15 February 2010 09:16 AM

Reluctant Readers and Sylvan's "School Success Challenge"

by Dr. Rick

Today’s blog deals with motivating students.  It begins with an email from a mom with a reluctant reader and ends with news about a cool new contest that lets the winner designate $10,000 to the school of his or her choice.  Read on. 

The Dr. Rick Blog gets lots of questions about motivating reluctant readers, especially middle school boys. 

Here’s a typical example. 

A homeschoool mom tells us that her eleven –year-old son “struggles” with reading even though his skills are good.  Comprehension isn’t a problem, but even when he reads something interesting, he’ll quickly get “bored” and unfocused.  She says he’s good in other subjects, has good general knowledge, has good handwriting skills, and an excellent memory.  He just doesn’t seem to like reading. “Have I done something wrong?” she wonders. 

Homeschool mom, you haven’t done anything “wrong.”  Short attention spans and eleven-year-old boys go hand in hand.  From what you describe -- good comprehension, good memory, good handwriting, good math skills, and good grades in other subjects -- he sounds like a typical pre-adolescent.  For this age, it's not abnormal for kids to be interested in a topic for a short but intense time before going on to another interest.

You say he reads when it's a topic he's interested in, even though it's for a short period.  Here's what I'd recommend.


  1. Ask the neighborhood or local school librarian for recommendations.  What are the popular books among other boys his age?  I'll bet the recommendations have something to do with sports, mystery, spookiness, humor, or science fiction.  Ask who the most popular authors are.  When he realizes that reading doesn't have to be "boring" (the most popular word for eleven-year-olds), he can discover his own favorite author or subject.
  2. Ask other moms what their kids are reading.  Ask them what their kids' reading habits are, too.  You'll probably find out that your boy's reading habits are not so worrisome.
  3. Don't let him slide, though.  Reading, after all, is fundamental to all other learning.  Establish some kind of reading routine the two of you can support -- a certain amount of reading time each day.  Make it pleasant and even fun.  Maybe the rest of the family can read at that time, too, so it doesn't feel like a chore meant just for him.  Encourage him to talk about his books to his friends.  If he sees that his friends are interested in Harry Potter, too, or whatever subject he chooses, he'll feel part of a group 
  4. Take an interest in his reading.  Take him to the library or a book store.  Let him select the books and subjects, and give him plenty of opportunity to talk to you about what he's reading.  Ask him thought-provoking questions that require him to think and that show you're interested, too.  Books can open up lots of interesting, fun discussions.
  5. Set some goals with him.  Maybe a certain number of book chapters or magazine articles each week.  Or maybe a time goal, say beginning with ten minutes of uninterrupted reading and extending to longer periods later.  Then, celebrate with him when he meets those goals.  Decide on some "rewards," like some extra time with you -- without siblings -- or an extended weekend bedtime or a favorite food treat.  Compliment his sticking to his reading routines and reaching his goals. 

Encouraging kids to enjoy reading is one of parents' and teachers' greatest challenges, but when we're successful it comes with great rewards.  Making him a lifelong reader is a gift he'll never outgrow. 


Here’s another way to motivate middle- and high-schoolers.  Check out a new online sweepstakes from the company I work for, Sylvan Learning, that allows a happy winner to designate $10,000 to the school of his or her choice. 


Starting today and ending on March 31, 2010, Sylvan’s School Success Challenge features an electronic game board filled with questions about algebra, grammar, vocabulary, and college-prep subjects, among others.  Participants get a chance to win the Grand Prize of a $5,000 Carnival® Cruise to the Caribbean, a yearlong subscription to SylvanMathPrep.com (an online math resource for kids in grades 7-12), and that $10,000 donation to a lucky school.  Also, prizes include a Mac laptop, an Amazon Kindle®, Nintendo® DS, and some great gift cards.  Great for individual students, teachers and their middle or high school classes, and parents.


Interested?  Want more details?  Want to play?  Register for the challenge at www.SylvanChallenge.com.


Let the games begin!



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