Helping a Reluctant Reader to Enjoy Books

I’ve been busy leading a mini-workshop at church for the past couple of weeks.   With Dad gone and our church a bit far from home, the kids have had to tag along and busy themselves while I’m teaching.   A dear member and  friend noticed that the girls occupied themselves with books, and began her lament to the oldest regarding her young son and reading.   According to the oldest, her conversation went something like this:   “I can’t get E______ to sit down and read.   He doesn’t want to listen while I read.   I don’t know about his choices…”  

Admittedly, our son was never a “boy” boy.  I think that, between having a older sister who immediately asserted herself as a third parent, and having a brief stint in traditional school, he started homeschool with an understanding of what sit down and listen means.   If anything, the youngest, without that more formal environment as a part of her educational experience, is more antsy when it comes to sitting for extended periods of time.   But over the years, I’ve discovered a few ideas, even if I don’t have to implement them all, about helping a resistant reader take more interest in books.   These ideas are primarily for younger children, but the same theories work for an older child, if not the exact tactic.

1.  Capture your audience.   I sometimes read to our youngest while she’s in the bathtub.   The water’s soothing, and more importantly if your child is busy, he or she can’t go anywhere!    It’s a great opportunity to slip a book in, whether it’s a few pages or, if your child really loves tub time, a chapter of a longer book.

2. Busy the hands, but quiet the mouth.    When my husband “subs” for me occasionally, he gets offended that the kids are often doing other things while he’s reading.   The oldest is forever drawing her fashions; our son is choreographing a major production (at least that’s what it looks like from where I am).   The youngest is my snuggle buddy, but even she will pull out the Play-doh when she’s in the mood.   Once she made miniature food for her dolls.

The point is, even if the child does not look like they’re listening, but they are.   I picked up that tip from Sally Clarkson when she spoke of her ADD/ADHD son who listened in on a reading of the Trojan War, intended for his older siblings.   Ms. Clarkson was shocked when her son used his blocks, or something similar, to create a fighting scene from the book.   The key is, his mind was absorbing information through his subconscious; he was learning.

3. Narrate shorter passages.    If you test comprehension in some fashion (and not all reading should be tested for comprehension), an easy mistake–and one that discourages a child quickly–is to expect too much too soon.   If you have a child who doesn’t like to read, for whatever reason, and you choose to evaluate how well he/she is listening, consider using shorter passages, and more infrequent narrations.   I shared more thoughts on this in earlier post based upon a customer’s question.

4. Read books that interest the child.   I say this with a caution that we must be the child’s ear and eye gates before that child becomes discerning enough to turn away from some items.   I can remember years ago when a friend of mine shared how much her son loved the Harry Potter series.   You may have your own opinions, but Harry Potter is not on our reading list, and, until then, it wasn’t on hers, either.   What shocked me more than the reading of the books was why she allowed him to read the books.  “There aren’t that many books for adolescent (the term before “tween” entered our vocabulary) boys, you know?”   I’m thinking, so you let your kid read something you don’t approve of because of a lack of perceived options?

If there is one thing a Charlotte Mason approach exposes you to, it must be books–loads and loads of books.   I could list a number of books we’ve read for school, but I thought I’d share more of the “boy” books, which are suitable for girls or boys, that we’ve read as “free” reading or as a group read-aloud.   There are also selections here that our son enjoyed during that little boy and pre-teen stage.   The fact that several of these are series should in no way qualify them as twaddle.  Based on our experience, they are everything that a living book should be:

The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald

The Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur (rewritten from the original Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators)

Goonie Bird Greene by Lois Lowry (a story about an elementary school girl, but hilarious enough for a boy to enjoy without thinking it’s a “sissy” book)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

Little Britches, Man of the Family, etc., by Ralph Moody (probably a simplistic misjudgment of his style, but I would equate the Moody books with the male equivalent of Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol

Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron

Henry Reed, Inc. series

The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

5. Use your voice.  One of my favorite Charlotte Mason mentors, LindaFay, states this much more eloquently than I would.   The point is, use different voices for different characters; make your reading slow enough for a child, especially a small child, to capture your words.   Make the book live and breathe for the child.

Once you spark an interest in reading, and it may take time and patience, you can continue to set an environment for reading by placing books all over your home, especially those with attractive covers.   In that way, you potentially steer your child’s interest away from television and other attractions, and more toward books.   Most importantly, role model the fun of reading by reading yourself.   Just 15 minutes a day can change your life.    From, ‘the average American reads less than 2 books per year- one and a half to be  exact, with almost two thirds of those going unfinished.  On the whole,  Americans have lost the habit of reading good books…CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies  read, on average, roughly FOUR BOOKS PER WEEK!  That equates to about 200  times the average for the rest of America,…’       Article Source:

God bless you!  Happy reading!!

What We’re Reading–March 2011


Why would I sit and read individually with kids who already read?

There are numerous reasons, from helping with interpretation and larger vocabulary, to increasing comprehension through the right emphasis and inflection of voice, to monitoring pace and making sure the books are read, not skimmed through.   However, the real reason that, after 7 years of homeschooling, I still spend time reading with each child in addition to reading to them as a group is simple: it is the one academic time period spent one-on-one with each child doing something very non-academic—curling up with a good book and giving each one undivided attention.   


After lunch, everyone gathers together for Bible study and a group read-aloud.   My preference would be that this happened first thing in the morning, but the afternoon accommodates for everyone’s internal clock and associated time it takes to get to the table awake and alert.    We’ve wrapped up the book of Proverbs, and the kids are developing their own books of wisdom, based upon an idea in our youngest daughter’s Bible.    I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with by next week.

Our group read-aloud is The Fellowship of the Rings, the last of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.   We are almost finished with this series, and I am very glad we read the books rather than relying solely on the movies to educate us.   In fact, our kids stated very plainly that they much preferred the books over the movie.    Our son has taken a real interest in author Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson and the Olympians fame), even reading the books that Riordan listed as his boyhood favorites.     So it’s been a real treat to introduce him to the origins of many of the modern fantastical writers that he enjoys.    I have to say, though, that unless there’s going to be an unexpected surprise at the end of this tale, Tolkien could have stopped at the destruction of the ring for me (although the marriages were romantic).   I can’t figure out what purpose will be served by all of the restoration to be done to the Shire, but with 20 pages left, I guess we’ll know by next week’s end.   “Learning through History” magazine has a nice tie-in to Tolkien’s work and medieval history that I look forward to sharing with the oldest once we’ve finished.    From here, we’ll make a somewhat stark transition to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.


The oldest finished Emma recently (a bit out of time sync with medieval history, I know), and we had fun watching “Clueless” and drawing the connection from a 15th century classic to the quirky Alicia Silverstone version we enjoyed.     Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a great story, and a quick read for both of us.   As it was my first time reading this one, I stayed curious regarding the end all the way through, but I’m thinking I’ll go with The Once and Future King (or maybe use both titles) when our son covers this same period of history.    My plan was to spend our next time together reading novels about Japan and China, but our daughter lost two books!!    Once I could breathe again, we had to make adjustments, and since she and our son had a project associated with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they’ll head there instead.

Again, our son is doing a lot of reading on his own, following the path of one of his favorite authors.   The Flames of Rome moved past the heathenish nature of ancient Rome and into the persecution of Christians—still graphic, but a different eye-gate.     We’re using a “No Fear Shakespeare” version of   Twelfth Night, and will wrap up with a project similar to the oldest’s classic vs. modern themes.     Amanda Bynes’ “She’s the Man” is based upon Twelfth Night, including the names of the main stars and the setting.   The advantage of this is that it is easy for him to do most of the comparison and contrast; the disadvantage of this is that it is easy for him to do most of the comparison and contrast.   He tried to argue his way out of writing his own one-act play—the harder, more creative side of the assignment.   What is this noise about shying away from hard work?   Does he not know that dog won’t hunt in this house?

The youngest and I are falling in love with Old Yeller.    Yeah, I know that for a kid who barely survived parts of Bambi, this probably wasn’t a good move.   Yet, I wanted her– and the others—to hear this moving tale, and as I often say to them, there are so many references to this classic in the stories they watch every day until they needed to be acquainted with the original sources.   In fact, when our son began to argue that he couldn’t possibly come up with an alternate setting for Illyria, we talked about how many renditions of The Prince and the Pauper, or A Christmas Carol, or Cinderella he’s seen on all of those silly sitcoms he likes to watch.  It was a nice try, though.   Because she didn’t get to read through the Chronicles of Narnia with the older two, I had a great idea to begin reading through them with her.   I have not done justice to these great books, skipping days between reading.   I sometimes wonder if she has been able to follow along with the plot of The Horse and His Boy at all.   I’d almost abandon this project until she’s older, but I keep recommitting to daily reading, thinking that she’ll pick it up if I just stay consistent.    Of course, I say that, and I missed reading it today as we quickly approached the time to head to dance practices.    Ugh.

Our time with books isn’t all fun and games.   I’m constantly after the older two to express themselves more fully through the characters.   I’ll stop them in the middle of their reading with an obnoxiously loud yawn and say, “I’m sooooooo boooooorrrrrrred!   Read it again, and this time, entertain me.”    They’re no actors—this I know for sure.    The youngest, a very expressive reader who is a joy to listen to, jumps up from the table quickly.   She knows that once she completes math and reads with me, then there’s a break.    I worry that she’s way too young to have such a negative attitude about school.   But, as I was reading some old notes from a homeschool conference, I came across some notes I took from a Sally Clarkson conference.   She talked about family ways, and how, as mothers, we can show our kids how to respond to life by our own responses.   I later reflected on an older post by Linda Fay, when she talked about why her children read Plutarch, and giving their minds something noble and courageous to feast upon.    This is what I hope the kids will realize in time, and while I wait, I enjoy a smile, a laugh, and even an occasional cry while we uncover increasingly more stories.

Customer Question: What to Expect from Narrations

I absolutely love my customers.    There are a number of items that I need to complete, inclusive of much prayer, in order to grow the business into all that it could be.    I often find myself repenting for disobedience when God speaks through one of my customers, and I procrastinate in doing what He says do.     The one thing that I succeed in doing is valuing the relationships that I’ve built following the development of A Blessed Heritage’s products. 

I received this letter just a few days back about the reading level of our elementary school products, and about a child who didn’t seem to be “getting it.”    The original question  was as follows: 

Well I thought the curriculum was great but I am suspecting that our daughter whom I thought was ready for first grade is not.  She cannot remember or tell me what she read on a page and when she does the details are mixed up.  Now throughout the page if there are words she is unfamiliar with we stop and talk about them.  She seems to understand at that point but then when we go back over it, she is at a loss???  She is only 5 1/2 but did very well in K last year so thought everything was okay for first grade.


Is the Elementary curriculum meant for 1st grade?  I did break the reading down into smaller pieces and we even started a lapbook for Leif the Lucky but we are in our third week and I am truly at a loss. 

Do you have any suggestions that I may be overlooking or not seeing or understanding?





My response launched into my own testimony with narration, and I thought it was worth sharing given that this is an issue for many parents who are new to a Charlotte-Mason approach, or who might just be looking for a way to build upon a child’s retention.    I am thankful for the customer’s permission to post this here. 

Hi!   I’m so glad that you are enjoying the curriculum! 

When you say that your daughter is not ready for 1st grade, are you speaking specifically about struggles with the history curriculum, or is she struggling with all aspects of a more difficult year?   Assuming the former is the case, I’ll try to offer what advice I can.   

First off, kudos to you on the lapbook!   Kinesthethics are a fantastic way to seal in learning!   Here is another site that might help you with kinesthetic learning tools:

Yes, the curriculum is certainly appropriate for younger elementary students.   I will say, however, that dependent upon the age, the results of using it can be different.   If your daughter is not “getting it” in terms of knowing the content of what you read, I wouldn’t fret at this age.   She will see American history at least once or twice more, so she’ll have plenty of opportunities to “nail down” the content and its significance to our present-day world. 

If you are having your daughter complete narrations, i.e. retelling what she’s just heard, you might not see as much in terms of accuracy and detail in her version of the story.    Our older two children often joke that our youngest daughter’s narration (she’s in second grade) boils down to her telling me what happened last.   The point of narration isn’t just about accuracy; at her age, you are developing habits of listening and attention that will pay off in big ways later.  Right now, if she’s not able to articulate the story at the level you want her to, consider one or more of the following: 


1) don’t ask her to narrate every book, but start with books that aren’t as wordy

2) if you continue with the narrations, do them 1-2 times per week rather than each day


3) What is she doing while you read?   The subconscious mind can do wonders with just being around the information.    If she is coloring or busying her hands quietly as she listens, it might actually help her retention. 

 4) What’s your reading voice like?   Consider this post in terms of helping increase her retention:


5) Are you making it too academic?  Keep in mind that, at this stage, the last thing you want is to discourage her from the fun that learning can be; you want her to enjoy school, even though it can’t always be fun.  If she’s truly rebelling at the school work involved in studying history, put her in your lap and just read and talk.   She’ll get it, and what’s more important, she’ll be excited about the stories and the ability to one day re-read these and others for herself. 

Our youngest daughter is completing The Story of the World by Susan Bauer.  Her narrations about Julius Caesar, Romulus, Nero, and Confucious are often about “him” and “they” and I have to parenthetically add the names (we’re creating a notebook with her dictating to me the narrations).  I don’t expect her to remember these people and their stories in detail, but I do know that she is learning what is expected of her and steadily rising to the challenge.   She sits, listens attentively, and I always encourage her, even when I think she’s missed  some pieces.  Narration is about what the child knows, not what the child didn’t pick up on.  I’ll correct her, and let move forward in what she knows.   Sometimes when she feels that she’s really listened well, she’ll say, “I know EXACTLY what happenened today!”   Sometimes, when she’s sat through the reading of The Lord of the Rings with her older siblings, she’ll say, “Can I say what happened?”    I know that her habit of paying attention is increasing, and so is her confidence with recounting what she’s been told.    My older two have done narrations for years, and their Sunday school teachers are thoroughly impressed with their abilities to sit and listen attentively.  This is especially true in our son’s class, where most of the boys are too frisky to recall what’s being said to them at length.

The best advice I can give is to be patient.  Unless she’s in tears over the lessons each day, 3 weeks really isn’t enough time to have made a final decision as to whether she’s ready or not.  Her mind will make pegs in the learning and draw connections that you might not see until later. 

 I’ll share an example with you.  Our son, simply because of where he falls in our history schedule, has never actually completed the “Our History, HIS-Story” curriculum, but instead, he’s just been in the presence of the books as I read them to his older sister.  Our daughters will both complete it.   When he was around 9-10 years old, he had asked me what was an “Uncle Tom.”  I tried to explain it to him in 10-year-old terms, and his response was, “Oh, like Nancy in that book  we read before!”   He was remember the character from I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, a book that he heard at 6 years old!   He never had to narrate it, but as he worked on other items, he was subconsciously listening and internalizing what he had heard and drawing connections for later. 

Happy narrating, and God bless! 

P. S.  This was the response to this post a day or so later: 




I just wanted to say thanks for the ideas and suggestions. During Science, I started giving them coloring pages or puzzles or something small to do with I read to them. I explain here and there and you know what?????? When I ask them (we have 5 yo, 3 yo, 1 yo and 1 more on the way) follow up questions at the end of the day, they remember what was read!!!


In the afternoon, Genesis and I sit close together and I read, explain and she is able to tell me about what we read.


Sometimes I think we may be afraid to ask for help, but I am so glad I asked you. Everyone is enjoying school much more. I am following their lead letting them pick arts and crafts and letting them have a little more free time.


I hope to show you pictures of our Leif the Lucky Lapbook soon!


Don’t you just love a happy ending???!!!