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6 ways to encourage reluctant readers

It can feel like a struggle trying to get a reluctant reader interested in books. But don't lose heart - people just have different paths into reading.

Audience: Families

Last updated: 13 September 2021

Reading is a hugely enjoyable pastime, and the research suggests that it’s also highly beneficial for our mental and social wellbeing, as well as boosting our chances of success in life(this link will open in a new window). Now, you can even do a free online course(this link will open in a new window) to study the links between literature and mental health! Many parents want to see their children enjoying reading, and if your child doesn’t seem interested, trying to make books appealing can be a disheartening process. One thing to be sure of is that you’re not alone in these frustrations - plenty of parents have experienced this!

When I’m trying to convince parents and teachers that reluctant readers can become book lovers, I always stress two points. The first is that people have different paths into reading, and the second is that the right book is out there. The world of children’s and young adult books has never been richer, and there really is something for everyone.

So with that in mind, here are six things you can do to help encourage young people to pick up a book and experience the exciting world of reading!

Find them books based on films and computer games

This comes first for me where it wouldn’t for other people. If children already have some curiosity about a book’s content, that’s a far easier way in to reading than something they’ve never seen before. So many films are based on books nowadays: The Hunger Games movies, the Divergent trilogy, The Maze Runner, The Martian and countless others. It’s interesting for children to see how the content of a film and a book can differ.

There’re loads of books and comics based on video games too. Video games often immerse the player in a story, and when that story comes to an end it’s natural to want it to go on if you’ve enjoyed being part of it. Enter novels like Bioshock and Halo, noted for their high-quality storytelling, and graphic novels like the digital Metal Gear Solid for PSP. Of course, some of these books can be violent, but you might want to bear in mind the next tip when considering whether this puts you off.

Let them read what they want

If children don’t come across violence in books, they’re going to come across it in some other medium. If you really want to see them reading, my advice is not to worry about the content of a book: unless you’ve actually seen your offspring cradling a samurai sword and muttering darkly to themselves, books are unlikely to influence their behaviour negatively. Fiction can actually be a great place for children to encounter issues and think about them in a safe place.

Also, don’t worry too much about the quality of what they’re reading. Remember that the most important thing is to establish the habit of reading. School is where they’ll be encountering texts which are designed to push their capabilities.

Talk to a librarian

Children’s librarians are fountains of knowledge and are bang up to date with the latest and best in the book world. There’s no substitute for their expertise, so pop into your local library and have a chat! As well as this, you can speak to your school librarian - unfortunately, school libraries across Scotland are becoming the victims of cuts, so follow CILIPS' advice(this link will open in a new window) on how to add your voice to the campaign to save them.

Find out about their personal reading in school

Most schools will allow some time for personal reading in class and visits to the library, certainly up to the end of broad general education (this means S3 in most schools, S2 in some). Speak to your child’s English teacher and school librarian to find out more. This is time that your child has to be reading, for want of a nicer phrase, so make sure they’re being supported to choose something they’ll like. This is the time to scour online book lists or take on some recommendations from the librarian and suggest them to your child.

Be a role model

If your child sees you reading, then that sends out the message that you find reading enjoyable and worthwhile. Make sure they see you reading a variety of things, from novels to non-fiction, newspapers to blogs on your tablet. It’s not guaranteed to get them reading, but it certainly sends out the right message. And if you’re reading something you think your child might like, leave it lying around so they can see it: autobiographies are always good for piquing curiosity, and Alex Ferguson has just released his if you want a place to start, unless of course you’re Wayne Rooney’s mum – he probably won’t enjoy it.

Make sure you know about the wide variety of books out there

As I said at the beginning, there really is something for everyone out there. The world of young adult fiction, which never really existed when I was a teenager, is now full of edgy, gripping and unforgettable writing. Graphic novels have exploded onto the scene in a big way, and technology can also offer advantages, with e-readers coming down in price and offering instant access to books. The right book is out there – you just need to know where to look. Check out Scottish Book Trust’s book lists for a good place to start.