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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.  <

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.

At  that  time,  children were grouped  for  reading  instruction

according  to reading levels.  My son 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.  
Children’s self images are involved in knowing how to  read.

When  they go to 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.
Parents  who have a young reluctant reader a home  can  help

that  child by going to the library and picking out ten  easy-to-

read books from the shelf.  These are the books that have lots of

pictures  and  not  many words.  Put these  books  next  to  your 

child’s  bed without comment.  I did this and within a few  days,

my son 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.   My

son  worked  his  way up to more  complicated,  but  still  short

stories.  The ones he particularly enjoyed were the “Encyclopedia

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 all adults, especially during  this  Christmas

season,  is to buy books for children at least a year lower  than

their reading level in school.  Also, when you have a child  read

to  you, choose a book at this level.  In that way, he  can  show

off  his  new  skill and shine in the  light  of  your  approval.

Children do not enjoy stumbling over  words when they are reading

for  pleasure.  They also do not like to be embarrassed in  front

of  any adults but especially their 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

bookshelves   and  comfortable  reading  chairs   with   generous

lighting?  Instead of watching TV all night, why not have an hour

where  everybody reads?  Or, instead of TV why not have a  parent

read a story or poetry to everyone?                   

Parents  who rely on the axiom: “Do as I say, not as I  do.”

are rarely successful.  I encourage you to begin to model reading

for  pleasure  and relaxation for your children.  When  you  have

helped to develop in them a love of reading, you will have  given

them a resource which will last a lifetime.

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