Reading is clearly recognized by experts as the most important learning activity for children. This crucial exercise promotes language development, builds vocabulary and knowledge, and generally helps students (of all ages) set up for academic success. Moreover, for most of us homeschoolers, the learning doesn’t stop during summertime, as great reading habits must be honed year-round to truly develop a love for language. Unfortunately, getting kids to become avid readers becomes increasingly more difficult every day, especially those with ADHD. ADHD makes reading more difficult, since reading relies on attention and executive function. Quality instruction is only part of the solution, because reading with ease and comprehension only follows from consistent practice. Therein, the parents have the hardest job: building a consistent routine that is still comfortable for a child with ADHD. Naturally, since most kids avoid doing things that feel difficult, the children who need reading practice most, don’t do it. For the average child with ADHD, keeping busy during the summer may feel like ‘anything except reading.’
It has been generally observed that a child’s hyperactivity and distractibility make it additionally difficult to sit long enough to read even a few pages, and following a storyline can be challenging if his or her ability to hold on to information, or working memory, is deficient. But choosing the right material – and getting creative with how your child reads – can make all the difference.
Meanwhile, nowadays it’s nearly impossible to discuss how to encourage reading without mentioning technology too, since open access to television and screens gets in the way of recreational reading. Symptoms of ADHD include being easily bored, avoiding mental effort, and novelty seeking. Tech time panders to all of that—no other activity provides so much engagement and novelty, with so little effort required by the kids. Without adult guidance, screens trump reading for many children seeking entertainment during the day.
Summer is a great opportunity to encourage reading and create new habits. As with nutrition, a balanced diet of activities is required for healthy child development. Here’s how to encourage reading this summer:
Always keep great books at arm’s reach
Its very helpful to have lots of books around the house that children can pick up (and put down) whenever they like. As novelty seeking is a part of ADHD, aim to have piles of books and change them often. Kids with ADHD need new titles to explore, as they sometimes read only parts of books and go back. Or they may want to return to the same book over and. Consider making the library a family event. Try going once weekly and letting your kids select whatever grabs their attention. Books should be easy enough to appeal and provide enjoyment, without worrying about much else—any reading is good reading.
Choose books at your child’s reading level
Have your child read aloud to you for the first few pages of a new book. If he or she makes more than five mistakes per page, it’s too hard for her to read on her own. If you’re unsure which books are appropriate, ask her teacher for suggestions.
Make reading part of family time
Read books to your children that captivate them. Talk about the story but don’t make it a lesson—just show your own excitement and curiosity. Reading together provides social and emotional comfort too. Tacking reading time onto bedtime can be a useful way to get children to choose reading voluntarily. Bedtime is 8:30 but they can read until 9:00 (not draw, not write, not any other activity). Otherwise, turn the lights out and kiss them goodnight.
Make reading a game by setting up a reward plan
Pick something fun to earn, and create your own reading race for the summer. Consider participating yourself.
Pick the best time and place
Many families schedule reading time when kids are getting ready for bed. But if his or her medication has worn off by then, your child won’t be able to give the best effort. Pick an earlier time – and a quiet spot – when he or she can concentrate.
Do your kids see the adults in the house reading? It’s tough to tell someone else to read, or to suggest reading is fun, if they’re not seeing you engaged in it. Remember, if you are reading on a device your children may think you are texting, gaming, or shopping. Reading is probably as healthy for adults as children, so for that reason too make sure children in your house see their parents reading books.
Set firm screen limits
With clear down time defined in the household, children return to more traditional activities, like reading. If allowed to default to screens whenever bored, most children will. When the rules are ambiguous, not only will they push you more (maybe if I fight harder I will get the iPad after all), but the possibility of screen time may keep them from bothering to find something else to do. They’ll hover and brood and come back and ask about plugging in once again. Define how much and when is OK in your home, as you would around dessert, or in creating a weekend curfew. With time and patience, reading will fill the gaps for free time created in their day.
Try the magazine rack.
An entire book may be daunting to the child who can’t stay focused. A children’s magazine may be a less intimidating alternative. If your child likes stories, try Spider (ages 6-9) or Cricket (ages 9-14); if your child likes science, pick up Ranger Rick (ages 7 and up) or Kids Discover (ages 6 and up). Ask his or her teacher whether your child can read a few magazines to meet the monthly reading goal.
Review every day
Children with ADHD sometimes have trouble remembering the sequence of events in a story. After your child reads a chapter, have her explain to you what happened. You can jot down her words and review them with her the next day, before moving on to the next chapter.
Use a tape recorder
Reinforce his reading with a book on tape (available at local libraries and most bookstores). By seeing and hearing the book’s words, he should find it easier to stay focused. Hold his attention by having him record his voice as he reads. He’ll feel as though he’s “acting” rather than reading, and he can share the tape with a younger sibling.
These are just a few ideas to keep kids engaged into one of the most fulfilling tasks they can occupy themselves with as a student. With patience and consistence, it won’t take too long to start seeing positive, long-lasting changes in your child’s reading habits. Stay, strong, #Nonitribe Parents!