’s books available online in lockdown as well as interviews with famous children’s authors and creative activities you could do together.
  • Finally, for senior pupils, do speak to your child’s English teacher if you would like any further support with your child’s reading at home.
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