How do I support a struggling or reluctant reader?

There are two main reasons that children don’t read books. Either a) They simply don’t want to read them: they’d rather do other things, or b) They can’t read them: their literacy skills aren’t developed enough.

And often they don’t want to read because they can’t, and they can’t because they won’t. It’s a vicious cycle.

It is important to first establish which category your child falls into; you can only appropriately support them once you know that. Struggling readers are often identified by their substantially low reading ages- teachers should be monitoring this and should be able to help you if this is your child. Reluctant readers often can read, but choose not to, because books do not grab their attention in the same way that other activities do, to support them you must find books that excite them.

It is also important to remember that whichever category your child falls into - your child is not stupid - and should not be treated as such.

When trying to encourage these children to read, there are two things which it is vital to remind them of:

  • Reading can be fun

  • Good books do exist!

The next stage comes in finding the right books for your child. When you find the right book, it will consist of three things:

  • It matches their specific interests.

  • It matches their reading age.

  • It’s appropriate for their actual age (i.e. it’s not patronising them by being too young for them, nor is it too old).

If kids want to read something, they really will try. If they don’t want to read it, they won’t. If you want children to choose to read stuff, it’s got to be about stuff that interests them: it sounds obvious – but it's often forgotten. So don’t choose for them, choose with them.

Often short books, those with lots of vivid illustrations, comic books and audiobooks are a good place to start to engage your child.

Here at Ransom, we work hard to produce content that is helpful for those who are struggling and reluctant readers. Most kids’ books are designed to match the interest age and the reading age; for example an interest age of nine and a reading age of nine. And most bookshops organise their shelves the same way – by age group – to match average interest and reading ages. That’s fine for the average reader: but counter-productive for the struggling or reluctant reader. For example, if a 12 year old boy has a reading age of 7, the problem is obvious: he can’t read books designed for a 12 year old, and he won’t read books designed for a 7 year old because they’re too babyish. We, and some other publishers, produce what are known as ‘High-Low’ titles; books with a higher interest age than their reading age. This ensures that readers can have books that cater to their age’s interests, but also caters to their reading age.

Finding the right book isn’t the end of the story however. Here are some tips to help you accompany your child on their reading journey.

  • Remain receptive to their interests- ask them what they are looking for in a book, and help them to find that.

  • Encourage them to ask questions! If they know they can come to you when they don’t understand, they will be more inclined to ask for help when they’re struggling.

  • Work at their pace. Inciting a passion for reading is not going to happen overnight. It may be a very slow and arduous task, but continue to work at the pace your child is.

  • Offer incentives. Find checkpoints so that they feel like they are achieving something. Maybe help them learn a specific fact from their reading that day, or encourage them to read a specific amount of chapters.

  • Read with them. Share the enjoyment by making it a joint activity.

  • Lead by example! If your kids never see you reading, it won’t make them want to read.

For more help, read our articles written by in-house experts.