I’ve mentioned before how my boys are prolific readers. I often find them with their noses stuck in a book. In fact, sometimes I have to say, “Stop reading, please” when it’s time to go somewhere or eat dinner.
This has not always been the case. Both of my boys have ADHD and struggled to learn to read.
When my oldest started 1st grade we were told he was in need of “Immediate Intervention” because his reading scores were so low. I was shocked. He loved reading–we listened to books on tape, I read aloud to him,multiple times a day. I was panicked, truly panicked.
But I did not realize then what I know now. My boys were already on their way to becoming readers-the following are proven tip to get your ADHD kid to love reading.
NOTE: This post is similar to my other posts about raising readers(HERE and HERE). But , in this one I focus on what worked best not only for my two boys with ADHD, but also what I know to be true for other kids with ADHD from my 20 plus years as a teacher.
Why do kids with ADHD often struggle to read?
In a nutshell: Kids with ADHD are motivated by their own interests-if they find reading fun, they will read. If they do not believe reading to be enjoyable, you will have a tough time getting them to pick up a book.
While this may seem like an over-simplified idea, it has been my experience 95% of the time.
To say that ADHD kids are unfocused is not exactly correct. Kids with ADHD have selective focus, that is they can hyper focus on what they love to do, and can’t focus on things they don’t. Kids with ADHD first must see reading as an enjoyable activity, something that will pique their interests before they willingly choose to read.
So, how do I get my ADHD kid to love reading?
Take away the pressure
The pressure for kids to read at an incredibly early age is real – and stupid. Reading happens according to one’s own very unique development, not by a universal age or grade. Because ADHD is a developmental disorder, many kids with ADHD are just not ready to read at 4 or 5-with some not really starting until 7 or 8. They just need a little extra time to catch up to their nuerotypical peers.
Older kids with ADHD certainly do not need any extra anxiety-producing pressure. More likely than not, they just have not been given the right opportunities or discovered the right reading material. Keeping your attitude about reading light and fun will do wonders for getting your kids hooked.
Put away incentive charts and gold stars. Rewarding kids for a desired behavior actually backfires and totally kills intrinsic motivation. Children who are rewarded for reading will end up doing less reading in the end.(Alfie Kohn’s book is a must read!)
Get your child to love stories.
When kids get hooked on stories, they are more likely to pick up a book themselves. Here are a few ways you can go about getting your kids to love stories:
Read aloud to them. No matter what age your kids are, they will enjoy listening to a book. Kids become interested in the story and often beg you to read more. Sharing a story together connects you as a family and cements the love of stories even more.
Once kids are able to read on their own, we often think there is not need to read aloud to them. Quite the contrary – Reading with your kids – even tweens and teens – is a great way to form a lasting bond and instill a love of books.
Listen to audio books. Audio books are a great way for struggling readers to get hooked on stories. Kids with ADHD can listen and understand stories on a higher reading level than they can read themselves. (Bonus! They’ll be exposed to lots of new vocabulary.)
Listening on an iPod is a great quiet, screenfree activity for older kids. The whole family can listen during road trips or on the way to school each morning. Sneaking in 10 minutes a day can really have exponential results.
Listening to books does not replace learning to decode words and read, but it does go a long way in getting kids interested in stories, making them infinitely more likely to pick up a book on their own.
Make reading a daily habit.
When you work reading into your daily rhythm, it will not take long before it just becomes something your kids do, without even thinking.
It’s easier to create a habit if you link it to another habit. Try reading during snack time, after dinner, or before bath time. In our family we read for about 30 to 45 minutes before lights off every night. We have been doing it for as long as I can remember.
Strew interesting books around your house.
Entice you kids by placing interesting looking books around the house. Keep a basket by their bed, by the sofa, in the bathroom – anywhere they might sit for a spell. I often pick books out at the library that I think look inviting. I find my kids are attracted to non-fiction books with lots of great images, like the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series. Over the years their tastes have changed and I have fun keeping up!
Try paired reading-“you read a little, I’ll read a little”
I spent many, many days(that stretched into months) sitting on the sofa with my son while we read a book together – I read a page and he read a page. I started with books he was already familiar with – read alouds he had practically memorized. I made it a daily habit and little by little he’d read more and more.
I have to confess that at first this was not easy. My son begged me to read to him instead of him reading anything. I pushed just enough to get him a smidge out of his comfort zone. It was the consistency that worked.
Skip this step if you think you will be too hard on your kids. This should be more snuggly than teachery.
Model a love of reading yourself
Your kids are watching you – always. If they see you reading and enjoying a life filled with books, they are much more likely to follow suit. Check books out of the library when your kids do, read in front of them, talk about how much you are loving your latest read.
Take a field trip to a cool bookstore or magazine stand
Expose your kid to lots of different kinds of reading material. I have such great memories of going to an old fashioned magazine stand with my dad when I was young. We’d peruse for as long as I wanted and I’d always get to pick out a magazine to take home. Spend a leisurely hour at an independent bookstore or Goodwill just looking at the books. I give my kids an allowance for books every month – read more on that HERE.
Make time for reading – put down the devices!
Yes, some people do read on devices, okay. But kids with ADHD have little self control when it comes to devices. My boys rarely read on an iPad because they’d be playing a game on it in no time.
Encourage(this might look more like enforce) screenfree time at your house – this means you too – so kids will have the opportunity to pick up a book.
Overwhelmed with all these ideas?
Which idea sounds like it would bring you and your child the most joy? Start with that one, for sure. Kids who see reading as a fun pastime are the ones who will stick with it.
What worked for us plus some great resources!
When I learned how “behind” my son was in first grade, I did two things: I did not panic and I got to work.
Starting first grade in a public school system can mean there are high, unobtainable standards. I saw first grade as a time for learning to read, not for being penalized because he wasn’t already reading.
I also, was not going to leave it entirely up to the school to get him where he needed to be.
Luckily, he already LOVED books and loved to be read to. I started doing paired reading everyday at the same time – it became part of our daily rhythm.
At first, he complained, “NO, you read to me, mama.” But I lovingly persisted and little by little he complained less and read more.
We visited the library a lot. I read aloud to him every day, sometimes twice in the same day.
We subscribed to Sparkle Stories, an online producer of original audio stories for kids. I can’t say enough about these stories–we continue to listen to them on a weekly basis. You have to check them out-we’ve been subscribers for 6 years.
By the end of 1st grade, my son’s “scores” were way above average which was a relief, but meant much less to me than the fact that he was LOVING reading and so excited to identify himself as a independent reader.
When do you need professional intervention? Children with ADHD can have learning disablilites that affect their reading. Sometime kids need more than just a love of reading to become better readers. You may have to become a bit more of a detective, if they continue to struggle with basic reading skills after first grade.
Be open to what their teacher’s are saying. Get a second opinion. Have your child tested for learning difficulties. You know your children best, so go with your intuition.
I knew my oldest son was just lagging a bit behind his peers and I was right. But my younger son did need professional intervention with his writing skills. He did not catch up and is now getting additional help at school for his dysgraphia.
Getting kids with ADHD to love reading is very doable and dare I say, can be a completely enjoyable process! You might just have to work a bit harder. But, I promise the rewards of having a great reader are so worth it. What is your favorite strategy to get your kids to pick up a book? Let us know in the comments!
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