Reading Tips: How to engage reluctant readers

“How can I help my child who isn’t interested in books and can’t sit still during story-time? This is a question I’m often asked, and it has prompted this series, How to Engage Reluctant Readers. This will be the first in a series of five posts featuring practical strategies for parents and educators who would like to help their children engage positively in books and reading.

how to engage reluctant readers_ My Little Bookcase series

The strategies and ideas featured in this series are all based on my anecdotal experience in the classroom. I’ve used all of these strategies with different children over time. So, please keep in mind that some will work for your child, and some may not.

Week One: How to Engage Reluctant Readers- General Strategies for children of all ages

Week Two: How to Engage Reluctant Readers- Strategies for young children and pre-readers

Week Three: How to Engage Reluctant Readers- Strategies for older children and beginner readers

Week Four:  How to Engage Reluctant Readers- Strategies for tweens and independent readers

Week Five: How to Engage Reluctant Readers- Strategies for the classroom

Reasons for reading reluctance

There is an endless number of reasons why children become reluctant readers. Some children simply lack an interest in the books they are being offered; some children find it difficult to sit and concentrate for long periods of time; some children are kinaesthetic learners and prefer a hands-on approach to learning rather than through books; some children find reading difficult and tiring and learn to dislike books; some children haven’t had the opportunity to read books before starting school; some children would rather spend their time doing other activities………………………

Showing a reluctance to sit and read a story can actually be common during particular stages of development (particularly for toddlers and adolescents). But, reluctance can also be a sign of underlying issues. Sometimes the problems can be solved quite easily and at other times the cause can be much more complicated (e.g. sight problems, learning difficulties). I would suggest talking to your child’s teacher or doctor if your child’s reluctance continues for an extended period of time or if none of the strategies offered in this series seem to make a difference.

General strategies for children of all ages.

  • REMEMBER: As adults, we can sometimes take the skill of reading for granted because we’ve been doing it for such a long time. But, it’s important to remember that reading is hard work, especially for children with learning difficulties. It requires work, practise and concentration and it can be tiring.
  • Don’t make reading a chore by forcing your child to read when they’re not interested, and definitely don’t pull them away from play; otherwise they may begin to resent books and reading
  • Be consistent with reading in your home. Reading daily is ideal but it doesn’t have to be at the same time everyday
  • Be relaxed when you read with your child, even if they are squirmy or seem uninterested. Let your child lead the way a little, and be willing to cut a story-time short and come back to the book at a later time.
  • Give your child the chance to choose their own books to read. Visits to the library are a perfect way to provide this opportunity for your child, and children will be very keen to borrow books if they have their own library card.
  • Help your child to find books that feature people, places or topics that are of special interest to them.
  • Persist with story-time even if your child resists. Don’t give them the stigma of being a non-reader. Instead, give them time to develop an enjoyment for books.
  • Talk to your child about reading. Ask him/her questions and find out what books they enjoy and why they don’t like a particular book
  • Help your child to develop a love for books by enjoying them in a variety of interesting ways. We’ve created this wonderful list of ways to enjoy and celebrate books.

About Jackie Small of My Little Bookcase

Reading Tips: How to engage reluctant readers


  1. I’m so glad I came across your post and am looking forward to future installments. My son is 18 months old and I have tried many times to read with him, but he’s just not interested, he’s more interested at what else is going on outside or the toy that’s lying on the floor next to us or picking up the next book in the pile. He does however like to get his books off the shelf and flip through them which is a good thing. Looking forward to your toddler tips! Thanks for linking up with The Multitasking Mummy – Mummy Mondays!

    • I hope the series helps you Eva. Your toddler sounds very, very normal. And it is a good sign that he enjoys flipping through books himself. Encourage that.

  2. What a great list of ideas for reluctant readers. Do you have any ideas for reluctant writers? I’ve loved some of your writing activities in the past but my four-year-old refuses to write anything beyond her name at the moment. Any ideas?

    • I’ve got loads of ideas. Blog posts to come.
      Firstly, don’t worry too much. forcing children to write when they don’t want to can cause more harm.
      I would really just invite her to take part in meaningful writing- write letters, cards to family and friends; write shopping lists etc.
      Don’t be fussed about whether she is actually writing correct letters- just let her write freely. Hope that helps a little.

      We’ve also recently set up a special writing station for Cam. I can barely drag her away from there lately. That might be another idea.

      • Thanks Jackie, I really do need to do more meaningful writing activities with her. I’ve been avoiding them as it seems to be all for nothing. I’ve never corrected her writing or forced her to write. I think she’s afraid to fail so she won’t try. She won’t pretend to write either as she knows it isn’t really readable. Perhaps she is ready for me to teach her more about letters and sounds.. I’m just thinking aloud now. Thanks for your suggestions. I’ll casually invite her to write more and see how we go. A writing station sounds like a good idea too!

  3. Kelly said: On July 17, 2013

    This is wonderful Jackie!

    My little girl is dyslexic, and she has quite a few special needs and low working memory problems. But she LOVES books…and she’s gaining confidence and works so hard. One of the things I do with her is read chapter books to her…books she is interested in but can’t quite read yet. This way, she is still up with her peers and it keeps her engagement in reading which I see as vital. It’s become a very special time for us. She reads books to me too and she’s progressing beautifully despite the challenges.

  4. Jode said: On July 17, 2013

    Thank you Jackie…such a helpful post and I have a few new ideas to try with my Ruby now! Looking forward to the rest of your series!

  5. Oh you’re so clever! Sending to all my teacher friends! And have pinned it too! x

  6. It’s so hard to engage those reluctant readers but there are so many great ideas here. Every parent and teacher needs to read this. Thanks Jackie.

  7. What a fab series Jackie! Thanks for the helpful tips. xo P

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