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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

The Reluctant Reader

Some children can be classified as reluctant readers. These are the children who never read a book even though they have acquired basic reading skills in school.

A parent once asked me what her child’s reading level was. I told her to have him read to her to discover this for herself. She replied that he never opens a book. I then said that he could be classified as a non-reader. It really makes no difference what standardized tests given by schools indicate what the reading level is, if a child does not put this skill to use, he is a non-reader.

When one of my sons was in third grade, I noticed that he was not reading at home. I asked the teacher how he was doing in school with learning to read. She said he was doing very well and was in the top reading group. I believe now that he was probably in the wrong reading group. The process of learning to read was too difficult for him and he was not enjoying it. He was not about to continue this discomfort at home by reading in his free time. I think this happens to many children. They and their parents are competitive. Being in the top reading group is a goal in itself. Whether this makes for future avid readers is not taken into consideration.

Children’s self image is involved in knowing how to read. When they go the school library, they tend to pick out books too difficult for them because they feel the other children will laugh if the books are too easy. They usually do not read these books because once they have to sound out a word or have difficulty, they give up. A vicious circle begins and they get out of the habit of reading.

Knowing this, I went to the library and picked out ten very easy-to-read books from the shelf for my son. These are the books that have lots of pictures and not many words. Without comment, I put the books next to his bed. Within a few days, he brought the books to me and said, “I read these.” He was beginning to perceive of himself as a reader. I took these books back, and again without comment, picked out ten more and continued the process. I gradually began to get books that had more words on the page and he continued to read. I discovered that reluctant readers do not like stories that are too long. They want to finish the story in one sitting. We worked our way up to more complicated, but still short stories. The ones he particularly enjoyed were the “Encylcopedia Brown” books by Sobol. The name of the game was reading. He became a reader and continues to be one to this day.

My advice to parents when they buy a book for a child, is always buy one that is at least a year lower than the child’s achievement level in school. Also, if you ask a child to read to you at home that he can show off his new skill, have him read from a book similarly chosen. Children do not enjoy stumbling over words when they are reading for pleasure. They also do not like to be embarrassed in front of parents by making mistakes. They are embarrassed enough when this happens in school.

Parents need to model good reading habits. Instead of having the TV as the centerpiece of the living room, why not have book shelves and comfortable reading chairs wtih generous lighting? Spend an hour a night where everybody reads or read to each other.

When you have developed in a child the love of reading, you will have given the child a resource which will last a lifetime.

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