Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Sep. 9, 2019
Helping your child love reading
By Justin Stagner, 4th Grade Language Arts Specialist
For many parents, it can be frustrating when a kid says, “I hate reading.” You aren’t alone and neither is your kid! As it turns out, it is nearly impossible for children to enjoy reading simply because of a series of passionate speeches. (You’ve probably tried.) The good news is that there are loads of simple approaches that can have a real impact on reading attitudes.
Lots of kids, especially young readers, lack a sense of their reading level. Choosing a book that is too complex, wordy, or long can be demotivating. At Canterbury, we talk often about choosing a “Just Right” book from an early age. This includes the “Five Finger Rule”. When trying out a book, choose a page at random and count how many times you get confused or encounter an unfamiliar word. If you encounter four or five hiccups on one page, the book is probably too difficult right now. As a side note: be quick to tell children that they can try a book again in a few months. This avoids the feeling of being shut down as well as gives them a goal to work toward.
Many schools use research-based approaches to determining a student’s level, such as DRA or Fountas & Pinnell. You may ask your child’s teacher if they have this information.
However, it doesn’t need to be complicated! Ask your child to read a page or two out loud and have a conversation about whether it is a good fit. It is usually best to avoid using terms like “easy” or “hard” because that can lead to a child to further feel that he or she is not a “good” reader. You just want to help your child find a good fit for them. Just like pants, a book may be the perfect fit later in the year.
This is an area where librarians excel! No one (adults included) wants to spend time with a book about an uninteresting topic. Talk to your child about what kinds of TV shows, movies, or games they like and find books about that topic. Do they prefer historical books (war, biography, explorers), fantasy (magic, fairy tales, genies), or perhaps adventure (refugees, survival, quests)? You may be really surprised by the number of new books that come out every month and the incredibly wide range of topics covered. Don’t be offended if your children don’t like the same types of books you enjoyed as a kid; it isn’t personal. Remember, librarians love helping people find a book that excites them. Use this resource!
If you find a subject that works, leverage it as much as you can. When a kid finally finds a book that seems fun, only to realize it is the first one in a series, it is a fantastic feeling. Finding other books by the same author can be just as rewarding. As your child continues to identify more as a reader, they will take great pride in having a favorite subject, author, or series.
I can name at least five books I hated in high school but love now. The difference? I liked them when I chose to read them; not when I was required to read them. This is, of course, related to the previous section, but I think it is worth dedicating space for this concept. There will come a time when your child will have required reading, but letting a kid pick their book can make an enormously positive impact on the whole experience. One of my favorite books as a kid spent a lot of time coming up with funny ways to describe gross things (getting sick was described as a technicolor yawn). I’m sure my parents weren’t impressed, but I was picking up lots of new vocabulary and having fun reading. I thought the book was funny and that was enough to keep me reading. Let kids read what they like.
If the point is to make reading more fun, pull out all the stops and get creative. There are many combinations that can get kids to understand a story in different ways. Book clubs can take lots of forms, including a traditional setup where kids read a certain number of pages or chapters and then get together to discuss with friends or relatives. However, you can have a book club with just you and your child as well. “My page, your page” is another awesome way to spend some quality time taking turns reading aloud. That strategy also helps children with their reading comprehension, since they are hearing you read half of the material. Similarly, audiobook options such as Libby (free with your library card!) pair well with printed text. Kids can listen to the words as they read along. Even getting your kid to read to a younger sibling (or pet) can give them a low-pressure way to brush up on some basic skills.
Magazines and graphic novels are really underrated resources, as well. They can help bridge comprehension weaknesses with visuals so the story or information can still be understood and enjoyed. Ranger Rick, Highlights, Sports Illustrated Kids, or Girls' World might strike up some interest in your kid, but before you buy, see what kids’ periodicals are available at your library. In addition, the graphic novel scene has exploded in the last few years. There are still plenty of anime/superhero options, but there are now topics such as the civil rights movement, life as a refugee, the Holocaust, and way more.
Keep in Mind...
You may be tempted to push your child into the most challenging books you can find or maybe the books you read at their age. Keep in mind that more minutes spent reading are always a win. Frustration and giving up are what you are trying to avoid. Model whenever you can by reading often and talking to your family about what you are reading. Stay positive and encouraging, and soon enough your child will understand what S.I. Hayakawa meant when he said, “It is not true we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”
Further Reading (Pun Intended)
Every Child, Every Day: Six Elements for Every Child
The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research
Reading Motivation: What the Research Says
Why Reading Choice Matters
5 Reasons Graphic Novels Can Help Kids With Reading
Keeping it Real: The Importance of Kids Magazines
The Role of Public Libraries in Children's Literacy Development
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