Nelly Elliott

Newcastle based person, she/her, mama, creative, colourful, caffeinated, plus-size fashion lover, lefty feminist killjoy #funbutmakeitfashion


Tips for reluctant readers.

After I published my last blog post about Zoe's favourite early reader books, I got a few comments on Instagram and Facebook about struggles with reluctant readers, or engaging kids in books. So I thought I would write a little follow up piece, as honestly we struggled with get zoe interested in reading, and our biggest issue was around perseverance and frustration when getting things wrong. I did find some useful tools and tricks that really helped.

I'd like to preface this with the fact that I am not an expert, I am not claiming to know the secret to getting kids to read. I am just sharing what worked for us as a fellow parent.

1. Asking questions

This was a tip we got from Zoe's teacher during lockdown, and it was like a lightbulb moment for us. It can be easy to focus on just getting through the page or the book, especially if its a deadly dull and boring Biff Chip and Kipper book, but zoe definitely picked up on my eagerness to just read the words and lets get this done. Which is of course no fun whatsoever.

Instead of diving right into the first sentence, we would take in each page, look at the picture, what is going on? Who can we see? What do you think is happening here? After that little bit of speculation and imagination she would be much more eager to read the words and find out if she was right. Even with the longer early reader books with less pictures, we scan the cover, read the title, guess what might happen in this book, talk about the main character etc... Sort of hype up the story so she is keen to find out what its all about. As I am typing this it sounds so simple but honestly I was amazed how she went from a reluctant reader, reading her books out of obligation to a kid who would bring me another book after to read next!

2. Reading in a real world context

Reading is so much more than books, and we found the drive to read was stronger when there was more reasons to do it. Reading signs when out and about, posters on the metro train, cafe menus. Reading Netflix programme descriptions, reading the TV menu to find what she wanted to watch by herself. Another big one was video games but I am reserving that for its own category. I tried to subtley ( and sometimes not so subtly) get her to try and read things out and about to illustrate how reading is more than school books. She also loves reading my text messages over my shoulder now.

3. Video games

This was a HUGE game changer for us, we have a few consoles in the house and her Dad is big into gaming, so she would often sit and watch him play, and more recently they started playing Zelda together, and for christmas she got Zelda, Links Awakening which is a more kid friendly version she could play on her own. Reading the words on the screen so she could understand the game play was really important and while we would read it for her or help with hard words if needed, she was keen to be able to do it by herself. She also loves playing Animal Crossing, and being able to read what Tom Nook says and visit friends islands were huge incentives. Screen time gets a bad rep but if you have a kid who just isn't that into books, it can be a huge incentive to read more independently.

4. Fact and Non-fiction

Not all kids respond to stories, and that's cool. I know loads of adults who cant stand fiction. We found Zoe really enjoyed books about other parts of the world, maps, animals or the human body. These types of books can be less daunting as you don't need to read them cover to cover, you can pick a page and take in all the information. I think sometimes schools can be very restrictive with their reading material and its not always the most exciting content.

5. Libraries and Book shops.

Zoe responds really well to books she gets to pick herself. We love a browse around Waterstones or Blackwells, or trips to the library. Reading the spines or covers, reading the sections or posters on the walls. She gets really excited to pick titles she likes the sound of, and also then having to narrow it down to only one or a small number. We also found if she had chosen it, she would then be more likely to pick it up once we are at home and ask to read it.

I hope these tips are helpful, as I said these are what we found from experience. I'd love to hear if you have any different ones, or expertise in the area. We definitely find it comes in waves, so some days she is choosing to read and excited, then the next she is tired or not interested. Our biggest thing is to never make it a chore, if she doesn't want to do it we don't force it. We want reading to spark joy.