Encouraging the Reluctant Reader
By Emilene J. Fearn, MBA, MA
At 10 years old, my son Jonathan was a reluctant reader falling behind in school. But all of that changed when Jonathan went to summer camp. While there he became fascinated by role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons that required extensive reading to be a competent player.
Suddenly Jonathan wanted desperately to be able to read, and he began to exert the effort necessary for children with dyslexia to learn to read.
Nowadays, when parents tell me their child is having difficulty with reading, I ask if the child has received reading intervention services, and if she has been evaluated for learning disorders. If the answers are “yes” I suggest listening intently to the child, to identify her interests: Is it fantasy, adventure, or relationships? Cars, sports, or music? What is she passionate about?
Then I suggest finding written materials that relate to the child’s interests and have pictures to support comprehension. Such reading materials include the following:
- Comic books, newspaper comics, and picture books with a high ratio of pictures to words, so that the child struggles less to get meaning out of the text
- Books that are compilations of comic strips, such as Peanuts and Garfield
- Youth and adult magazines that focus on content areas of interest to the child, such as sports, cars or entertainment
- Books in the library, which librarians are thrilled to recommend
Less traditional sources of reading material may make sense. One child who was wild about other countries loved to read travel brochures. Another child, who was crazy about dogs, read materials from the veterinarian’s office. Yet others were motivated to read a children’s book on sex education—with intriguing, cartoon-like pictures.
Twelve years later, Jonathan says that he had stopped expending the effort required to read, because in his 10-year-old mind, it “just wasn’t worth it.” Fortunately, his mindset changed when he wanted to play video games, and he is now an avid reader. As with my son, finding your child’s passionate interest can be critical to her learning to read, which can make a lasting difference in her life.
Emilene J. Fearn, MBA, MA, is a doctoral student in Special Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University. She is the parent of two adult children with ADHD and LD.