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How to Help a Reluctant Reader

There is something delicious about a good book. Books can provide a welcome escape, feed the mind, and even nourish the soul. Nurturing a love of reading early in life is a gift that will benefit your child throughout their lifetime.

As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I encourage parents and caregivers to share books with children for several reasons. Reading is an excellent way to help your child build language skills. Your child can learn new words and grammatical forms. Books can also be doorways to new knowledge of the wider world. And did you know that reading and writing are language-based activities? When we read and write, we draw on our knowledge of spoken language. The stronger your child’s spoken language is, the easier it is for him or her to learn to read and write. Sharing books together is especially important for children who experience communication delays in their preschool years. Lots of experience with books early in life helps prevents continuing speech, language and learning difficulties later on.

Many parents know that reading with their child is beneficial. But what do you do if your little one is not interested in books? Here are some ideas to make book-sharing with your preschooler less of a struggle.

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Keeping it fun is priority #1

Reading together has many benefits, but it is not supposed to be a chore for you or your child. Time with a book is something to savour, not fight over. Many children are more willing to look at a book when they are already in a quiet, relaxed mood. Many families like to share books during the mid-afternoon lull, or at bedtime. Snuggle, cuddle and giggle together. Let your child experience how sharing books together can be a truly pleasant activity they can enjoy with you. Make book-reading an activity they will look forward to every day.

Follow your child’s lead

Some young children do not enjoy hearing someone read all the words in a book. Some little ones prefer to spend just a few minutes flipping through the pages. If this sounds like the little person in your life, don’t despair. I have seen many reluctant readers learn to love books when we respect their current way of enjoying books. If your preschooler prefers to flip back and forth through a book, happily follow their lead. Let your child point out what is most interesting to him or her in the book, and talk about those things. Keep the experience fun, even if it only lasts a few minutes. Your child will be encouraged to spend more and more time with books when you keep the mood fun and positive.

Let your child choose the book

Some children choose one favourite book again and again. Others love variety. Draw your child in by giving them a choice in the book you share together. Many reluctant readers are willing to look at a book if it is about a favourite topic. Does your child love construction equipment? Are they into creepy crawly creatures? Are they fascinated by fairies? There is a book out there for every interest! Need help to find the perfect book? Visit or call the Children’s Librarian at your local library. These specialized librarians are experts in finding the just the perfect book to draw in your reluctant reader. Another option is to search on a website such as Book Share Time (

Take a ‘picture walk’ together

If your child doesn’t like it when you read all the words in a book, try taking a ‘picture walk’ together. This simply means telling the story by following what is happening in the pictures rather than the words. Most children’s books have attractive pictures that tell the story in a visual way. Not only is ‘picture walking’ is a great way to draw in a reluctant reader, it also is a proven early reading strategy. ‘Picture walking’ teaches children to use pictures to help understand the story. The pictures can also help children recognize the written form of key words. For example, if the picture on the page features a dump truck, it is likely that the words “dump truck” will be somewhere on the page.

Let books inspire conversation

Books are fantastic conversation starters. If you are sharing a book about a caterpillar munching on fruits, you could start a conversation about your child’s favourite fruits. If you are reading a book about a kitten, you could start a conversation about a cat that your child is familiar with. If you are looking at a book about construction sites, you could talk about the time he or she watched a dump truck at a construction site. By linking what happens in a book with your child’s real life experience, you are helping your child understand the story better, and also building their knowledge of the world.

Let them see you enjoy books

Children learn so much by watching other people. When your child sees you enjoying a book or a magazine, you are modelling a love of reading for your child. This helps your child form the idea that spending time reading is something to be enjoyed. When they see you read a recipe or follow written instructions, they are learning that reading is a valuable activity that brings tangible benefits.

Keep books within easy reach

Children are more likely to explore a book if it is in easy reach for them. Try placing your child’s books on a low shelf, or in an open box or basket on the floor.

If your child is under 5-years of age, and you have concerns about his or her communication development, call your local Health Unit to refer your child to Speech and Language Services. Speech-language pathologists are here to help!