Overcoming Reading Resistance

Rachael asks what can be done to help her daughter love story time. Some kids are just wiggle worms and don’t like sitting still and reading books… and this can be very disheartening to mamas who want to raise up little readers. Rachael did mention that her little one did love Richard Scarry (good taste that one!) so there is hope! Stick to what she’s interested in for now. Some other ideas that may help:

  • Don’t mandate sitting still. Allow her to draw or color or even jump around while you read… she still may be listening.
  • Read during snack or lunch time! I think this is one of the best ways to “force” listening among squirrely children. Two year olds can be strapped in a high chair and older kids have to sit at the table to eat. You can read and show pictures, librarian-style during this time.
  • Lunch time is a great time to introduce stories that are longer and with fewer pictures since the kids are preoccupied with their food, they will generally sit still and just listen to what’s going on. I made special “tea time” for fairy tale (the old, picture-less, non-PC kind) reading with my boys. The stories are rich and the vocabulary tough but I literally sweetened the deal by making muffins or somesuch, put a dollop of honey in their tea and read while they sipped and nibbled. I’m sure a significant percentage of what I read went right over their heads, but I think it’s important to challenge them and get them familiar with rich language and tough vocabulary words.
  • Another place where children have to be naturally still is in bed. Night-time reading next to their bedsides is a fantastic habit to get into, and it makes for warm memories as a bonus.
  • Consider books on CD. Go for a long car ride and pop in a book on CD to start instilling the habit of attention. Soon, you can transfer this habit to home during ‘quiet time.’ Five year olds are old enough for beginning chapter books like Charlotte’s Web or James and the Giant Peach.
  • You can check out picture books at the library that have a CD accompaniment. The great thing about this is that many children who don’t read yet like to flip the pages at the special “page flipping” sound so they are attentively listening for that.
  • Don’t be afraid to deviate from the story line. I used to substitute the names of my kids into the story as the protagonists, maybe adding in a sibling or friend also, and they loved hearing books about themselves.
  • Talk about what you are reading. Ask her what she’d do in such and such situation or what part of the picture she likes best. Try to mimic some of the artwork. Play ‘finding’ games with rich illustrations.
  • Try letting her work some beeswax in her hands while you read. Beeswax is pretty tough before it gets warmed up in little hands so it’ll take some of her fidgety energy out while she’s trying to mold it. If it proves too frustrating, just go to a basic clay or playdough.
  • Get some beautiful, wordless books (e.g. Tuesday or Anno’s Counting Book) and see if she is receptive to just talking about the pages or even better, telling the story herself.
  • Create a lovely space for reading. Consider refashioning a closet into a reading nook or using some creative pipes, boards or framing materials to hang cloth over. If you make a space inviting enough… kid appealing enough… they’ll want to be there: “If you build it, they will read.”
  • Same thing goes for book display. Most of our books live on the shelf. Select seasonal and library books are placed in beautiful baskets around the house. We’ve been known to employ the rain gutter system too; get something forward facing at least! For resistant readers, you have to put a little extra effort into marketing! But it is worth it!

Most of all, don’t give up! Even if you feel like your efforts are in vain and she’s getting nothing out of it, she is! She’s hearing stories (don’t let the frustration drip out of your voice!) and lovely language and will be all the better for it. If you need some reconvincing on the importance and value of reading aloud to children, check out Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. This book is incredibly important for parents to read. While I don’t agree with 100% of his book recommendations, the information and statistics in this book are very, very good. They will make a big impact on you and help you feel better about your goals when read-aloud time seems useless.

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