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Helping Reluctant Readers - Reading with Bean

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Helping Reluctant Readers

You may have a reluctant reader in your home. It’s ok! Every reader is reluctant at some point in time. A reluctant reader is a child who doesn’t enjoy reading or want to read.

These readers are discouraged because of something. This something is sometimes clear, but more often unclear.  It is sometimes one thing, and sometimes a combination of things. Most reluctance can be attributed to lack of appropriate materials, lack of motivation or support, trouble decoding, difficulty comprehending or just a general lack of interest. Regardless of the reason,  it is a struggle to get reluctant readers to pick up a book. Reluctant readers are wonderful procrastinators and have mastered the art of avoidance. They often know how to fake reading; pretend they’re reading when actually they are just looking at the pictures or playing behind their book.

The number one thing that a reluctant reader needs to do is practice; yet practice is also the thing they hate doing. It is only through practice that reluctant readers can pull themselves through this stage and to a point where reading feels better and becomes easier. But we need to help them practice. We need to build in support that can make practicing easy. They cannot do this on their own, nor will they do this on their own.

Most reluctant readers feel overwhelmed and discouraged because reading is hard. When reading doesn’t just CLICK for a child, it is difficult work that exhausts them. In addition, they’re often reading the wrong material, which makes things even harder.

The two most important things that reluctant readers need is  to 1) PRACTICE READING and 2) BE READ TO (read alouds). Practice is important because they need the constant and repeated exposure to words. Being read to helps build their love for stories and words.

So, how do we accomplish these two important things?


  • Create a structured independent reading time / place / routine. I know, it’s  harder than it sounds, right? Here is where your parenting skills need to step in. Sit down with your child and talk about starting a routine. Reading should take place every day at X time or after X. Be firm about this, as your structure is what will help them become better readers. This will be hard to enforce at first, routines usually have bumpy beginnings. Habits take a few weeks to grow (and to break), so don’t give up if the first week is hard.
  • Have them start small.  Have your child read for short bursts of time. Start with five minutes a day. To start off, sit with them and listen to them read. It will make it easier for them, and will keep them on track. If you need, set a timer up for them so they don’t just decide that their time is up. (If you don’t know how I feel about timers, you can read this later.) Add time on slowly, over weeks. Don’t make huge jumps, and talk to them about extending a minute or two. (Do you think you can read for 6 minutes tomorrow? I bet you can. Let’s try it.) You want this increase to naturally happen as their stamina grows.
  • Have the right materials available. Children need to read at their level. If confidence building needs to take place, pulling in some books that are slightly below their level may help for a day or two. If they are reading a book that is too difficult it will only frustrate, overwhelm and tire them, causing arguments and tears. For their independent reading time, keep a pile of books that they can cycle through and that they can read. Sometimes you may need to help them read a book a few times beforehand, but after these readings with you, have them repeat read it on their own. They will be better and better at reading these books when they repeat read them, and this will also build their confidence and decoding skills. Slowly add new books in to their reading pile. Most teachers will send home appropriately leveled books that were read in school that day. This is repeat reading which is GREAT practice.

reluctant reader insert

2) READ ALOUDS: Read to your child every day/night 

The above tactics are for independent reading, but you want to encourage the love of reading through your picture book read alouds. The reading that they may be doing independently may not be that interesting  because of the level they are reading at. We need to keep children interested in reading through picture books and chapter book read alouds. Knowing that they will one day be reading these books on their own is motivation to keep working on their reading skills. I have written a lot about read alouds, and encourage you to look at these posts for help.

Other Ideas 

Find a series that they like. This may take some time, but believe me, it is worth it. If you can help your child find a series that they enjoy they will always have another book they want to and can read. This post talks about series and I have a list of series by level here.

Incentive charts can help get you through rough spots. Incentive charts provide reward for doing things. Remember to make incentive charts tangible and with frequent rewards.

  • For every afternoon/night that your child reads the required time (starting at 5 minutes) they get a sticker.
  • A certain amount of stickers earns something. That something could be: screen time, a book, an ice cream cone, a weekend movie, whatever it is that drives your child, use that. Yes, this is bribery and sometimes it just has to be done. I know a lot of people who will argue this, but honestly, it works and it often gets you past the tough part. You won’t be bribing them forever. Incentive charts work until they don’t and then something else will motivate your child.


  1. Lori,
    This is an amazing post. I wish it were required reading for all parents of school aged children.
    Kathy King-Dickman

  2. Jen McEvoy

    Hey Lori! What are your thoughts on the BOB books or something similar? My son is almost 5, and although I used to be a teacher, I feel like I’ve forgotten all of the important things to do with him to make sure he isn’t ‘behind’. We read to him all of the time and I’ve started introducing a few sight words here and there, but without any pressure. Trying to keep it fun because he is one to push away.



    • readingwithbean

      Hi Jen! Great to hear from you and I am so glad you visited. I actually love BOB books. Starting off a level lower is a great confidence builder as well. They aren’t the most interesting books so keeping up the picture book reading at night is important to keep up that love of books. I hope the reluctant reader post helped a bit… even if he’s not reluctant they are important tips!

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