As Nicholas’ step-mum I’ve only been in his life since he was five years old. One of the things I remember when I was first getting to know him, along with being a lovely, well behaved, well mannered, kind, caring little boy, he was also an excellent reader. He was able to read way ahead of his age expectations and loved books. However as the years have gone on his desire to read has slowly dwindled and over the last few years in particular it really has been a struggle to get him to read.
A couple of years ago I spent hours researching how to get reluctant readers to develop, or in Nic’s case, rekindle his love of books. We tried all sorts of ideas, I spent ages setting up an online reading rewards system for the whole family with prizes depending on how many books you read. As a keen reader myself I loved this but Nic lost interest after the first book. Then we joined the library’s summer reading challenge thinking a certificate might be a good incentive, again with no success, I don’t even think he finished one book over that whole summer. Someone even suggested trying comics because any reading is better than none at all. Nic just wanted to do the puzzles on the last page and pull out the posters for his bedroom walls!
But over the last year something seems to have clicked, he’s found what interests him and now can devour a book in just a couple of days. Here’s a few of the tactics that worked for us:
1. Mix up fiction and non-fiction books – we tried all sorts of fiction from Shakespeare to Harry Potter but it took me a good while to realise Nicholas really enjoyed fact finding. For his birthday last year we got him the Guiness World Records book and he would read snippets here and there every day, reading out random facts to us. From then on we have tried to mix in some similar type books such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not books which he really loves.
2. Big books – although the reading reward system didn’t appeal to his competitive nature for some reason Nic gets a buzz from finishing a really big hard backed book with a lot of pages but something that at the same time doesn’t take weeks to read. He is particularly keen on Tom Gates books which mix in doodles and cartoon style pictures throughout the text (also similar to Diary of the Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries). It means he can tell us he has read a 400 page book in just two days and is really proud of this. I’ve started buying him mostly hard backs now and for some strange reason it seems to work, a bit of an ego boost at how quickly he can polish them off. Last weekend he read David Walliams, The Midnight Gang in just three days!
3. Books that are relevant – Nicholas is a massive football fan, Arsenal in particular, so when I saw that Theo Walcott (Arsenal and England footballer) had published some children’s books I quickly snapped them up. Although not as keen on these as the “big books” he still enjoyed reading them as he said he could imagine himself being one of the boys in the books.
4. Reading together as a family – Although I like to get books Nicholas is really into I do think there does need to be a little bit of variation in what he reads. Mr H has a keen interest in history so we have thrown in the odd history book such as Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to mix it up a bit. Some of the story lines can be a bit challenging and often use words he isn’t familiar with. Normally Nic would show no interest in these books but if we read them together as a family, taking turns reading a page, he really enjoys it and it gives us the opportunity to explain things better than if he was reading the book alone. It also means we get some quality family time away from the tv, phones and Internet.
5. Film adaptations – Again this has helped broaden his book choices by promising we will all watch the film together once he has read the book.
These are the techniques that have worked for us and I do hope Nic continues to enjoy reading. Perhaps it will be War and Peace in a few years if his love of big books continues….