Many parents want to support their children’s reading and comprehension skills at home, but finding the ways to do that can prove elusive. What to do, what to do? I say they should start small. Take it one day, one strategy at a time. That’s how we build a successful plan that will contribute positively to our children’s success. So, this week I want to give you four “rules” to use as you begin shaping your family’s home reading plan. The best part is you don’t have to use all four simultaneously. In fact, you can pick one and see how it works for you. Ideally though, you’d develop a system that includes all of them. Let’s get started.
RULE NUMBER 1 — Make reading transactional.
No, really. It’s okay for you to make reading a task that your child needs to finish before they’re able to receive/do something else. I mentioned in the first installment of this series that we require our 8-year old to read one short biographical article about a Black American in order to earn “screen time” for his beloved YouTube walkthroughs. At first he thought I was joking, but after his fifth time asking, “Mom, may I watch YouTube,” and hearing, “Have you read an article yet,” he figured out that we were serious about his daily reading. Fast forward three months, and he has now read over 60 nonfiction biographies about trailblazing African Americans because he loves his YouTube that much.
We use Biography for this activity, and yes, we ask him the five W’s and a few other basic comprehension questions to be sure that he read and understood the main ideas in the text. However, sites like Newsela offer current event articles for various reading levels, so you can adjust the texts to fit your child’s abilities. I also have a home library of children’s books that he can use to fulfill his part of the “contract.” He can even use his school library book if he wishes to read that instead. We decide on a certain number of minutes or a specific number of chapters, but no matter what text he chooses to read, the requirement is that he reads. Don’t forget that you can substitute math, science, or another discipline for reading if you want to, but be consistent with the transaction or it won’t work.
RULE NUMBER 2 — Make reading interesting.
If your child has no interest in dinosaurs, don’t require them to read about dinosaurs at home. They’ll have to study them in school anyway. The readings your child completes at home, especially in younger grades, should be focused on something they like. We want to make sure that we don’t completely turn our children off to the idea of reading, so if they’re forced to learn things of no interest in school, don’t make home reading more of the same. I cannot tell you how many students list reading as their least favorite subject by the time they get to me in middle and high school. It hurts my English teacher heart. If you don’t know what your child likes, consider giving them a reading inventory survey of some kind.
We tend to believe that young children love fiction over nonfiction, and while that might be the case for many, it is certainly not true for every child. Just the other day, my son asked me if we could buy him some encyclopedias for the house because he prefers to read about “real things that happen.” I was taken aback because all of the library books he brings home from school are fiction series. I asked him why he doesn’t check out more nonfiction texts, and he said, “The ones I like have a blue stripe, so you can’t take them.” That’s true. Reference books are rarely allowed to leave the library. It’s probably time for us to research online encyclopedia subscriptions for kids.
RULE NUMBER 3 — Make reading consistent.
Your school-ager isn’t too young to have a small “To Do” list or schedule that helps them get into a daily routine at home. It can be a child-led schedule that fosters early time management skills and personal choice, but if you find that it’s difficult to be consistent with your child’s home reading, you should consider creating a schedule of some kind to help you all. Here’s a sample schedule that includes enrichment, homework, reading, and down/play times for students. It accounts for every hour in the day, but you could easily use chunked time in which you allow your child to decide the order of tasks.
For example, you might eliminate enrichment times and add that to their down/play time if your child wants to read after play time. Your child could also want to read as soon as they get home and save all of their down/play time for one large slot before dinner and bed. The options are endless; the consistency is what matters. We want reading to become automatic for them. That means they’re doing it on a daily basis, and for children who don’t already have a strong intrinsic love of reading, we have to create opportunities for them to develop that interest.
Read more here: Collecting Enrichment Ideas
RULE NUMBER 4 — Make reading partnered.
When you tell your child to read, does your child see you reading? I know it’s easy to parent by the “Do as I say, not as I do” principle, but more parents really should consider modeling the behaviors they want from their children. There is a credibility issue when a parent argues constantly about the need for reading while never having a book in their own hands. Children are still watching what we do, so set aside 20-30 minutes a night and read your own book while your child sits next to you and reads theirs. Then, take a few minutes and discuss what you both read. Provide each other with the main idea of your chapter(s)/article(s), and ask each other some probing questions. If you want your child to read, show your child good reading techniques.
Children don’t develop excellent reading skills without consistent and committed adult involvement. As parents, we have quite the responsibility to show our children what it takes to become the best at something. How can we expect to be great singers if we never practice singing? How can we expect to be great athletes if we never commit the time? How can we expect to be amazing readers if we never find ourselves reading? These things require time management and dedication from children and parents at home. Teachers cannot do it all on their own, and I know that most of us as parents don’t expect that. Try one of these strategies for the next month and see what happens.