Helping A Reluctant Reader


Sep 21, 2015


Reading is not only an essential life skill that helps your child’s brain grow, it’s also a magical, exciting journey of vibrant thought and imagination. But not every child finds reading easy or interesting. It can be difficult to engage a reluctant reader and often requires caution; forcing a child to read before he is ready can often do more harm than good.

Many children who have initial difficulties do go on to become accomplished readers with a little help at home. If you’re struggling with a reluctant reader at the moment, don’t allow reading time to escalate into a battle of wills or become a stressful activity. Here are some creative ways in which you encourage your child to make reading a positive, fun experience.


I haven’t met a child who isn’t in love with Play-Doh, a fact that will come in handy if you need something to engage a child’s interest in letters. When my 5-year-old refused to learn to spell different body parts for a science test, I was at my wits’ end. So, I broke open tub after tub of vibrant clay. We made a clay man together, an activity that my son really enjoyed. Then, I made clay letters and allowed him to arrange them to spell each part of the clay man’s body. He soon knew the spellings of difficult words like ‘eyes,’ ‘ears,’ and ‘tongue’ and even attempted to make the letters himself. Feeling the letters form under his fingers helped imprint the sound and shape in his memory and reinforced writing and reading skills.

Pro tip: Don’t start molding words from clay the minute you break open the box. The trick is to get your child to relax and become more receptive as he enjoys the activity.

Similarly, look for books that make reading as tactile and engaging an experience as possible. There are vehicle-shaped books with wheels that your child can push through the hall, books that squeak when you press a button, that play music or light up when you flip pages. Fuzzy and scented books will introduce your kids to a world of colour, smells and textures that help reinforce the meaning behind the words they read.


I-Spy-And-You-Spell/Read is a game my son and I made up together. It works this way: I spot a familiar object in the house or neighborhood, and my son attempts to spell it out loud. Sometimes, I write these words down, and he reads them. When he spells or reads the word accurately, he gets a star. It’s simple enough, but the game/reward aspect of it provides silliness and incentive.

Pro tip: Select objects with care.  If whatever you spot is too complicated to spell or read, children tend to lose interest quickly. Go for familiar, everyday objects (box, cat, kite, swing, car, chair, table, ball, home).

Flash cards are a little less fun (though you can still make a game of them), but there’s a reason they’ve been the gold standard for teaching reading. Not all flashcards are equally helpful, though. If you’re dealing with a reluctant reader, a flash card with a word and picture on the same side can often defeat the purpose; your child may observe the picture, rather than try to read the word. This is something I realized when my son shouted out ‘helicopter’ instead of reading the word ‘plane’ while using one such card. While visual cues are great for very young children (1-3 years), early readers need to engage more with sounds.

Pro tip: Look for dual-sided flashcards so that, as soon as your child reads the word printed in bold on one side, you can flip it over and show him/her the vibrant picture at the back, reinforcing the sound and spelling of the word he/she just read.


Take advantage when your child clamours for more screen time! Interactive e-books encourage learning in versatile ways. My son loved the Clifford series and really enjoyed this creative e-book with interactive sounds and pictures that I’d highly recommend. Audiobooks, too, can make reading an enjoyable experience as well help children practice their words. At Unite for Literacy, you can download 100 free audiobooks for early readers that will nourish your child’s love for reading and understanding of letters.

Finally, if you’re looking for more resources to help your child read, Pinterest is packed with very informative resources for early and young readers. Pre-school teachers around the world have generously shared assignments and reading tips, making this a one-stop destination for creative learning. You can find and save charts on consonant clusters, that is, groups of consonants (like ‘sh’, ‘ch’ and ‘th’, etc) that often appear together and whose sounds can confuse early readers. My son and I especially loved this colouring activity around CVC words (i.e. a word with a single vowel sandwiched by two consonants, like ‘cat’, which is often effective in teaching vowel sounds). Not sure where to start with your child? Here’s a board packed with information for early readers that can point you in the right direction.

Happy reading!


Written By Kamala Thiagarajan

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Reader’s Digest (Indian edition), National Geographic Traveller, American Health & Fitness, Firstpost.com and more. She has written articles on the subjects of health, fitness, gender issues, travel and lifestyle for a global audience and has been published in newspapers and magazines in over ten countries. Visit her virtual home at kamala-thiagarajan.com or follow her @Kamal_t


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