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6 Simple Ways to Engage Unwilling Readers

Some children are born bookworms, but how do you engage a child who simply doesn’t like to read? After all, one of the best ways to jumpstart your learners’ education is through fostering a love of books, and you can’t really force someone to love something.

young girl reading outside


After college, I worked as a teacher and reading tutor for a small private school, and I frequently encountered the words that no teacher or parent likes to hear: “I hate reading.” When I asked, “Why?” the answer would usually be, “It’s boring!” Many of our students had struggled with comprehension or had a difficult time mastering reading skills initially due to dyslexia and/or ADHD. Unfortunately, by the time they had grasped the technical ability to read fluently, they often had no interest in doing so. This is the case for many children who have had reading struggles.

So how do you spark an interest where there is so much resistance? In our situation, my fellow teachers and I followed some simple everyday practices to get young learners to look at reading in a new light. Many of these strategies are creative, individualized, and require parental involvement, making them even more ideal for a homeschool setting.

6 Ways to Help Reluctant Readers Learn to Love Reading

1. Have a special, non-academic reading time.

Chisel out a block of time that is just for pleasure-reading. It’s a time for non-academic books in a bubble of structured relaxation. To start, it’s nice if you can set aside just 30 minutes out of the day when your child or children can go to a special place (that they’ve picked out) to read books (also that they’ve picked out). Make sure that they are settled somewhere very comfortable and very different from where they usually do their school work. This could be a comfortable couch, their beds, the middle of the floor, a treehouse…let them use their imaginations! Now how do you make sure they’re actually reading? Set a timer and a no-talking rule, and stay in the same area while you…that’s right, you…read too. Grab a cup of tea and that book that’s been on your nightstand, and just enjoy reading for 30 minutes.

Skeptical this will work? Try making it a part of your routine for a week. At first, your resistant reader may sit there staring at nothing, but that gets boring quickly. From my experience, even an easily-distracted child who is required to sit quietly with a book in his hand (of his skill-level and choosing), will eventually give it a go. In fact, this routine may even be very calming for children who have difficulty concentrating. By reading your own book during this time, you are modeling an enjoyment for reading as well as showing that it is a pastime that should be respected.

NOTE: Please keep in mind that it’s perfectly fine if your child chooses a book that is well below his/her age/grade level. You want this to be an enjoyable experience–not a challenge! This is not the time to build reading skills or to have to work hard at reading. This is a time for helping your child learn to enjoy reading. 

2. Use the child’s interests (and don’t be afraid if she doesn’t pick classic novels).

This may be an obvious one, but it’s probably the most important. If you are working with a child who can read but doesn’t like to do so, then fuel your approach with her interests. It truly doesn’t matter if it’s a magazine, comic book, or junior novelization of a movie that she’s already seen. As long as she’s reading something that’s not morally objectionable to you, then it’s great! If your nine-year-old is using her reading time to read something you think a seven-year-old would be able to read, it’s okay. This is separate from “school reading,” so incorporate it into her 30 minute reading block, in-the-car reading, or before bedtime reading. Resistant readers need a series of good experiences to build confidence in and enjoyment of the practice of reading; playing to their interests is the simplest way to start.

3. Be a family that reads.

Make reading a fun part of your family life! When you model for your kids that reading is something that you think is fun, it’s bound to make an impact. And don’t just read in front of them: talk about what you are reading with your spouse and kids and express an interest in what they’re reading. Maybe go to the library and pick a family book or book series to read together. You can listen to audio books together in the car or read a chapter aloud in the evenings with a bowl of popcorn or in the mornings as you begin your day.

And listening counts! Children who listen to expressive reading learn to connect the spoken words with the images they create in their own imaginations; this can be the biggest step forward for those who have struggled with reading in the past. Many libraries have print books and audio books to go along with them. Your child may enjoy following along in the printed book as he listens to the audio version.

4. Get artsy.

A simple, very basic way to incorporate this into your lesson plans is the Read-Draw-Retell method. Model this method for your child before asking him to do it. First, read a short passage or story aloud, and then draw a picture illustrating what you read. As you draw, talk about what details you should incorporate. Then, use your doodle to retell (summarize) what you read. It’s best to do this with a few pages or a short chapter. Once you’ve modeled it a few times, have your child try.

This not only helps with comprehension and engagement, but memory as well. It’s great to use in fun reading as well as academic reading for subjects such as English, social studies, or science. I’ve even used it to tutor high school students in Shakespeare! From making book-based collages or movie posters based on books…there are so many ways you can incorporate drawing to make reading more fun.

5. Act it out.

Acting is another creative tool you can use to encourage reading. It’s also great because you can pull in writing skills! For instance, try having your child write a short skit based on something you’ve read, or turn one of your children’s Read-Draw-Retell into a comic that acts as a storyboard. Kids love to act, especially if you record their efforts and make a big deal out of it. There are a lot of inexpensive apps available with movie magic that can make the end result even more exciting! If you are looking for more specific ideas on how to get creative with reading projects, Scholastic has some good non-traditional ideas here.

6. Celebrate reading.

Everybody loves a party, especially kids, so think about some ways you can have a book celebration. This is an infinitely versatile concept! Maybe you want to have a special day every once in a while just for reading. You could build a giant reading fort in your living room or take a picnic and a bunch of books to the park. Maybe the party can be a goal you look forward to with your children once you finish a book as a family or when a child finishes a certain number of books.

For example, I taught a unit on Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief in a literature course for some young students who had struggled with reading. In the course, they read independently, and we also read together. When we finished the book, we had a themed party. We had a trivia tournament (on details from the book), ate Greek snacks, wore togas, and watched the short film we had made in class (inspired by the novel). Many of those students “didn’t like to read,” but several of them went on to read the rest of the Percy Jackson series.

Your own celebration can be elaborate, but it can also be something as simple as watching the movie after you finish the book that inspired it. Whatever you do to celebrate books, you can be sure that your children won’t forget those positive associations with reading!

How do you encourage your children to love reading? Please leave a comment below!

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  1. Thanks for this. I’ve been struggling with my 7 yr old and reading. He has always had the mentality that if he doesn’t get it right the first time, he’s bad at it. This made learning to read very hard and now he doesn’t like it. I will try these.

  2. Thank you I really needed these tips I have almost a nine-year-old that really isn’t interested in reading and maybe this will help me out

  3. My 11yo loves to read but can never tell me much about what he has read. He loves to draw so I’m going to try having him draw what he read instead of writing sentences or telling me.

  4. I wish my daughter would get more involved in picking out her own books. Our local library has a cool looking children’s section … but it pulls her away from the books to play with the computers and toys. I am hoping as she gets older it’ll get easier. But I do pick out books to the topics she likes. (Rainbow, Biscuit, Curious George)

    1. I know!! I wish libraries wouldn’t have so much (toys, games, computers) right there in the children’s section to draw kids away from books! I’m not against those things, but maybe they could be in a different area. Thank you for your comment!

  5. These are great tips! My daughter loves to read and I attribute it to the things we’ve done that you mention above. We have read together since she was an infant, reading often for fun, and we have let her make reading choices that give her a sense of ownership of that time together. Also, we have incorporated reading into social times with friends by creating book club co-ops, complete with thematic snacks and crafts that go along with the books we have read together as a group. Some of her fondest memories involve book studies. We even map some of our books on a world map, keeping track of the different settings of stories we love. Thank you for this article!

  6. I love to read, so it is hard for me to grasp when one of my children doesn’t. I will definitely be using these tips, thank you.
    Shared on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

  7. Great article, thank you! Even though I am an avid reader and even a former teacher and author, one of my children does not LOVE reading and I am always looking for ideas to stir his excitement! ❤️❤️

  8. These are great tips. I struggle with my 7 yr old boy. He’d rather me read to him, which is all good but he doesn’t ever want to try on his own. I like the group reading tip, will be doing that asap! I don’t know the last time I’ve read an book I chose myself ?

  9. We have a unique situation in that we have identical twins- one is a gifted reader and the other has dyslexia. We’ve learned that a combination of “being a family who reads” and simply backing off has worked best with our struggling reader. Pushing him made him feel like he didn’t measure up but backing off allowed him to set his own terms by which he could feel successful.

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