How to Build a Reluctant Reader
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(In the style of "The Screwtape Letters")
Although we realize it is not always possible, the best way to build a reluctant reader is to avoid reading to your child. Not only should you avoid funny and meaningful chapter books read aloud to your whole family, but you should also avoid reading little things you may not even connect to literacy. For instance, don't read his birthday card from Grandma or the highway signs as you are traveling.

If by chance you slip and DO read to your child, try to make it as uninteresting as possible. Use a monotone voice and try to be as undramatic as possible. Try to make sure it sounds the least like the spoken English language. This will help instill in your child that written language is hard to understand. It may even help your child have reading comprehension problems as he grows older which will really make him reluctant to read.

Also, if you do read to your child, make sure to hold books close to yourself. If you let him see the pictures as you are reading, he may be able to make sense of what you are saying despite your monotone voice.

Under no circumstance should you read anything that your child is interested in knowing. Keep everything at the lowest level possible. If you never stretch to something that might be above the child's level, his interest is much less likely to be sparked, and his vocabulary will not grow.

Do not let your child see you read. It would be better if you didn't read at all, as this would help you avoid a slip in a conversation where you might say, "I was reading about. . ." and then tell some delightful story that would make your child eager for that day when he will have interesting tidbits of conversation to share from his reading.

If you cannot avoid reading all together, read from a screen and completely ignore your child while doing so.

If at all possible, try to avoid having any good books in the house.

There have been some reports of children picking up reading “all on their own.” This could have been completely avoided if there were no books in the house at all.

If you cannot avoid having books in the house, try to limit them to books that will not spark any sense of imagination—yard sale castoffs, dollar store junk, and ex-library books with the newest information fifty years ago. If you are unsure that building a reluctant reader is a worthwhile goal, this is your best middle-of-the-road approach. You can appear to some friends like you love and support literacy while secretly you do not. You could also limit yourself to a token trip to the library every few months.

Actually owning the book helps the child "own" the information contained therein and this is a positive feeling connected with literacy--which is to be avoided. If this is your approach, look for books with:

• Books with uninteresting illustrations – especially avoid variety and color
• Books that are painful to read aloud or to listen to being read aloud. Beginning phonics books with no thought given to fluency are especially helpful.
• Books that never leave you wanting to ask a question or to know more about a subject.
• Books that fall apart easily. This will give you justification for yelling at the kids for destroying the books, and you can throw them away and get them out of your life much faster.

If you are still persuaded that you must make some effort to make your child read, follow these similar tips when your child begins.

Do not set aside time for reading. Do not encourage your child to read with fluency or drama. (Don't explain stopping at the end of sentences or what any of the punctuation means.) Never just tell him a word that he doesn't understand. ALWAYS tell him to figure it out even if you haven't taught the phonics rule. That will make him feel stupid and helpless – VERY good for building a reluctant reader. Avoid having good books in the house – especially ones at his level.

If you achieve success in making your child a reluctant reader, you will have closed many doors that may have otherwise been opened to him. Now, I realize, reader, (you really should stop soon) that sometimes a parent with altogether different intentions occasionally has success in obtaining a reluctant reader. By the parent's choices and dedication, he or she often minimizes the effect on the child's life.

Creating a reluctant reader is rather easy, and without a major change in habits, your child is likely to remain a reluctant reader for a long time.

By Cynda Moore

Cynda Moore HomeWorks Consultant at:
Mother to Five Children Who All Love Reading


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