Reading motivation: Why doesn’t my child just pick up a book and read?

December 4th, 2018

When I talk with parents of children beyond kindergarten, the same question often comes up: “My child just doesn’t pick up a book on his own. How can I get him more excited about reading?” While this is a topic we’ve tackled before, I think it’s worth a deeper dive.

To get at the solution, it makes sense to start with figuring out why a child doesn’t just choose to read on his or her own; there are different issues that could be at the root of it all, and those different issues demand different responses from a parent. Once the why is understood, a parent is in a better position to find ways to encourage more reading and increase overall reading motivation.

So we are launching a five-part series on why a child might not be excited about reading, and what parents can do to help.

Reason #1: It could be that your child is struggling to read, and so reading books is hard work– even books that seem as if they are at his grade level and should be fun to read.

None of us, generally, want to do things that are a lot of work. And it’s work to read if it doesn’t come easily. Plus, children who don’t read well, especially compared to their classmates, often see or define themselves as non-readers. This makes the likelihood of choosing to read even lower: the research confirms that children who see themselves as skilled readers are more likely to read for enjoyment than children who see themselves as less-good readers. A child’s reading ability matters, and his feeling about his reading ability matters, too.

What can you do to help?

Make sure your child is not having trouble reading. Or, if he is having trouble, make sure that he is getting the right kind of support at school, and with enough intensity to make a difference. You’ll also want to make sure you’re doing some additional things at home to help move him forward. Your goal is to help him feel good about himself as a reader– and that will only happen if he has support from you and the underlying skills to feel competent.

Check in with his teacher. Find out more about how he is doing in the classroom compared to his peers. If he is needing extra support at school, ask exactly what skills your child needs help on so that you can help at home, and so you know that the instruction at school is aligned specifically with what he needs. This is especially true given the latest findings on educator training (read more here).

Review your child’s PUP Reading results to see if, in your observations, he is low in any of the three skill categories. With your own data in hand, you’ll be in a better place to have a good conversation with your child’s teacher about the kind of instruction he needs so he gets more skilled and feels better about reading.

Think about book choice. Maybe he needs easier books to read, but ones that don’t make him feel as if he is reading “baby books.” (See Part 2 of the series, coming soon, for more on book choice.)


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