By: Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer
The pressure you feel about your children’s reading is wholly understandable. Pediatricians and educators are constantly telling parents to prize literary skills. And with good reason: Early reading has been associated with a host of positive outcomes, not only academic, but social and emotional, too. So when kids falter as readers, parents often feel a double frustration: one born of concern for their child, and another stemming from a sense of failure as a parent. But getting your kid more interested in reading will require fighting this kind of thinking, and avoiding telegraphing your concern to her unintentionally. Instead, try to view your child’s learning to read as an opportunity to delve into their interests in a way you can both enjoy.
Let’s begin with what might be causing your child to want to avoid reading. Of course, they may simply prefer doing other things. But they may also find the situation stressful, in part because you’re stressed. Kids, after all, are quite good at discerning the preoccupations of their parents.
If your little one is comparing themselves to an avid reader, that might be another source of discouragement. Your child may find it hard that someone else their age takes such pleasure in the matter, while they themselves are struggling. It’s no surprise that they’d rather play dress-up.
If this avid reader happens to be a child of yours, the solution is simple. Wherever the advanced reader does their reading, be sure that the beginner does theirs in a different room. The advanced reader’s presence might be distracting, or even disheartening, if they are reading a book that the beginner is struggling to read. And for you: Try not to think of the advanced reader as the standard of a “good” reader; focus instead on how you might help make reading something to look forward to for the beginner.
Once you’ve removed those roadblocks, let’s look at what you can do to make the matter more fun for your child. First off, while the advanced reader’s presence may be distracting, yours will be invaluable. The time you spend reading with the beginner offers a chance for you to hang out, bond, and let them share the joy you find in books.
Start by helping your child find a “just right” book. Let them pick the topic. You may have read all of Beverly Cleary’s books when you were little, and maybe the advanced reader has too, but don’t fret if your novice reader doesn’t take to them. If the novice loves to dress up and create worlds of their own, maybe they’d prefer delving into fantasy books, or science fiction. (The Kingdom of Wrenly, for example, is a favorite beginners’ chapter-book series among many second graders.) Let the young reader take the lead in making your reading time together enjoyable. Maybe the two of you can start a book club, with them picking the first book, and you proposing the second. Or perhaps you can look online at some choices, view the synopses together, and chat about which might be fun to read next.
In addition to holding your child’s interest, a “just right” book will include two or three unfamiliar words on every page. Beginner readers won’t be able to improve with books that are too easy for them. Too many hard words, however, may scare them off. Talk with your child’s teacher about her reading level, then check out Scholastic’s Book Wizard for information about the difficulty of any title in its database. And if you have it in you, flip through the first couple of chapters before they start a new book to note challenging words. Reviewing them with the young reader in advance will help them focus on the story instead of being intimidated by new vocabulary.
Read books aloud to your child, pointing to lines as you read them so that they can connect the printed word with the spoken word. Take turns so that they read aloud to you too. Shared reading is a great opportunity for dialogue. You can ask your beginner reader how they visualizes the setting, or to make predictions about what will happen next. Or ask them what a character might be thinking or how they might say something, given the context of the story. Kids are perceptive, so don’t go overboard, but these conversations can make delving into the text easier. Have fun and they probably will too.
If the novice is having a tough time getting into the story, encourage them to make connections outside of the text. There are three main ways to draw these connections: text to text, text to self, and text to world. When you chat with the beginner reader about the book, you can ask them whether a character or event in the story reminds them of someone or something that happened in another story. Or in a TV show or movie. Or perhaps part of the plot reminds your child of an experience from their own life. Considering how the events in a story relate to what’s happening in the world might also be a helpful entry point for your child. If you’re looking for a great series to read with your kid while learning about history and the world, the Ordinary People Change the World books are fantastic. Kids (including our own) love the illustrations, and the lessons about what children can grow up to accomplish are invaluable.
You know your child best. You know what kinds of games or jokes or silly gimmicks they respond to, whether putting on a funny voice or jumping to your feet to act out a climactic confrontation. Maybe your child can work on their own book and illustrate it with markers or stickers. Maybe on Saturdays, they can dress up as a favorite character. Or the two of you might establish a reading ritual that you know they’ll look forward to, like sipping hot chocolate or sharing a cozy blanket. It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant. It just needs to feel special to your child.
If you’re still concerned, check in with child’s teacher to ask for her observations about their reading and for advice about supporting their reading at home. Local librarians are also incredible resources when it comes to suggesting books for any type of reader.
No kid learns to read overnight. As with all skills, the key to growth is repetition. Your reader will increasingly develop their skills, at their own pace—and there’s nothing wrong with that.