3 Ways to Motivate a Reluctant Reader

I love to read and although I would like everyone I meet to love reading, I realize that isn’t always the case. Sadly, not everyone loves to read. But I don’t believe whether someone loves to read or not is a black and white issue. I think there are shades of gray on this: a spectrum, or a continuum. Most people who don’t love to read actually don’t hate to read, they just may not choose reading as their first choice of leisure activity. Children, though, are often black and white thinkers and when they are young and exploring who they are, their likes and dislikes,…they may make the bold statement , “I hate reading!” If you are a parent and your child says this to you, don’t despair. Your reluctant reader may be just trying to figure out what it is that defines him at this moment, and reading may not be at the top of his list.

A quote I like to keep in mind when I’m working with someone who says they don’t like to read is one by J.K. Rowling:

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”

Have you ever read a book that you didn’t really like? Imagine what it would be like if you had only ever read books that you didn’t like? That’s how it is for some kids. Some kids have really never found a book that they could truly connect to, and it makes it tough to enjoy reading when you aren’t reading the right book for you.

As a classroom teacher and a middle school librarian, I have had many reluctant readers come to me looking for a book to read. Often they had to pick a book for a school project, and just weren’t sure what to pick. Sometimes they would say they didn’t care what they read, but usually once I started talking to them, it was clear that they did in fact care. They had opinions and preferences, just as readers who love to read do, and it was important for me to listen to what they liked before actually suggesting any specific titles. Frequently, I was able to make a match, and there was no better feeling for me as a teacher/librarian than a student who came back asking for another book like the one I had suggested.

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When I start working with someone who doesn’t like to read, but needs to find a book to read, I focus on three main areas to guide me in a book suggestion:

1. Personal Interests

A good place to start is by asking questions about personal interests and listen to the response. If a 9 year old boy says he hates to read, but he absolutely loves baseball, that gives me a clue into what he might like to read. There are many great middle grade chapter books about sports, and baseball in general, that he might like much better than other books he has tried because he has a personal connection to that sport. Or maybe a 13 year old girl tells me that she just recently visited an escape room in the city, and had such a fun time. I might lean towards suggesting a suspenseful book with a quest theme.

2. The Power of Choice

I am a strong believer in letting kids choose what to read whenever possible. I know that when I was in school, even though I liked to read, I hated being assigned a book to read. Something about being told to read it made the book not as enjoyable for me. If you are able to, take your child to the library or the bookstore (or even Amazon) to browse. See what he or she gravitates towards. There may be a specific topic or genre that really catches his/her attention and if a child wants to read something and picks it out, he/she will be much more motivated to actually read it. And this leads into my final suggestion…

3. Consider Alternatives!

Be open to considering alternatives. This is an exciting time for children’s and young adult literature. There are so many more books available than there were even 25 years ago. The industry is booming. Libraries are carrying a huge selection of great books for children and young adults. Often we think that our kids should be reading chapter books. But I feel that if a reluctant reader is reading something, anything, as long as they are reading, we should try to be OK with that. Maybe novels don’t really interest him right now, but he would devour a non-fiction book about Ancient Greece. Maybe she loves graphic novels. Maybe he wants to read his Scouting magazine after school. Maybe she wants to read an article in the newspaper you left on the kitchen table about the women’s lacrosse team at a local college. Maybe he enjoys listening to an audiobook. All of these are ways for kids to read and if they are allowed to read what they want to read, even if it isn’t the traditional chapter book, maybe they will learn to love reading.

If you have a reluctant reader who proclaims the dreaded, “I HATE reading,” don’t give up. It isn’t too late to try some of these ideas and encourage him to try to find something that he enjoys reading. Maybe he will never love reading and won’t pick it as his first option of something to do when he is bored, but hopefully he will be able to get to the point where he can find enjoyment in reading for school and for pleasure.

I will leave you with this quote by Maya Angelou,

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Happy Reading!