My dad is not a reader. He is many things — a pilot, doctor, landscaper, gardener, mechanic, car enthusiast, cook, traveler, builder, and grandfather — but he is not someone who reads for pleasure. I have never seen him pick up a novel and we’ve never talked about the latest bestseller. I’m pretty sure he’s never heard of Gone Girl or The Hunger Games. He devours manuals, textbooks, and instructions with the goal of learning a new skill or keeping up with current events, but he will not read for the sake of reading.
Ensuring our children are capable readers is important. Literacy is vital to success in the modern world, but it’s also important to remember that not everyone loves to read. For every natural and enthusiastic reader, there is child who prefers to dance, paint, build, play, or cook. For people like me, this is hard to understand, because reading is as important to me as breathing. But, as my dad has shown, not everyone needs to be an enthusiastic reader of fiction to thrive.
So, if you have a kid who really doesn’t enjoy reading, how do you ensure that he or she still has the basic literacy skills necessary to make it in the real world?
1. Try new genres. When most of us think about kids and reading, we think of fiction, or reading to be entertained. We envision picture books with talking animals and chapter books about magic schools. But if your child isn’t interested in the fantastical or imaginary, he or she may be more engaged by nonfiction reading, where the goal isn’t entertainment, but education. Nonfiction, which includes areas like biography, science, or history, gives kids the chance to read to learn and that may be just the hook they need.
2. Experiment with different formats. Don’t limit your child or yourself to traditional books. Offer your child comics, graphic novels, eBooks, journals, poetry, newspapers, magazines, short stories, manga, websites, and even audiobooks to try to spark your child’s interest.
3. Make opportunities to read. If books just aren’t cutting it, get creative. Embrace your inner sneaky. Ask your child to read you recipes as you make meals, buy him toys that require him to read instruction manuals, give her maps or directions and let her navigate while you run errands, ask him to check ingredient lists at the grocery store, entrust her with deciphering bills or consent forms for school activities. Kids become better readers only by reading, so every little bit helps.
4. Accept the child you have. At the end of the day, it may be that your child just doesn’t love reading and that has to be okay too. If reading becomes a battleground, everyone loses. As parents, we have to nurture the children we have, not the children we might prefer they be. Give them time, insist that they acquire the basic foundation, provide them opportunities to read, and then let them be. As parents we need to meet our kids where they are and support their passions, whether they include reading or not.