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I have a very tough problem: My son is 7, trilingual and really HATES reading…… BUT he absolutely LOVES books! It’s just the reading of them that he struggles with. He has to spell out every single word (it/and/he/she etc) because he is quite far behind with regards to his peers. He is rapidly losing interest in trying to read, but will happily spend hours looking at picture books of all kinds. We read ‘together’ every night and he loves that. I cannot find anything that is of ANY interest to him- all of the phonic level books (e.g. Oxford Reading Tree) are “for babies” according to him- any suggestions as to a series of books that might interest him? Or indeed any other strategies I could employ?

Your son sounds like a lively, intelligent boy. Let me reassure you first of all, that he is not alone in being bright and interested in books but struggling to read. That doesn’t make the situation any more comfortable for you but it does mean there are some suggestions that may help. I suspect that he doesn’t hate reading as such but, possibly, he does hate ‘school’ expectations about learning to read. As I cannot diagnose any specific difficulties your son may have, I am going to mention a variety of ideas – some of which you may already have tried. I hope one or two of the following suggestions may help:

  • Read aloud to him, as often as possible, for the pleasure of the story. Don’t even ask him to look at the page – let his mind be totally absorbed in the story unfolding inside his head.
  • Continue with both looking at the pictures in books and listening to you read aloud to him. They are very positive activities which indicate his awareness of the pleasure and enlightenment to be gained from books.
  • Take him to the local library and let him browse. If he chooses a book he can’t manage himself – read it to him.
  • Reading alongside you and joining in with some words is also very encouraging. He is not rejecting the whole idea of ‘having a go’ at reading.
  • As a school librarian you are probably aware of the Schools Library Association. They publish a booklet I wrote a few years ago called Riveting Reads for 6-8 year olds. There are suggestions of individual books and series in it. It is obtainable for www.sla.org.uk .
  • You say he is spelling out each word. He may have only been taught phonics as a means of decoding. Choose books about something he enjoys (e.g. dinosaurs, sport, birds or animals) and write down words to see if he can remember their shapes. Often children can read elephant, Tyrannosaurus Rex and football when they stumble over and or when.
  • He is still quite young and may just need a bit longer for what he has been taught in school to fall into place.
  • Talk to his teacher to see what she/he suggests beyond ‘hearing him read’. If they are using a scheme (even a good one such as ORT) it may just remind him what he can’t do. Ask for some different materials if possible.
  • If his teacher is also concerned about his lack of progress, request that a specialist (such as a local authority educational psychologist) assess him to see if he has a specific language based learning difficulty. Whether he does or not, you may like to tell him that some of the cleverest people ever, who are now world famous, found learning to read very difficult – for example, Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Zephaniah. In fact, why not ask in the local library for books about these men and others so he can see that ‘slow to read’ does not automatically mean slow to achieve.