My son loved picture books as a toddler. Being both enthusiastic readers (and me being an English teacher!) my husband and I read constantly to him from when he was born. He loved looking at the pictures and would sit sucking his thumb for hours while we read to him from all our childhood favourites. I thought we were on to a winner. Then he started school and we thought, well, now he's learning to read we don't have to read to him anymore. So we stopped. Then we spent the next two years struggling to get him to read; there were tears, tantrums and heart-ache (and that was just us) but nothing seemed to get him interested in reading for himself. He still liked listening to books and we read him some pretty juicy ones but as soon as he had to do it himself all interest went out the window. The years passed and he was struggling with English at school. The teachers would often take us on one side and say how frustrating it was that he was chatty and articulate but absolutely hopeless at comprehension and writing. By the time he was about 7 we'd long-since stopped reading aloud to him; we were too busy, we thought he should be doing it on his own etc etc. He continued to struggle in English. Then when he turned about 9 we had a lightbulb moment. Maybe the problem was that the kind of material he COULD read was not very interesting. So we started reading to him again, every night before bed. The list of what we have read him over the last two years (he's now in Year 7) is pretty eye-watering to be honest: My Family and Other Animals, Around the World in 80 Days, Kidnapped, The 39 Steps, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies. And it goes on. I nearly died of boredom reading Kidnapped and had to try different Scottish accents to liven things up but he really liked it. I read the whole of To Kill a Mockingbird in a Southern accent and we had a pretty interesting time explaining what some of the more adult concepts in it were all about. We're now having some light relief and reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels and my son will often laugh out loud.
Now, I know this is not a realistic scenario for most people, but I can honestly tell you, with my hand on my heart, that he is a different child from the one I started reading to again two years ago. He has been doing well in English at school. When you ask him a question about something he's read, he can puzzle out what it means. He ENJOYS comprehensions (imagine that!) seeing them as a challenge he has to find the clues to solve. His creative writing has become detailed and fluent and full of great vocabulary. I am not using this as a vehicle for boasting, I promise. I just need to tell you what a staggering difference the process of reading challenging books has made to his academic progress. I KNOW that this works and it has made me all the more convinced that I need to do something for all struggling readers, not just those in my own family.
And if you can't read to your children or don't want to, it's not the end of the line. Follow this link So what can we do? to see some other ways you can tackle these issues.