Learning Resources, Reading & Literacy

7 Ideas to Try When Kids Hate Reading: Encouraging Literacy

Some kids hate reading…gah, I sure did.  With a passion. 

Was it my overlooked dyslexia and ADHD?  Was it that as a child who suffered a great trauma, I was never going to relate to stories about beavers, pigs, or dogs named after grocery stores?  I can count on one hand the books I read and finished during my school years (The Cay and Of Mice and Men).  This hatred for reading though, may just have been what turned me to writing; I wanted to write the adventures I craved from these books I was forced to endure. 

Finally, when I was in college the release of the Twilight series is what had me making emergency late night drives to my local book store and purchasing, for the first time, that frequent buyers membership.  Ever since then I’ve discovered this love of literature that I’m so sad took me decades to discover!  

Perhaps that’s why I wanted to teach young readers, or perhaps it was just the creative writing side I was interested in.  But either way, I’m here now and your kid can be too!

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When Kids Hate Reading

Comic Books & Graphic Novels Are Amaze-balls

Comic Books and Graphic Novels are fantastic for the most demotivated of readers. 

Recently, in one of my dyslexic parent support groups a mom referred to comic books as “junk reading”.  As you can imagine, social media did not fail, as she was met with a sea of comments of just how wrong her opinion is.  Although the point the moms in this group were making was: if I can get my dyslexic kid to read, I don’t care what it is. 

But the actual point should have been that comic books will beef up your child’s vocabulary just as much, if not more than, their snooze fest classic literature.  It’s basic math:


Let Them Read Anything

And while we are on the subject, so long as they are reading, just let them read.

My husband is annoyingly the smartest person I have ever met in my entire life.  Much of his intelligence can be attributed to his avid love of reading.  That same love of reading was created through summers stuck at his grandparents with only Anne Rice to keep a young impressionable boy company on rainy days. 

The key to building avid readers, is to first build what educators refer to as ‘fluency’.  Just as you may want to build your fluency in a foreign language to make conversation easier, your struggling reader is looking to build fluency in reading to make literature a billion times less miserable.  We want reading to flow and not be a strain.  We want our readers to connect ideas, not just sounds.  

Let’s do some math again.  There are 600,000 words in the English language.  Of those 600,000 words only 13 account for an entire quarter of the words in most books.  Furthermore, a total of same 100 words make 50% of our reading.  So that means no matter what your child is reading, they are building up that 50% of high frequency word fluency.  It doesn’t matter if it is Thomas the Tank Engine, Harry Potter, or…well Anne Rice.

So if it catches their interest by all means, just let them read it!  


Read Something With Them

One of my all time favorite stories to share on this topic is from my old boss, Margaret.  Just when the Twilight book series was gaining popularity her teenage daughter would not put them down, she absolutely raved about them.  Margaret, an avid reader, was hesitant as to if she would like the book despite her daughters seemingly obsessive urging to read it.  Finally, after dinner one evening she rolled her eyes and gave in, “fine, give me the first one.”  It was past midnight that same night when she quickly rushed into her daughter’s room, shaking her awake.  With the utmost urgency she pressed her groggy teenager, “The second one, where is it…I need it now!”

Sharing a work of literature together can take on many forms.  Your student/child can read a couple of chapters to you, and you read a couple of chapters with them.  It can be done independently but discussed over the dinner table.  The idea is, you choose it together, and you enjoy it together.  


Encourage Them To Join A Book Club

Perhaps your preteen that once loved reading has lost all interest.  Or maybe your struggling reader has just given up all hope now that they’ve reached fifth grade.  My first note for you, is don’t panic, this is normal.  Your child’s interests are more in socializing than the imaginary worlds of unicorns and dragons from once they loved to draw out in Crayon.  It’s a sad but necessary transition as they continue this journey to growing up.  

A book club of like minded peers, though, may be just the ticket to combine the best of both of these worlds.  If you can’t find a book club, start one!  Have them invite their friends.  Don’t make it mandatory to read, don’t harass them or count down the days they have left.  Even if just two chapters were read, that is two chapters more than they would have been reading without the club.  


Make Reading Active

Before we can hope for a love of reading, we must first engage our young readers.   Engagement seems simple enough to veteran readers of decades such as ourselves.  But let’s consider all we are expecting out of our struggling readers.  We need them to decipher words, utilize context, while still maintaining some form of comprehension.  But wait I’m not done.  We also need them to make connections, predictions, imagine images, and really so much more.  So how do we train this all without overwhelming them?

Try Pre-Reading Activity Sets

 Start off reading time with an inspired and primed mindset.  Ask them to make predictions, explore imaginary realms, and consider the possibilities of a story line.  

Start Novel Reading and Studies Early

At present I am enjoying The Chocolate Touch with my two youngest (Kindergarten & Second).  They listen to my tone and fluency of reading.  They hear the questions I ask throughout the text and actively participate.  We sum it up with an activity for a tactile connection to the text.

Create a “Reading Contract”

 This is a packet of activities that your child or student agrees to complete in order to show their progress through SSR (silent sustained reading).  These should not be a snooze-fest repetition of comprehensive essay questions at the end of each chapter; these should be creative and fun!

Tie Their Reading Into Other Subjects

 Create a lesson plan, or series of activities that not only dig more into the text but also some time in history, an awesome science concept, or a great person to keep them motivated and excited throughout an entire text.

As a veteran reading educator I have a passion for making literature fun! So much so, that compiling novel study packets has kind of become a past time of mine as a stay at home mom.  Feel free to check out my collection at my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.  I have a variety of paid and free resources available.


Pick Plot Lines They Will Relate To

When choosing a novel study, think like a writer and consider your audience.  Pick texts your class or children will relate to.  I’ll never forget my student teaching experience:

“These kids are hopeless, don’t even try to teach, just get them through it,” my mentor teacher lamented.  She then handed me the selection she had chosen for the class.  Flipped, a uneventful story of two middle class white kids in the suburbs whose excitement revolve around baby chicks hatching in their backyard and their largest conflict is the concern for their favorite climbing tree to be chopped down.  Even as a white adult, raised in lower middle class suburbia, I was struggling to find anything in this story to connect with.  Not to mention my room full of preteen, lower economic predominately Hispanic students.

We need to meet our children where they are.  Think of plot lines that they can relate to, then nudge them to make those connections.  There is such a large vault of children’s literature out there that there is truly no excuse for sadistically reinforcing miserable reading experiences. 


Let Them See You Read…Anything

As a final note, you, the adult, might be a part of the problem.  (Hey, I know I am!)

I mean, you don’t have to make a big production of it or anything.  But, if you want them to understand that reading is something to love, they need to see someone else, well, love it.  Without that, it’s just something you have to do for school.  We, the parents, as a technologically reliant generation have become a part of a bigger problem.  

Try to set up some time to read, when the kids are present.  Shoot for twice a week of twenty minutes of reading in the open, where our kids may just happen to stumble upon us.  Be sure to play it real coy, ‘oh, I didn’t know you’d be here, just sitting here enjoying this novel.’ 

6 thoughts on “7 Ideas to Try When Kids Hate Reading: Encouraging Literacy”

  1. All great suggestions. I will admit, my son loved to be read to but didn’t really appreciate reading. At least, not until the week he was grounded and couldn’t use any electronics. He picked up the first Harry Potter (something he refused to read up until that point) and finished the first three books in the series in three days. When he came out to ask for the 4th, I had to tell him it wasn’t written yet. I then moved him to the Narnia books and he hasn’t stopped reading since. But, I realized while reading this post that even though he refused to read books before Harry Potter, monthly I was taking him to the comic book store to look for his favorites and find new ones.

  2. This is such a useful post for parents. I’m happy to see that more parents are encouraging their children to read.
    My parents always encouraged us to read, but we were not allowed to buy comics!

  3. I read to my children every night from babies until they decided they rather not be read to any more (around 13 years old) and although my husband and I are bookworms, our sons are not as enthusiastic but they do read books though. Funny thing, on holiday last year, my husband picked a hardbacked book to read about a local haunted house – it ended up at about 11pm every night, the four of us were settling down to hot drinks and listening to him reading a chapter of this book! 😊 It was a lovely family moment.

  4. Some great ideas. I’ve always been an avid reader and I’m really hoping Elsie will be too. She seems to enjoy books already.

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