Encouraging the Reluctant Reader


Our 10-year-old daughter is a reluctant reader who is starting to fall behind in school. She has dyslexia, and is getting help, but she just isn’t interested in reading. For her, it’s not worth the effort. How can we encourage her to read more?

A. Corning, South Bend, IN  

Ask the Experts

Emilene J. Fearn, Ph.D, MBA

Emmy Fearn received her doctoral degree 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.

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,” as in this case, I suggest listening intently to the child, to identify her interests: Is it fantasy, adventure, or relationships? Animals, sports, or music? What is she passionate about?

Look for written materials that relate to her interests, ideally with 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, which will help her get the meaning and minimize her struggle with the words
  • Books that are compilations of comic strips, such as Peanuts and Garfield
  • Youth and adult magazines that focus on content areas of interest, such as sports, entertainment, or science
  • Books in the library, which librarians are thrilled to recommend
  • Audiobooks or electronic books that are read aloud will allow her to enjoy literature, and develop an appreciation for books
  • Video games! As with other passions, children who enjoy video games are highly motivated to read about their favorites

Less traditional sources of reading material may also 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.

Finding your child’s passionate interest can be critical to her learning to read, which can make a lasting difference in her life.

Take Action
  • Be creative Consider what might increase your child’s desire to read, and make those materials easily available.
  • Read together Read the same materials as your child—it offers the opportunity to share her interests and to ask questions about what she has read.
  • Encourage repetition Rereading materials should be encouraged—rereading improves comprehension and allows memorization of high-frequency words without “drill and kill.”
  • Read aloud Ask your child to read aloud to you or other family members (even the family dog!) to provide practice and more reading opportunities.
Ask the Experts