Updated: Aug 17, 2021
Is your child reluctant to read a new book? Do they gravitate to the same stories? I know this can be frustrating for you as a parent who wants to expose their child to the world through books or continue to develop their reading skills when they are not in school. Using a gentle approach with encouragement and rewards might be what your child needs no matter what their reading level is. Try using graduated steps towards independent reading, and if needed add a Token Board to increase their motivation.
Your child’s reluctance towards books, may not be that they don’t like reading; it could be that beginning a new task or looking at a full bookcase is overwhelming. Their sensory system may be engaged negatively when given a new book. We might say excitedly, “Look, I got this book from the bookcase, and I know your going to love it!” It may be about their favorite subject. It may be at or below their reading level. It may be the perfect genre for them to become absorbed. But they are appalled and refuse to engage. Your child might benefit from a slow integration with support as they get to know this new and fabulous book.
Chances are the books that they revert to have been around for a while and they are like an old familiar friend that is always there to help them feel good. The rhythms, subjects and illustrations envelop and nurture their sensory system. Repetition is good for learning; it reinforces the phonemes (letter sounds) and syntax (sentence structure) which develop the parts of the brain for future reading ability. Reading is not natural to humans like language is; reading must be learned. Since learning is hard for some kids with autism, ADHD, Anxiety, cognitive impairments, dyslexia or other learning challenges, we need to support them with positive encouragement. I explore more about this in my blogpost, How Do I get my Reluctant Child to Read.
A series of steps, that carefully introduce the book, are based on providing praise while progressing at the child’s pace. This support will help pull them into the world of reading because it reduces their fears and anxiety. Encouraging words that you can use are:
Reading to your child:
· I like the way you are listening
· Great job listening
· I noticed that you are looking at the words
· Thank you for listening
· I love reading to you!
Your child reading to you:
· I like how you really looked at that word and figured it out
· That was a tricky word, great job sounding it out
· I like your reading voice
· Great job talking like ____ (the character)
· I love listening to you read!
A Token Board is a visual way to provide praise and encouragement. As I say in my blogpost, Token Board Basics:
Most kids have intrinsic, or internal motivation, to complete their work. However, many kids have lower intrinsic motivation…we need to find an extrinsic or external form of motivation. Studies show that positive behavior supports, which reward kids for doing what is expected, works far better than punishment such as threatening to take away a toy or privilege. Tapping into what motivates your child and giving them something--a token--which represents success, is why token boards work.
You can download and create your own board here and learn more about them here. Use tokens with some of your praise statements (refer to the lists above.) If verbal praise is distracting, then silently give your child a token or keep the praise simple with saying something like, “nice job” or “very good.”
The progression is based on a specific order, but your child’s readiness to move to the next step is based on their ability to self-regulate their emotions. Some steps may take more than one day. Remember to keep it positive and fun; don’t push or put your expectations on your child. Gently guide them while following their lead. If they become overwhelmed, then wait until later or the next day to proceed.
If your child is receptive with your verbal praise and patience, then follow Verbal Support Only. If you child is reluctant and needs more support, then skip down to Verbal Support with a Token Board.
Verbal Support only: Start each step when your child is receptive. Below, I list the 5 steps in days as a suggestion--more that one step may be done in a day, and any step can be repeated for a couple days depending on your child's ability to participate. Start each step with a book at or below your child's reading level, when your child is receptive. Praise often, except for Day 1.
Day 1; slowly introduce a book by leaving it sit near the child.
Day 1-2: sitting with your child, or near them playing, take a picture walk by turning the pages looking at the pictures only. Feel free to point at the pictures and discuss what is going on.
Day 1-3; read the book out loud. It’s ok if they are not looking at the pages, or if playing with their toys or eating a snack—whatever it takes for them to sit in your proximity.
Day 2-6; sitting with your child, encourage the child to read the book. If reluctant take turns reading pages
Day 3-8; your child reads most of the book with your support. You might start the first few words on the page to get them started. Remember it is ok if your child pauses to look at the pictures.
Day 4-8; the child reads independently.
Ongoing; occasionally read the book to or with the child to foster continuous good feelings about reading in general and hopefully it just might become an old favorite.
Verbal Support with a Token Board: If your child is unfamiliar with Token Boards, read A Social Story Explained: A Story About my Token Board . It includes a link to a Social Story that you can print and read to your child. Below, I list the 5 steps in days as a suggestion--more that one step may be done in a day, and any step can be repeated for a couple days depending on your child's ability to participate. Start each step when your child is receptive with a book at or below your child's reading level. Praise often, except for Day 1.
Day 1; casually leave the book near where your child is playing.
Day 1-2; ask them to pick a reward card and place it on the Token Board. Take a picture walk by turning the pages. If your child glances or looks at the book, give them a token. Give them a reward when all tokens are earned. Continue if the child is ready.
Day 2-6; ask your child to pick a reward card for the Token Board. Your choice if you want to prep them that they will read some words, or if you want to proceed and it happens naturally as you point to words, phrases or sentences for your child to read. Give a token after they read. If they earn the tokens before the end of the book, give the reward, and then start over if your child is ready. If not, then say, we will read later and earn more tokens when you are ready.
Day 3-8; ask your child to pick a reward card for the Token Board. Say that it is their turn to read to you. You might start the first few words on the page to get them started or say, what are you working for and tap the token board. Remember it is okay if your child pauses to look at the pictures. This step should be repeated several times, then try to switch to verbal praise only.
Day 4-8; ask your child to pick a reward card for the Token Board. Tell your child that they will earn tokens as they read. Provide tokens, often in the first couple readings, than then spread them out as they are mastering the process.
Ongoing; occasionally read the book to or with the child to foster continuous good feelings about reading in general and hopefully it just might become an old favorite. Use the Token Board only as needed. The goal with token board use is to give tokens often at first, and then spread them out or wean them off of it while relying on verbal praise.
You got this! 👍
With some practice these steps will become habit. You can also use this format for introducing new educational toys or just about anything. Its okay if you don’t follow the steps exactly; make it your own and know that it is okay to make mistakes. Just tell yourself that tomorrow is a new day and we will try again. It is all about meeting them where they are at, giving positive praise, patience and gentle support to guide them to where you want them to go.
I will continue to share positive behavior supports, stories of my experiences as a parent of children with unique needs and my work in a special education classroom. If you haven’t already, please sign up for my free occaisional newsletter, What’s New, at www.developmentaltexts.com/contact and I will let you know the resources and blogs that I have been working on. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Nancy Roop received a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Oakland University in April 2020. She researched developmental psychology, linguistics and reading education while studying creative nonfiction writing. She supported students who have autism for nearly ten years. She founded Developmental Texts and is currently writing her first book, The Aquarium with Alex the Storyteller. Its about a fifth-grade student who is passionate about writing stories for peers on the autism spectrum: real world, relatable and relevant.
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