How to Turn Your Reluctant Reader into a Recreational Reader

Is Your Child a Reluctant Reader?

A reluctant reader is a child who knows how to read but doesn’t enjoy the process. He or she may still be working at decoding many of the words. That makes it hard to absorb the content. These children may be very happy to have adults read to them, but they are not likely to pick up a book themselves. They consider reading something they have to do at school — not a recreational activity. Here are some ways you can change that attitude.

Read to Your Child for Twenty Minutes Each Day

I once had the opportunity to hear author and illustrator Rosemary Wells speak at Book Expo, the annual American convention that brings booksellers and publishers together. She told us that pediatricians were prescribing that parents of even the youngest children read to them for twenty minutes a day. Reading to children is that important as a foundation for literacy. When a child cuddles up next to Mama or Grandma listening to her read and looking at the book with her, it is pleasurable for both. The child learns to associate reading with pleasure. This is especially true when children are old enough to understand words and stories. This helps children understand that books tell stories and answer questions they have. It makes them want to learn to read so they don’t need to wait for someone to read to them to uncover this treasure in books. 

How to Turn Your Reluctant Reader into a Recreational Reader Photo courtesy of dassel at

Limit Television, Gaming, and Computer Time

We did not have a television in our home when our children were growing up. For recreation we went for family walks, read together daily, and gave the children time to play outside. Electronics were still new, and our computer still running on DOS did not have an internet connection. If the weather was bad, the children could play with their building sets or Play-mobile or they could read. Reading becomes more attractive when it doesn’t have to compete with TV and electronics.

Don’t Stop Reading to Your Children When They Learn How to Read

Keep reading aloud as a family at a set time every day, even as children become older. Pick books that interest them but are above their reading level. Stop and explain words your children might not know. You may want to discuss the books you read together and get your children’s thoughts. Stop reading while they are still interested and wish you would continue. That way they won’t get bored and you can continue the next night.

We read through the entire Little Britches series by Ralph Moody, who was ten when his family began homesteading in Littleton, Colorado in the early twentieth century. By the end of the first book, Little Britches, Ralph’s father had died and Ralph became Man of the Family. The end of Man of the Family  raises some very complex ethical and moral issues that will stimulate family discussion. My favorite book in the series, The Fields of Home, takes a teenage Ralph to Maine to live with his grandfather whose way of life and insults strain their relationship to the limit. Living with a cranky old man that calls him a “tarnal fool” all the time makes life very hard for Ralph. Even the servants and hired hands can’t get along with his grandfather. He fires them all and then expects Ralph to do the extra work. 

This series appeals to children interested in horses, homesteading, the western frontier, and family life. There are children of all ages and both sexes in the first four books, so there’s someone for each child in the family to identify with. The Moody family’s members love each other and work together for the good of all. The writing is excellent. The vocabulary is extensive. Although the books were written for adults they are suitable for a family with children from the upper elementary grades on up. When my junior high nephew was living with us for a year we read through all eight books aloud. He liked them so much he earned the money to buy them for himself.

Challenge Your Reluctant Reader to Read Independently

To do this, find out what your child is really interested in. In my Jason’s case, there were three kinds of books I knew he loved. He liked to read the animal stories of Thornton Burgess, so I would start one reading aloud. We would read a few chapters, and then I would stop at the end of a chapter that left a situation hanging and put the book down. Jason had to see what happened next, so he would continue reading.

Jason was interested in the outdoors and he loved to laugh. So beginning when he was about eleven,  we started reading the autobiographical fiction of Patrick McManus, a columnist for Outdoor Life. He writes with tongue in cheek about his childhood, camping, fishing, and his crazy friends. One story in the Grasshopper Trap was so funny I couldn’t read it aloud without breaking into laughter. It wasn’t long before MaManus books disappeared into Jason’s room with him at bedtime and I could hear him chuckling in bed until he fell asleep. He was also a Boy Scout, and one of the first things he started to read independently was Boys Life, a benefit of membership. Magazines offer shorter reading experiences that serve as appetizers to reading books.

When Jason was about thirteen, we read a biography of Allan Pinkerton, the detective, aloud. Jason also thought of himself as a bit of a detective. Pinkerton became his hero. When we had visited Caspar, Wyoming, I had purchased a book at a store inside Fort Caspar, Cowboy Detective by Charles Siringo, a Pinkerton operative in the West. It was made to order for Jason. It appealed to Jason’s interest in both cowboys and the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The only problem was that it was 556 pages long and written by a university professor. It was not a book for what they now call young adults. It was definitely for adults. Jason wanted me to read it to him. I tried. I wasn’t very far in the process when I’d had enough. It did not appeal to me at all. So I said I wasn’t going to read any more of it aloud.

Interest is a great motivator. Jason began to take that book to bed with him every night. He died in an accident at the age of fourteen. He was at that time still plodding through the book, page by page, until he died. It’s amazing how high interest can push a reader to attempt a book way above his reading level.


How to Turn Your Reluctant Reader into a Recreational Reader Just a Few of the Reading Choices in Our Home, © B. Radisavljevic


Make Attractive Books Available in Your Home

A child will never pick up a book to read unless it is there. We made a trip to a children’s bookstore in a neighboring town once a year between the children’s birthdays, which were about a month apart. I would let each child pick out one special book as an extra present. They had lots of time to look, and I could see which books attracted them. While we were there I would usually pick out some others just to have around the house. The books the children chose became special to them. The other books went into a home library they could use at any time. There was always something appealing to read within easy reach. That made it very easy to just pick up a book when one was bored. Jason preferred nonfiction. Sarah preferred fiction. Our home library kept everyone happy.

Don’t Squelch Your Child’s Reading Motivation


How to Turn Your Reluctant Reader into a Recreational Reader I photographed this page from Hope Marston’s book Big Rigs. It was Jason’s favorite book when he was five. He loved big rigs. He knew much more about them than I did. I did not tell him he needed to choose a story. Stories were OK, but big rigs were his passion. After we had checked the book out from the library, I bought it for him. All that was available back in 1982 was the old library edition in black and white. Now the book is available in a new color edition. The link under the picture is to the new edition, not the one in the picture.

As I’ve indicated, high interest is the best motivator for independent reading. If your child is extremely interested in a subject, don’t worry about whether it’s at the child’s reading level. If your sixth grader wants to read an attractive picture book, don’t squelch that desire by insisting a book must be at sixth grade level. Let your children read what interests them unless the subject is totally inappropriate or is not family friendly. Reading level should not be a factor.

Neither should genre. One thing I hated to see when I put on school book fairs was the way parents judged what was appropriate reading for their children. A little boy who loved nature and wanted a wonderful picture book on snakes was forbidden to choose it because it wasn’t a story. I guess his mom thought only fiction was a legitimate genre for her children to read. I’ve also seen children’s parents tell them they have to get a book at their reading level. What does a child know about reading level? When children read for pleasure, they may prefer something they don’t have to work at. Don’t you? If you are tired and want relaxation or escape, might you not prefer a light novel to literary fiction or an academic book? Why expect your child to be different?


How to Turn Your Reluctant Reader into a Recreational Reader Image created from photo by Pezibear at


Featured photo at top is modified photo by Public Domain Photos on




  1. Tania K Cowling

    Reading is one of the most important skills a child can learn. Kudos to parents who engage their children in the love of reading.

  2. Donna Thacker

    I am so glad to see that some parents still strive to strengthen the love of reading in their children and their home. I found your article very interesting. I never heard of that series of books, but may have to look them up for my grand children.

    1. Barbara Radisavljevic Post author

      We were one of the first homeschool vendors to start promoting the Little Britches series. Our children enjoyed them so much and they were so worth while as language models, good literature with solid values, and historical perspective that we hoped all home school families would find out about them. They became very popular as more families discovered them. They had been out of print and hard to find when we were reading them, but when I started selling books, The University of Nebraska reprinted them in Bison Books editions. Some libraries still carry them, but most have replaced them with more politically correct books.

  3. Olivia Morris

    Barbara, you have made really good points here. Once children associate reading with fun and a sense of calm security, they will seek out books that fill some of their time. Reading takes them places that electronics will never do…..

    1. Barbara Radisavljevic Post author

      Watching television is a more passive activity than reading and hlep promotes the idea that all problems can be solved in an hour or a half hour as they are in TV shows. Electronics are exciting, but constant stimulation becomes an expectation that leaves children with the feeling books are boring in comparison. In gaming there is not time to reflect.

  4. Pat Z Anthony

    Your statement “a child will never pick up a book to read unless it is there” is perfect. This seems to be the issue in many homes. Having books readily available is a must.

  5. Susan

    We stopped reading together when my kids were, oh, maybe junior high age and I have always regretted that. They’re both still readers as adults, but I believe that we gave up some precious memory-making time by not continuing to read out loud together for as long as possible. That’s one piece of advice I’d give to moms and dads.

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