I always loved reading. I read all the time, under my covers with the flashlight after my parents tucked me in. I remember reading the word ‘red’ in Kindergarten, but was too shy to speak up and read it out loud. As a result I didn’t get swung around the classroom by Mrs. Klein…but I still read it in my head!
Many kids are reluctant to read. It can be hard, especially for perfectionist-type children (yes, they exist even at 5 years old!) because they never want to be wrong or make mistakes.
In my early years of teaching, I dealt with kids who were reluctant for a number of reasons. Many didn’t speak English as a first language, or at all. There were kids with significant behavior problems, exacerbated by their fear of failure in school. Others had speech impairments or other disabilities which prevented them from speaking or learning how to read with ease. And sometimes the students had all of the above!
As a Kindergarten teacher, it was my job to teach them the fundamentals which lead to reading. Most of the kids were smart enough where they knew all of that anyway. When it came to the physical act of reading, the fight or flight response kicked into high gear (fortunately, only one student had the fight, the rest had the flight!). The best I could do to support these students was to serve them their reading on a silver platter. I knew their likes, usually something to do with trains or cars, and that is what they got to read. I read them books about trains, about cars, about trains and cars. I made sound cards on pictures of trains. We used alphabet cards made of cars. We rhymed with train, we rhymed with car, we read Green Eggs and Ham. We would read them in a train, and in a boat and on a plane. We read about trains here and there, we would read about cars anywhere!
We made mistakes in the classroom a part of life. I made my mistakes obvious so they could call me on my mistakes. We modeled what to do when we made a mistake. We had fun. It was the only way I knew how to do it. I made them want to read about what they loved. There were times when they had to read what they didn’t love. Those were difficult times, but with the reward of a book about a certain blue engine, they would do just about anything.
Of course this is much easier with younger students, they are malleable and will usually try something once. The older students are much more difficult. I always encourage parents to let their child read what they want. Is it really so terrible to have to tell your son or daughter to turn out the lights and go to bed because he or she is engrossed in a good book? This is not a problem in my opinion. Where it does become an issue is when the child will only read what he or she wants to read. There are simply times in life when we have to read something that is going to bore you to tears. Isn’t that how we all got through college? To encourage that reluctant reader to read those non-preferred topics, offer that incentive of preferred topics. Read aloud, partner read, listen to an audio book. Do what it takes to get the job done. In my experience, once the student is comfortable with reading, and knows that it’s a means to an end, I am able to get much more out of him or her.
While I may not understand the desire to not read, I understand how to make it a little less painful. Not everything is fun to read, but isn’t it always easier to do something you don’t want to do when you have something else to look forward to?