Monday, June 20, 2016

Growing Pains in Reading

Here’s another summer reading question:

“I would like to know any tips you have for my 11yo son who has struggled to learn to read. He is now able to read on his own; he read through all of the Three Boys series and is now onto The Happy Hollisters. (I still think he prefers to have me read to him and to listen to audio books, both of which we still do.)
“I would like to know how I can move him to different types of independent reading, and what that looks like for "school" reading. Maybe I would benefit from tips on bridge books (advanced beginner to beyond). He loves story, but I am not sure he loves reading yet, if that makes sense. I don't want to push him too soon, nor let him stay where he is too long. He will read, but I wonder if he still finds it a challenge sometimes.”

I understand your concern, but do remember that I am not a reading specialist and without knowing your son personally, can’t possibly make better than educated guesses. You know that I often joke that I have taught six children to read and can’t even read myself (other than Braille, of course), I discussed helping slow and reluctant readers recently, and there are quite a pile of very similar queries in my file.

Reading takes time. Boys take time. That said, growing up is incredibly swift and I sympathize with your consternation. Children simply refuse to fit neatly into tidy categories, and that goes for reading levels, “bridge” books, and all manner of other graduated readers series’. Still, try to be patient. He loves story, listening to books, and knows how to read—many mothers would be singing rhapsodies for such progress, even by age 11.

I don’t have any magic formula or special tricks up my sleeve, but do know that quiet encouragement and no pressure is key. The best I can offer is that, at this stage, you simply provide a wide array of books for him to choose from. He may poke at one a bit, then pick up another and flip through it, and I have personal experience with the disappointment you feel when that is as far as it goes.

In the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, he discusses all kinds of strategies and studies regarding getting children into reading. You have probably already implemented all the good ones. One, however, was intriguing to me and I tried it with my boys all one summer and it got a slow-starter on the move and my unmotivated boy on the road to reading.

Supposedly, at least at the time he wrote that book, this was the only proven way to get children independently reading for pleasure. Children were allowed to select their own book-- any book of any kind, and were required to read it silently for 15 minutes. The key ingredient was that the teacher also had to be reading a book of her own in the room with the children during the 15 minute period. Apparently, this strategy was the most successful of all Trelease had investigated.

As far as schoolbooks are concerned, I would encourage him to read a bit out of all the appropriate grade level books, even if you still have to read a good deal. Gradually require a bit more of him. Children are often resistant, but must learn to make some effort. Once you know he can do something, he must be required to carry on and make progress. Work is rewarding, and if reading is work, we all know that it is supremely rewarding.

Offer some intriguing titles on many varied subjects for pleasure reading and keep them accessible. If he likes Hollisters, you can do worse than to allow him Hardy Boys and other mystery series. They may not be high literature, but he needs to build confidence. At least they still have good grammar and he is getting exposed to correct spelling. In addition, collect books on exotic animals and places, science fiction and fantasy, stories of heroes old and new. Variety is the key.

Last, if you don’t have one of the great books about books (such as Honey for a Child’s Heart, or Books Children Love), get one, and if you do, make use of it in choosing that grand collection of appetizing choices. You could even read titles aloud and tell him to pick those he thinks sound like something he might like to read in the next year.

Whatever you do, keep reading to him and have faith. We don’t have to sell stories, he was made to love them and will enjoy them himself when he’s ready.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Thank you for your encouragement! I truly am not worried as I have seen so much growth and I am very, very grateful that he loves stories as much as he does. Truly, our home is saturated in story! Your ideas for gently moving him to the next step are much appreciated and I will take them to heart.

  2. Good to see that your child has made up to this and started to read on his own and I wish him a very good luck for the future.