Understanding the disinterested reader
I recall with fond memories time spent as a child listening to my mother read from her favourite childhood books – The Far Away Tree series. Each night before bed, my Mum would come into the room, which my brother and I shared, and read a chapter from each of the novels. My brother and I would bombard Mum with questions, arguing about what was coming next and how the events related back to previous chapters. We both loved hearing Mum read and would stay awake for hours afterwards talking in the darkness about the various characters and how we would change the story. This routine of reading before bed continued throughout my early childhood until I was old enough to read myself.
However, once I was able to read independently I lost interest in books. I started to view reading as “school work”; something that had to be done to keep my parents and teachers happy.
Now, working as a Speech Pathologist, I see that my childhood story is fairly typical. Many children do not maintain their love of reading as they become independent readers. This pattern of losing interest in reading may be due to a number of factors or challenges. The 3 most common challenges I see in the children I work with are limitations within a child’s own reading skills, lack of access to interesting reading materials and limited parent involvement in early reading activities. Let’s explore each of these factors and then look at some tips to address them.
Challenge 1: Limited reading skills
Children who are less skilled readers are usually aware of their difficulties on some level and tend to become frustrated with their failed efforts to read. They often lose interest in reading and can even become highly anxious about it. The frustration presents in a variety of ways from tantrums, to general refusal to read, to, at worst, refusing to attend school. Children experiencing reading difficulties are also less likely to comprehend the meaning of what they read. Basically, if a child cannot first recognise the words on the page, then they are not going to be able to understand the meaning or story line of what they read.
In contrast, children who are skilled readers are generally more capable of comprehending written text. Understanding the text is naturally the part of reading that motivates us the most. Therefore, children who read with ease have more interest in reading. Such children also tend to be praised more for their efforts and ability in reading, which, again, is more motivating for them
Tips to manage the challenge of limited reading ability
Tip # 1: Spend time observing and listening to your child read.
As you do, ask yourself the following questions: How are they reading? Do they have difficulty reading some words more than others? Do they read fluently (i.e., smoothly)? Do they understand what they are reading? Having more detailed “data” on your child’s reading from your own first hand observation will help you better identify your child’s specific reading strengths and weaknesses. That, in turn, will help you seek the right kind of intervention for your child.
Tip #2: Speak with your child’s teacher.
In my experience, teachers are always willing to speak with parents about their children and their abilities. They will help you understand how your child’s abilities compare to others. They can direct you to in-school support services or external professionals for assistance if this is required.
Tip # 3: Find and implement a reading program that works for your child.
There is a wealth of freely accessible information on literacy and its teaching. The board of studies website (http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/) is a good place to start for parents of school-aged children. There are also several intensive literacy support programs that are considered very effective for struggling readers. For example, Annie’s centre offers the Macquarie University developed and research based MultiLit program (Making Up for Lost Time in Literacy) which can be suitable for any child from a Kindergarten level. Annie’s Centre also offers the more advanced program of MultiLit Word Attack Skills Extension program for those that have progressed beyond the original MultiLit program or those who develop difficulties with higher level reading. Click here for more information on MultiLit.
Challenge 2: Lack of interesting reading material
In a world where children have more and more access to iPads and TV, books may struggle to compete for the child’s interest. Many children are asked to read graded books (we all know the book about the fat cat who sat on the mat with the rat!) as a part of their reading intervention program. While these books teach valuable reading skills and give children a sense of reading success, they tend to be viewed by children as inherently boring. Reading boring material is de-motivating for the child.
Tips to manage the challenge of interesting reading material
Tip # 1: Use a wider variety of books to promote your child’s reading development.
Use a variety of books to promote your child’s reading development. Graded books are important but so too is accommodating your child’s interests whether they be Frozen or Ninja Turtles. Essentially, incorporate your child’s interests/ hobbies more in their reading materials. There is an endless expanse of books from which your child can choose to read. Explore the different genres and text types and see what interests them most. Many of the children I see at the clinic (particularly the boys) appear interested in a series of books related to the Minecraft iPad game. Whatever the genre (within reason of course), harness your child’s interest and give them some independence in choosing their books, whether this is going to the library or to a bookshop. Remember though it is important that your child also reads the books given by his/her teacher for homework.
Challenge 3: Lack of parent involvement
Some parents doubt their own ability to “correctly” teach their children to read, particularly as their child progresses into the later primary school years. Parents can become disengaged from their children’s reading development. Instead, they might rely solely on teachers (and perhaps reading specialists) to provide their children with adequate reading opportunities.
Tips to manage the challenge of lack of parent involvement
Tip # 1: Have confidence in your own ability as a parent to assist in your child’s reading.
You have learnt to read yourself, so you have important insights into this process. Don’t be put off by the complexities. Instead, make reading an activity you share together. A good place to start for younger children is showing them that some words can be sounded out (e.g., f-r-o-g) and others need to be remembered (e.g. would).
Tip # 2: Read with your child.
Spend time with your child by making reading a “special” activity you share. You can also model reading aloud your own materials and talk with your child about what you are reading. For example, you could talk with your child about what you liked/disliked about a story you are reading or a newspaper article. You could discuss what you would do if you were one of the characters in a book they are reading. Such strategies facilitate both your child’s interest in literacy as well as their imagination.
Back to my childhood memoirs…
So, how did I address my own reading challenges as a child? In my case, my parents identified that I had lost interest in reading fairly early on. Mum tried to encourage my reading but I was very resistant, saying it was ‘boring’ and making excuses, like ‘I read enough at school’. My parents then sought out specialist services and, reluctantly, I attended tutoring lessons after school for many years. This helped somewhat and my literacy skills remained within the average range for the majority of my primary school years. However, it wasn’t until I came across a book titled Little Brother in my later primary school years that I started to read again for pleasure. From then on, I made a habit of reading and my abilities improved as a result. It appears that I was waiting for the right text, something a little more interesting. However, I doubt that I would have been able to read Little Brother well enough to enjoy it without the additional help and encouragement from my tutor and, most importantly, my parents.
If you think that your child might be disengaging from reading, please contact Annie’s Centre for further details about our reading support services.