Everybody Loves a Good Story: 6 Tips for Struggling Readers

Everyone loves a good story. There is something so appealing and engaging about “Once upon a time…” or “Wait until I tell you what happened…!” The minute we know we’re going to hear a story we settle in, ready to be entertained. We look forward to being swept into other worlds, other experiences, other emotions.

YumMum JunFor those of us who are fortunate enough that reading comes easily, the wonder of story is only as far away as the nearest book.

But reading doesn’t come easily for everyone. For some people it’s very, very hard. And because it’s hard, it’s not fun.

At school, with so much emphasis on grades and performance, such high expectations and demands for reading success, the pressure is enormous. It is no wonder that kids feel overwhelmed and reading feels like a chore.

Of course kids need practice reading to get better at it, but when it’s hard and they feel unsuccessful it often becomes something they dread. Who wants to come in from the baseball diamond or put down their 3DS to do something they’re not good at?

So it’s our job to look for the fun, to help them enjoy all that reading has to offer. If you’ve got a child for whom reading is difficult, here are some things you can do to help them find the joy:

1. Read to them. Children who have a hard time decoding are still extremely capable of understanding and enjoying great stories, often ones that are far above their own reading level. They shouldn’t be trapped in the simple stories that they can read alone – those can seem boring and make them feel left behind by and envious of their peers who can read more interesting, age-appropriate books. Read them books they aren’t able to read to themselves yet. Let them enjoy the stories. They will be gaining comprehension skills and vocabulary and having a good time, and you will get to spend some quality time together. There is no age limit on reading aloud. Just because your child is 10 or 12 doesn’t mean you can’t still read for 15 minutes at bedtime.

2. Use audiobooks. Long car/train/bus/plane rides, or some activities like coloring/art work, cooking etc. that keep your hands busy but leave your mind free, are a great opportunity to get engaged in a book. Many audio books are available free from your local library, and many others can be downloaded off iTunes and played through your car stereo. You and your child can enjoy a good book together while you’re driving.

3. Make a wide range of reading material available. Books are not for everyone. Some kids love magazines with their shorter, more varied entries. Others love comics or graphic novels. Many love picture books, even if they’re no longer “picture book age”. Some kids like fairy tales. Others like non-fiction. Others like sports, or music, or adventure. There are so many wonderful books out there. Although it can be hard, try to let go of your own predilections and prejudices and let your child choose what he or she wants to read even if it’s not what you might choose. It’s far more important THAT they read then WHAT they read. If they love something and are engaged, half the battle is won. Yes. I let my son read Captain Underpants!

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4. Try picture books. As an author of picture books, I think they are appropriate for a much wider age range than most people typically accept. Picture books are a wonderland for kids who have trouble reading. So much meaning can be gleaned from the illustrations, and this can help with decoding and comprehension. You can also encourage your child to pick up a picture book and tell his/her own story based on the pictures. What does he see? What does she think is happening? How else could the story unfold than the way the author chose to tell it? Start from a picture and make up your own stories together.

5. E-books and Apps. Many people feel that if it’s not a traditional book it doesn’t count. Not true. Just because we grew up reading traditional books doesn’t mean that our children and grandchildren are going to. Technology is advancing like wildfire. If your child finds reading more enjoyable on a Kindle or other device where the font can be enlarged, making the amount of text on the page look more manageable, that is just as much reading as picking up a book. If your child likes the interactivity of apps and will engage with story on a tablet or phone, that’s fine too. They are reading! E-books and apps have a solid place in learning to read. Again, they are not for all kids. Some children get distracted by the bells and whistles that go along with such things and will find ways to do everything on them but read, but for many this is a wonderful alternative.

6. Make up games you can play. For example, play the license plate game in the car if you are in the US where there are lots of different plates. Kids will have to identify which state the license plates are from… which requires reading. For another game, you can start with the alphabet game in the car or the grocery store or anywhere else where there are words to be seen, and once your child is comfortable and able identifying all the letters, move onto looking for words. In the car, how many times can they find the word “road” or “exit” or other common words? In the grocery store, give them specific items to find, like a scavenger hunt… they’ll have to read to find the right item. (Although in this case you have to be a little sneaky. If they watch TV they may be able to recognize many items by logos rather than names!) Use your imagination and your child’s particular likes and see what kinds of word/reading games you can think up. They’ll have fun without realizing they’re reading. It’s kind of like slipping pureed carrot into your baked goods to get them to eat vegetables!

In addition, many kids who find reading a challenge are very creative. Encourage them to write, draw, tell their own stories. If they share them with you, don’t comment on misspelled words or glitches in the story sequence. Focus on what they did well and find something, anything, to compliment and encourage – there’s always something. It’s so important for kids to develop confidence. Don’t be false – but find something you can be nice about. At the dinner table or in the car, you can play story games where someone starts the story and you go around and let each person add the next sentence. Mad-libs are also fun – developing reading and grammar simultaneously – and usually evolving into lots of silliness and giggles!

I hope this has been a little bit helpful and will give you some ideas. If you have any questions, I will be sure to check the comments!

Thanks for reading!

 slh wyomingSusanna Leonard Hill is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of the Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.) Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean. Can’t Sleep Without Sheep was just released as an E-Book for all platforms. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.

For anyone who might be interested in picture books, my blog has a section called Perfect Picture Books. Over 1500 fantastic picture books – both fiction and nonfiction – are listed along with reviews and resources for activities to expand on the experience of the book – everything from recipes to crafts to field trips. (And we add more every Friday! This can be very helpful in the quest to make reading fun!)

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14 thoughts on “Everybody Loves a Good Story: 6 Tips for Struggling Readers

  1. Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Sarah. I hope people will enjoy the post. If anyone has questions, I am happy to answer them and will check back here from time to time just in case 🙂 Thanks again!

  2. Love the ‘reader’ photo. Since the 4th grade my son has been reading graphic novels. Manga-style. When I realized that was all he was choosing from the library I was a bit upset, but one day he took my breath away by making a profound remark while we were in the car (which is why I can’t remember it now – I was driving!), and I said, where did that come from? School? Nope, a Manga book. That’s when I finally took a look inside and realized they are BOOKS too. Eight years later and he still reads, every day (some classic stuff too!). Thanks for the great post, Susanna.

    • That’s a great story Julie! It’s funny to think that we can have ‘book prejudice’ but it really is quite common. – Sarah

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Julie, and thank YOU for that wonderful anecdote which so clearly illustrates how much kids can get from reading that appeals to them…even if their reading choices don’t appeal to us 🙂

  3. I was SO happy to read this today Susanna! I’ve been struggling to get my son to read on his own (not because he has difficulty reading, but because he doesn’t want to). But we’re doing a lot of the other stuff. I just need to remind myself to be patient. Thanks!

  4. Hello Sarah…so nice to meet you via Susanna’s guest post. Love your blog and your mission…I’ll definitely be back. Thanks so much for spotlighting Susanna!

    Susanna…what a great post…I’ll be sharing this around…I totally agree with you about the wide range of use of picture books…they are so helpful in encouraging “reluctant” readers to want to pick up and book and read.:)

  5. I am starting a new link-up party this week for all things book and reading related on my blog, Mommynificent. I’d love to have you join us with this post and any others you’d like to share. Hope to see you at Booknificent Thursday this week and every week!
    Tina @ Mommynificent

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