Reading for pleasure is possibly the single-most important activity your child can do to improve achievement in school. Research has shown that reading helps cognitive development; a recent IoE study revealed that students who read at home do ‘significantly better’ across the curriculum – including 9.9% better in maths – than students who don’t read. Linked to this is the fact that reading is the best way to improve vocabulary, essential for success in every subject.
Reading also has social and emotional benefits. It increases self-esteem and studies show that students who read are more empathetic. Growing up is tough — reading can help young people explore complex problems from the safe fictional world of a book.
The problem, of course, is convincing young people of the importance and joy of reading. As the parent of five teens/young adults, I understand how difficult this can be in a world of electronic distractions. Here are some tactics I have used with my children and students:
- Find books with a connection to something they love. If they are football fans, look for footie fiction for teens – try Booked by Kwame Alexander; Football School Star Players by Bellos; or Dan Freedman or Tom Palmer’s books. If they like military/action/war, then try the Dog Tag series by CA London or Andy McNab’s teen books. If they like to watch Youtubers, try Zoella’s book club. And if they are into gaming, try fast-paced chapter books or ‘choose your own adventure’ stories. (Tip: try teen/YA author Alex Scarrow’s books – he was a professional video-game developer before he turned to writing; or Jeff Norton’s MetaWars series, billed as ‘a video game you can read’).
- Look at our ‘Recommended Reads’ list: we have lists broken down by genre for Years 6/7; Years 7/8; and for Key Stage 4. We also have lists to suit particular interests; if your child likes animals, for example, ask for our new ‘animal fiction’ booklist with books to suit all ages. Other booklists include ideas for those that enjoy ‘visual’ books; a list for Percy Jackson fans; dystopian fiction; tear jerkers; difficult issues and thrillers.
- Any type of reading is helpful, so try graphic novels. Graphic novel versions of The Recruit by Muchamore, Silverfin by Higson and Stormbreaker by Horowitz are popular. Likewise, it is absolutely fine to read Wimpy Kid books if this is what sparks the interest of your reluctant reader.
- Try Barrington Stoke books: these are produced with tinted pages, special fonts and spacing, thicker paper and editing to reduce comprehension barriers and/or issues resulting from dyslexia. https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/
- Visit the library with your child when you go into town. Ask your child to meet you in the library and then take your time selecting a book to read yourself.
- Try a ‘phone free’ hour. Eventually (out of boredom) he/she might started exploring books
- Be enthusiastic about what they are reading: Ask them to describe a character or to read aloud an exciting bit. You might read a teen/YA book yourself; the plot-driven nature of many of these books means they are relatively easy reads – perfect after a day at work.
- Let your children see you reading for pleasure, and talk about what you read and how you choose books.
- If you have younger children, ask your older (reluctant reader) child to read aloud to them. This is a big confidence booster and it helps with sibling bonding. Michael Morpurgo is a particularly good shared read, as his books have something for everyone; I highly recommend Kensuke’s Kingdom for sibling read-alouds.
- Offer incentives: Summer reading rewards programme for children works really well. For example, if they read a certain number of books or pages, you could take them to a theme park. Whilst we don’t want our children to only read for rewards, but it works for summers or for times when a ‘breakthrough’ is necessary.
- Another idea is to find the book version of a movie: Stormbreaker, Eragon, Harry Potter, The Book Thief, I am Number Four, The Princess Diaries, The Chronicles of Narnia, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, Fault in Our Stars, Twilight and Inkheart and Wonder are all films based on children/YA books. Both of you can read the book, go to the movie together — then discuss the differences.
- Have them pick up a device – an e-reader! Then check with your local library about borrowing e-books or try the Kindle daily deal.
- Try audio books: Libraries have free, downloadable audio books plus Audible has a wide range of teen books. Many teens like the idea of being able to do something active while listening to a book. By listening to an audio book, your teen will pick up new vocabulary, hear complex sentence structures and engage with stories.
- Listening to audio books as a family is another good idea. Sharing a story together is a fabulous way to bond; Stop the Train by McCaugrean and Mort by Terry Pratchett are good places to start.
- Visit a bookstore and allow your child to select a book of their choice. The visually appealing marketing and layout of best-selling books can attract even reluctant readers.
- Try biographies/autobiographies that interest your child. Recent student favourites have been Maddie Diaries by Ziegler & The Greatest (Muhammed Ali) by Walter Dean Myers.
- Non-fiction books linked to a child’s interests are a great way to spark a desire to read.
- Gentle encouragement works best.