We have all heard the age old mantra that children should be read to from birth and this is true, in an ideal world. There is such a thing as a child who simply doesn’t want to be read to, who can’t sit still long enough or has trouble processing words and pictures at the same time. These children need to be introduced differently to the world of books and progressively to reading, in their own time and on their own terms.
My youngest son, Tom, was born at 28 weeks. He has recently been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. He doesn’t play with other children, he doesn’t watch TV and most of all, he doesn’t read books. As a picture book author, not being able to share books with him just about breaks my heart. So, I have been working with him to find some age appropriate, sensory friendly ways to help him discover and embrace the magic of books.
Children who are not interested in books can be put off by many things, some seemingly more significant than others but all of them need to be acknowledged and addressed. Every child is different, but let’s take Tom for example. Firstly, the size of the book bothers him. Bigger is not always better. He will open the book to a page but won’t allow or initiate page turning. Even at 18 months old, everything still goes in the mouth. He doesn’t like being read to with the book in front of him, but will listen if I am behind and eventually come to me when he is ready. We have never had a successful bedtime storytelling session whereas with my older two boys, we read a book or ten together every night.
My first tip would be don’t attempt to try and read books to a disinterested child at bedtime. They are tired and cranky, and you might be too. Find a bedtime routine that works for them and run with it. Don’t feel guilty if you are not reading to them at night. The second tip is to keep it simple. Choose three books about subjects your child is familiar with and let them choose which one they would like you to read them.
• Let them touch the book before you start reading.
• Establish a comfortable personal space
• Be slow and deliberate in your movements, especially when turning the page and pointing to words
• Keep your voice low and calm, limiting expression to what is needed for understanding to begin with and then adding facial expressions and repetitive head movements.
• Look at the pictures in the book first before going back and reading the words if they are still interested. The pictures themselves will foster discussion and interaction.
• Allow fidgety behaviour and if the child is unable to sit still, stand up and walk around while reading.
This is a process and may have to be repeated many times before they become responsive to what you are trying to achieve. Don’t give up. The reward of parent-child bonding over a picture book story is more than worth the effort.
Michelle Worthington is the author of empowering picture books for children of all ages. She has 9 picture books published in Australia and overseas and has won 6 international book awards. Her first book, Yellow Dress Day, was featured on ABC4Kids Play School. Her goal is to foster a love of reading in children all over the world.