When kids struggle to learn to read, reading isn’t fun—it’s work!
I saw this daily for over four decades while working with children who have learning and thinking differences. So I’m a huge fan of using whatever it takes to encourage kids to love reading. That includes letting them read books with themes that might make some parents a bit uncomfortable.
One example is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This fictional book series follows student Greg Heffley as he devises schemes to survive the social pitfalls of middle school. It’s a funny and kid-friendly look at growing up. This nine-book series was a magnet for many reluctant readers with whom I’ve worked.
The Wimpy Kid books appeal to kids because Greg and his buddies misbehave. They use potty language. They act in ways that most kids know they would get in big trouble for if they actually behaved that way in real life. The use of humor and illustrations in Wimpy Kid also make reading more enjoyable for kids.
Many kids can read books like this independently. They can enjoy them and keep the behavior of the characters in proper prospective.
But some kids with social skills issues may need more support from parents. These kids may see things as black or white, good or bad. They may be too literal to appreciate that bad behavior in books doesn’t play out well in real life. This is a valid concern for parents. But it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
For these kids, a book with an edgy theme can serve as a great “teachable moment.” It can help strengthen social skills while encouraging reading for fun.
With a book like Wimpy Kid, it’s important to actively read with your child. That will give you the opportunity to point out the pros and cons of the behavior, language and pranks in the book that make you laugh.
Actively reading a book can turn an edgy source of entertainment into a life lesson. (By the way, you can also do this by actively watching popular TV shows with your child.)
Here are my tips for actively reading a book with your child:
- Use stories in the book to start a conversation.
- Act out some of the scenes together.
- Talk about how it would feel to be on the receiving end of the pranks or name-calling.
- Role-play with your child and show him better alternatives to the bad behavior in the book.
- Help your child understand what good social problem solving looks like.
Finding pleasure and entertainment from the printed word is huge for struggling readers. For all their irreverent content, books like the Wimpy Kid series can get kids hooked on reading. And that’s a game changer.
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About the author
Rayma Griffin, MA, MEd has spent 40 years working with children with learning and thinking differences in the classroom and as an administrator.