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Getting from “must read” to “want to read”

Reading takes practice, a regular routine.  That in turn requires a positive attitude to reading, otherwise as anyone parenting a struggling learner will tell you, it’s an uphill battle.

The concept of something you must do is both daunting and unappealing. Think of it from a child’s perspective. That pressure doesn’t feel any better to them to have that cloud hanging over them if their reading is not yet done.  Forced reading risks turning a potentially positive experience into a negative one. It fosters associations with it being something they dread instead of enjoy.

These feelings intensify for a child who is struggling to read. Added pressure morphs into frustration, and anxiety. It can also encourage bad habits. Instead of engaging with the text and possibly finding pleasure or interest in the content, reading becomes a minimal effort task task that ends up being skimming,not comprehending.

It’s a conundrum because engagement is central to orthographic and semantic processing. These terms describe how children progress from recognizing words to recalling their pronunciation. If a child does not engage in reading, comprehension is unlikely, especially for children who are struggling to read anyway.

The benefit of reading accrue to those who love reading

The benefits of a positive attitude to reading are well known and so there’s no real need to itemize except to point out that the benefits of reading  only properly accrue when your child develops into a habitual reader – newspapers, online articles, fiction and non-fiction books, college texts, anything and everything.  This will only happen if your child has a positive connection to reading at the very least, and a love a reading as the ideal.

It’s also worth noting, writing skills benefit immensely from reading – it’s how we learn how others phrase things, build storylines, etc.

Unfortunately, attaining this ideal of habitual reading is becoming more and more challenging as attention spans shorten and phones dominate. Individuals 15 years and older only average about 16 minutes of reading per day.

Minimize negativity around reading

For many children, reading time is stressful because they find it impossibly difficult.  It’s confusing to young children that this is the case as they look at their peers who seem to read comfortably, and they look at the adults around them who seem to read easily.

These negative feelings turn into anxiety about having to read out loud, frustration that it’s so hard and then stress about the fact they are not pleasing their parents, not pleasing their teachers and that school is getting harder and harder – as “learn to read” becomes  “read to learn.”

Parents of children with reading problems need to be aware of this negative bias and look to reduce it in two ways:

  1. Try to fix the delay. It’s such a pivotal skill, early in the sequence of skills needed to learned that it’s worth investing as much time as it takes to remove the impediments to reading progress as early as possible. Gemm Learning provides reading interventions that can break the cycle of frustration.
  2. Maintain a positive connection to reading as long as you can.

Children Choosing Their Books

An excellent way to develop a positive attitude to reading comes from finding your passion in books.  One idea is let your child choose their books as much as you can, based on their interests and sense of humor. Doing so will nurture a love for reading for pleasure. Literature opens up new worlds for your child. Framing it in that way can help change viewing it as a drudgery to one of opportunity and new adventures. You’ll likely find your youngster looks at books with a fresh perspective.

Make it a big deal with a trip to the library or the bookstore.

Protect Child for Difficult Books

Unfortunately, a lot of teachers assign books to a class as there are goals and standards to be met. You are the last line of defense. If the book it too hard and you know it will only frustrate your child, further erode confidence and deepen a negative connection to reading – take a long term view.  Is making your child read a book she is not ready for good for  your child long term.  Most of often, the answer is no. It is reasonable to let your child know that.

Engaging the Reader

You can stimulate interest in a book simply by asking questions. Start a discussion about the characters and the plot, such as “Why do you think the dog helped the boy?” It’ll support their reasoning and metacognition development to think through these questions. It also does it in a non-threatening manner.

More of ideas on making reading fun here.

Opting for Interactive Books

You may find that interactive books are more engaging for your child. They add a fun element to reading that might be just the thing to make it more enjoyable for your youngster. We like the active piece that it brings to this activity. These books dismiss the notion that reading is a passive activity.

Rewarding the Effort

You can put your child in control by offering a reward for every book completed. Your youngster makes the decision to read. You may find your child is reading more often and for longer sessions to get the treat waiting at the end of the road.

Making It a Series

Undoubtedly, you’ve read a book that you wished didn’t end. You may have anxiously awaited the author’s next novel. Give your child this same gift by starting a series of books. A compelling storyline may hold your youngster’s interest and make reading a must-do instead of a do-I-have-to thing. The great thing about it is that the choice to read will likely come from your child instead of you.

Telling You a Story

Sometimes, nudging a child to read more simply means mixing things up with a role reversal. Let your youngster read the story to you. You can also let them pick it out to make it more fun. Pay close attention as the tale unfolds with animated responses to the plot changes. You may find that your child asks you to let them read.

Final Thoughts

The tension between making your child read and wanting reading to be pleasurable has been around since reading became a thing.  The reality though is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.  The quality of engagement in reading for a child that is forced to read is mostly marginal at best.

And so, resolving the impediments to reading using programs like Gemm Learning should be a priority.  Meanwhile, the long game to your child developing into a lifelong reader involves being strategic and being patient.