Whether you enjoy it or not, reading is an integral skill for educational success. When I was teaching middle school, my colleagues used to refer to the science and social studies tests as “the other reading tests” because in many ways, the student scores reflected more on their reading ability than their actual subject area knowledge. Almost every class a child takes will have a reading component: written texts, written instructions, written feedback, and written assessment questions. The stakes are just as high after graduation, where almost every real job requires reading comprehension skills.
Our children need to be good readers, and practice provides the best path to becoming one. Of course, practice is a lot more pleasant when our children like to read. So how do we get them to that point? First, I’d suggest that you make reading a family affair. Let your children see you reading, and not just to them. Many families have something called “couch time” where everyone in the family grabs a book and a seat for a set amount of time. Younger children get picture books and interactive stories; older children and adults get an age-appropriate book. When you do this, you show your kids that reading is fun and not just something to be done in school. (And if you hate reading, well, summon your best acting skills. Or at least acknowledge that while it isn’t your favorite thing to do, you recognize the importance enough to make it a priority.) Consistency is key here, so pick a day (or days) and time and stick with it. Side note: this makes a great down-time activity once established, so absolutely try it out during the times when you think you are going to lose your absolute mind.
Second, read with your kids. Everyone knows you are supposed to read to little kids, and that’s true. But don’t politely bow out of their literate lives once they hit chapter books. While you might not be reading out loud anymore, read some of the books your kids are reading. Strike up conversations about them. Talk like you would to a friend in a book club, not like a teacher in a class. If you don’t know where to start, I highly recommend a book (of course!) called 7 Keys to Comprehension by Susan Zimmerman and Chryse Hutchins. This book absolutely revolutionized the way I taught reading as a young teacher, and the writers do an excellent job of modeling how to talk to kids about literature. And by the way, depending on the age of your kids, some of them might act like you are ruining their lives by taking an interest in their books. Teenagers are morally obligated to throw fits like this, and by no means should you take them seriously. I taught teenagers for fourteen years, and they tell a very different story when they think their parents can’t hear them. Soldier on.
Another way to make reading fun is to celebrate it. If the newest J.K. Rowling book is coming out and your family loves Harry Potter, stay up late and go to the bookstore to buy it. Read the first pages at an ice cream parlor way after bedtime. Let your actions tell your kids that this reading thing is special. Have a family meal where you prepare food from the book your kids are reading. Try a new hobby that you found out about in print. In our family, every gifting holiday comes with a book: birthdays, Christmas, Easter baskets, you name it. You get one toy and one book. Giving books as gifts elevates their value in the family economy. And yes, I’m that aunt.
Finally, share the load with younger readers. We wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without a lot of training, and beginning readers are easily overwhelmed at the prospect of reading a whole book by themselves. Treasure Bay has a whole series of books, called We Both Read, that are designed with easier portions for a child to read and harder passages for the adult. This way, the book can be more interesting than your average early reader and the reading load is much more manageable for the child. (Editor’s Note: These books are also available on Amazon, but you might want to check the website to make sure you get the right reading level.) The Sleeping Bear Alphabets series works in a similar way, with age-appropriate text that a student can read, and more detailed paragraphs in the margins. Each series has a large variety to choose from, because reading is a lot more fun when you like the topic. And don’t overlook magazines; titles like Ranger Rick offer short bursts of reading practice, and you can help fill in the harder, scientific terms.
Finally, don’t despair if your child isn’t learning to read as fast as you’d hoped. Just like the other developmental milestones, reading happens at different ages for different kids. Keep practicing, modeling, and celebrating, and know that it will come. And as always, Connections Tutoring has tutors specifically trained in reading instruction to step in and help.
Laura Simon, Connections Tutoring Blog Contributor