First thing’s first: It’s vital to understand the traits of reluctant or struggling readers from the get-go. That way, it’ll be easier to understand where the specific issues lie and how best to counteract them.
As a librarian, Hart can usually identify striving readers by their reading choices (or lack thereof).
“They are often ‘Book Abandoners,’ where they give a book maybe the first page and then turn it back in,” says Hart. “Or they are a library wanderer and seem to get all around the library but never pick up a book to look at. Sometimes they just don’t know what to pick or what they like.”
This is where book recommendations come in handy. Check out Scholastic’s book lists for more titles by age!
When it comes to creating a home reading routine and encouraging your pre-teen striving reader to pick up a book and read, it’s best to not force it.
“Truly, the best thing you can do as a parent is to be an example of lifelong learners and readers,” says Hart. “In all of my years of teaching, being a librarian, and being a mom to four children, I have seen some reading practice turn eager readers into reluctant readers. If you can find subjects that your child is interested in, then reading practice becomes part of the normal routine and it is looked at as learning.”
Another great (and adorable) way to encourage your child in home reading is to have them read their favorite books to family pets.
“When children read to animals, they are more confident because they usually have a captive audience that is listening only,” says Hart. “It is great practice for them to share their favorite stories. Plus, the animals benefit, so it’s a win-win.”
There’s nothing more important than to allow struggling readers to read what interests them the most. When children choose their own reading material, they are more likely to continue reading on their own.
“I would like to stress here how vital it is that you find out what your child is interested in or passionate about,” says Hart. “For example, if your child loves sharks, you can read articles from the Scholastic News or National Geographic about sharks.”
Hart recommends books that can serve as a jump-off point to independent reading, such as informational texts and graphic novels.
“I do think graphic novels can be a wonderful gateway to the full novels of the same book,” says Hart. “I almost always steer reluctant readers to Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series [which have both novel and graphic versions]. They are shorter, but full of action and adventure and based on true stories!”
Fun informational texts and books with facts are another great way to spark interest.
“I have many reluctant readers who love to read World Record books,” says Hart. “This would be so awesome for parents to read at home with their children and then look up those records and watch some of the videos.”
While it’s effective to ask your reluctant reader to read every day according to a set schedule or routine, remember not to make it feel like a chore or to limit their reading materials to certain books.
“Making it a required activity or chore can have a damaging effect,” says Hart. “It is important not to overcorrect or to criticize when they read. Also, don’t limit what they read. It is perfectly okay if they want to read a graphic novel with you, or a book you have read with them many, many times.”
Exploring different forms of reading material will broaden their horizons and make it more likely that they will seek it out on their own. Whether they’re interested in newspapers, journals, magazines, or chapter books, allow them to read what piques their curiosity.
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For more tips on finding books at the right level for your child, visit our guide on reading levels for kids. It's full of book recommendations and insights, including how to increase your child's reading level.