Helping Improve Your Child’s Reading
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Reading is the most important skill that children learn in school. As former Secretary of Education William Bennett stated, the teaching of reading is elementary school’s “most solemn responsibility.” It is basic to learning other subjects. Because reading is the key to unlocking the door to a vast world of knowledge, parents must pay special attention to how their child is progressing and what they can do to at home to promote his reading.
Your primary job is to help him enjoy and feel confident about reading. The single most important thing you can do towards this end is to read to him from an early age. A child who is read to from an early age learns to feel comfortable around books and to associate reading with warmth and security. It is also a time to bond with your child and to share a pleasurable activity. A well-written and illustrated children’s book can be a joy to adults as well as children.
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, contends that parents should start reading to children at six months and should read to them daily by age two. And they should continue to read to him even after he is able to read. The setting is not important: you might read to him while taking a trip in the car, waiting to be served in a restaurant, or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.
Select books that both you and your child find interesting. If you find the book dull, your reading will likely be uninspired. It’s okay to choose books that he is not capable of reading himself. This helps to enhance his vocabulary and broaden his experience. A typical first grader has a listening vocabulary of almost 10,000 words and should be able to understand many books above his reading level. As you read, ask your child questions about the stories—not yes or no questions, but rather questions designed to provoke thought or conversation (“Why do you think she did that?,” “What do you think is going to happen next?,” or “What did you like best about the book?”).
The public library offers a gold mine of riches to the eager and reluctant reader alike. In addition to providing books, tapes, records, and CD’s, libraries sponsor programs for different age levels related to reading, including storytelling, films, book readings, and incentive programs to encourage reading. Make sure to take advantage.
Consider scheduling a specific time each week to visit the library with your child. While you are there, you might obtain a library card in his name. When he turns 8 or 9, show him how to use the computer to locate books and then give him plenty of time to browse among the stacks.
In helping your child find books suitable to his ability, assume that his independent reading level is somewhat below the level of his reading book in school. In addition, the librarian can also suggest books appropriate to his reading level. A child who is reading at or above the third-grade level can read a wide range of books. While you or the librarian may suggest books to your child, let him make the final decision in most cases. You might also check out books that review and recommend children’s literature.
Be on the lookout for books that have won the prestigious American Library Association Awards: the Caldecott Medal for illustration and the Newberry Medal for writing. Also ask the librarian for the “Children’s Choices,” an annual list of books recommended by other children in an extensive survey conducted yearly by the International Reading Association and Children’s Book Council. If your child chooses an occasional book above or below his ability, don’t make an issue. He may like the challenge of a more advanced book and may find an easy book enjoyable. And do not make an issue if he does not finish a book he borrowed from the library.
The best way to encourage recreational reading is to show your child how pleasurable the process of reading is. Here are some specific strategies to do this:
- Provide a comfortable, quiet place for your child to read in your home. Children especially enjoy beanbag chairs. Also set aside some shelves for your child’s books
- Let your child stay up 15 or 30 minutes later at night if he spends the time reading.
- Give your child reading materials related to his interests. This may be a book on a sports hero or a vacation destination, a joke book, or a booklet on how to care for a rabbit.
- Give your child a birthday present of a gift certificate to a bookstore.
- Have your child join a book club. The prices are typically reasonable and he will be excited when the books arrive.
- Help your child make a paper chain or mobile listing the books he has read. Have him add to it every time he finishes a book.
- Encourage your child to start a long book by reading the beginning pages or chapter with him. This may whet his appetite enough to get him to continue on his own.