As I was sorting through a bunch of old emails the other day in search of a recipe I just knew I had once emailed a friend, I stumbled upon an email I composed about three years ago.
And, as I read it, I thought to myself this is my blog, right here, condensed in this one email. So, today, I’m totally cheating and posting it.
I wrote this up for a friend whose child claimed she didn’t much enjoy reading. Actually, the child had figured out that she was one of the weaker readers in her class, so it was somewhat murky if she truly disliked reading or if she were feeling overwhelmed. Mom’s email to me was panicked and upset: What do I do about this? How do I get her to read? Should I be worried? Help! She says she hates to read!!
Here is the advice I gave three years ago . . .
First of all, relax. She is a child. She also might tell you she doesn’t like to swim or detests scrambled eggs. These things might change as she matures, so even if she is feeling an aversion to reading now doesn’t mean she is stuck in this rut forever.
Lots of children think they dislike reading when they don’t particularly enjoy reading a paragraph (usually at school) and then answering reading comprehension questions about it. They just can’t articulate it. And who can blame them? That is terrible, boring stuff! She actually might love curling up with a Fly Guy book!
Here is my laundry list of things you can do or consider when it comes to turning your child onto reading. Hope some of these ideas help!
Really, the TOP two things I think you can do to raise a reader are:
1. Read to him or her.
Anything and everything and never stop. Have your child see YOU reading, too! The more you read aloud, the more shared experience you have. Even as they get older, read together, if you can – or, read the same books or articles and then talk about them. It is that conversation you have about what you’ve read that gives you all that extra world knowledge and vocabulary that will then help you out when you see or hear those words again! Read, read, read. Reading aloud shows your child that reading is a priority to you, your home life. Reading aloud to your child also means you’re not multi-tasking. It is really difficult to fold laundry and read aloud. And so, when you read aloud, you’re creating a HUGE psychological component to the read aloud: it is alone time with a parent (which is saying a lot in today’s busy world), it is important – and hopefully, it is habitual, it is part of your family’s culture. It is what you do and who you are. If you’re bored, you read, just as much as you play video games.
Further, children can comprehend text on a much higher level when it is read aloud to them than when they read it to themselves. So, having books read aloud to them means they are exposed to more sophisticated concepts, vocabulary, language, sentence structure. That exposure will translate into better writers and better readers and better thinkers vs. a child who only has access to the thoughts, language, and vocabulary that is in beginning readers.
2. Get a big tub or basket or bag and fill it with ALL KINDS of possibilities.
Having choices is huge – and encouraging variety is huge. You might find that your reader tends to go towards certain topics, but you might also find that, depending on her mood, she switches it up from time to time. It is a great way to observe where they are in their reading and it is also a fantastic way to say (without words), “Reading can be entertainment. Pick whatever you want. I support your choices.” And, by having a basket (or tub or bookshelf, etc.) of a variety of books, the more likely you have a book that will fit your child’s mood.
It is hard to read a challenging book after a long, full day at the beach, for example. So, instead of skipping reading altogether, it would be great to have a nice, easy breezy read for nights like those. Same with content: sometimes you feel silly; sometimes you feel like some serious non-fiction: if you have a little assortment, the more likely it is that there will be a book to match the mood. Really, what a child chooses to read isn’t so different than an adult. I’m a big reader – almost always carry a book in my purse. But every now and then I’ve had One Of Those Days and all I can manage is the People magazine in the waiting room. It fits the bill and it is still reading. Kids are really just the same way. They have moods, they have levels of energy, they have interests. Give them some choices – they’re much more likely to read (something, anything!) if there is material that matches their mood, their tiredness (is that a word?), their hobby of the week!
But, of course, I have other ideas, too:
3. Take-Turns Reading
You read a paragraph, then child reads a paragraph. (or, you read one side of a page, I’ll read the other….) It may sound silly, but if a kiddo looks at a page full of text, and she is worn out at the end of the day (when most people tend to have time to read with their child), it can be overwhelming. Just the look of it. But, if parent says, “Ok, I’ll read half of this,” it can ease the load. Give it a try!
Poetry is often a lost genre! But, here’s the thing: poetry often has rhythm and rhymes and can often be silly or funny. The rhythm and rhyming is handy because it is predictable. When you’re struggling to decode, knowing that a line of text will sound a certain way and have a certain beat and likely end in a certain sound can be a relief, almost. Poetry can not only be less intimidating, but also kind of like a game! And, the fact that many poems for young children are funny – all the better! Try some Shel Silverstein, Jeff Moss, Jack Prelutsky, Judith Viorst, Kalli Dakos, Brod Bagert, or Bruce Lansky.
Mary Ann Hoberman has a series of poetry books entitled You Read to me and I’ll Read to You, and these are genius! The poems are split into 2 parts – each one with its own color, so you read poetry back and forth with one another. Fun!
5. Reading is Reading
Remember that your child is reading, even if it isn’t a hundred-page novel! Cereal boxes, notes on lunch napkins, a page-a-day calendars all keep us reading. Think outside the box to keep ‘em reading! Mad Libs! Try one of those Would You Rather books (or create your own). I Spy books are awesome for reading (they rhyme, too!), jokes, riddles, recipes, science experiments, all of those world record books, Weird but True from National Geographic, etc… The more they enjoy what they’re doing, the less they’ll realize that you’re having them practice their reading! And, the more they practice their reading, the more likely they will – when the time is right – get caught up in an enormous novel – and then, well, you’ll have lost them forever.
And, as long as I’m at it: Let them read comic books. Please. Comics are often full of great language – and HUMOR: word play, double meanings, alliteration, all kinds of excellent brain-powered ways to think. And, comics are FUN. If comics are fun….then reading might be fun….and eventually (trust me), that will translate into reading other things. It really will! Try some Garfield. Babymouse by Jennifer and Matthew Holm – a riot (I read them. Every single one. And I laugh. They’re great.) Try Lunch Lady series. Really, please don’t discredit them; reading comic books is reading. And, it makes reading a form of entertainment rather than “homework.”
6. Magazines Rule.
Magazines are visual, and often the articles are short and sweet – very un-intimidating. Plus, it is like a gift that arrives each month. Try out some magazines at a used bookstore or at the local library, then splurge on a subscription or two for your kiddo. Just a few ideas: Highlights, National Geographic for Kids, National Geographic for Little Kids, Ranger Rick, Our Big Backyard, American Girl, Ladybug, Etc. Another great thing about magazines: variety. Usually, there are some non-fiction as well as fiction articles, maybe a page of jokes or a comic strip. Maybe a game, maybe letters to the editor – perfect for the many moods and many abilities of a young reader.
7. Read on your level, above your level, and below your level.
Just like we would have a child practice for soccer: we would have her work hard, maybe do something new or something that is difficult; we’d also have them work quite a bit on their current skill level; we’d also encourage practicing skills already mastered. Why? Because practice is always good. And, reviewing that with which you are already comfortable with can make you feel good, ready for a new challenge, etc. You get the idea. So, with reading, sure, let’s have your child read something kinda hard, see how she does, but let’s also be sure we have material on her level and below. It also depends on the day. If your kiddo is exhausted from a big, huge day vs. well rested and still in her PJ’s at noon, you’ll likely get a feel for what she is capable of. Another thought on this subject: sometimes parents are very concerned about their child reading something on-level, all the time. Let me just point out that this is impossible. For one, if a child knows a lot about a certain subject (let’s pretend snakes), she might have a rather high reading level when it comes to snakes, since she has read so many snake books and knows so much about snakes. Words like reptile, venom, fangs, viper might come easily. But, on other topics, she might have a much lower reading level, say, if she had to read about fairy princesses. So, this is when knowing your child/student comes into play. Secondly, if your child keeps reading, eventually, she will move up a level just through practice. You won’t necessarily know it. It’ll just happen. Just like they’re growing a little taller every day. So, just be sure you, as guide and parent, don’t take the leveling process too seriously. It is a reference, a guide, meant to direct but not dictate.
And, do not be fooled by length. Many beginning chapter books actually have a lower reading level and lexile rating than some picture books. Yes, it is a step to move into chapter books so a child can read without the pictures and prepare for longer texts, but it is also just as important to continue to check out picture books for their richness that some early chapter books do not contain.
8. What is Your Child Interested in?
Asking a tomboy to read about princesses is almost cruel. True, you do sometimes need to read things (usually at school) that you might not be interested in, but generally for pleasure reading – shouldn’t it be…well, pleasurable? Find topics of interest – including non-fiction, biography, etc. Many book sellers such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon don’t always have the same variety of non-fiction and biography titles that your local library or school library will have. Go to the library, go a lot. Fill up those baskets of books.
And, I’ll go ahead and bring it up: Potty Humor. You know, Captain Underpants and all that. Go for it. Most 30 year old men (because, let’s face it, it usually is the boys – though not always! My daughter thoroughly enjoyed Captain Underpants as well as The Twits) outgrow the need to read books that contain the word “poop” and “fart.” It won’t last forever, and they are enjoying themselves so. And, one last thought on the subject: don’t knock it till you try it. I, myself, have been known to laugh out loud at some of Dav Pilkney’s writing.
Some parents worry that their child needs to read more “serious” literature, and not quite so much “fluff.” I believe in a balanced diet when it comes to kids and reading (actually, I believe in a balanced diet in other areas of life, but I’ll try not to distract myself). Remember that, at school, they are often reading more “serious” texts. Yes, they are given “free reading” time now and then, but they likely spend plenty of time on more formal literature and expository texts at school. Relaxing at home? G’head, let ‘em have some fun with what they read. I bet they read more, gain more experience, see reading as something-to-do-when-there’s-nothing-to-do faster if they’re given some freedom. Remember, if you, as parent, want them to read a specific book, read it to them, yourself!
9. Visual appeal.
We all judge a book by the cover. And, it can pay off…. Also, studies have been done on the amount of white space a book has. So, text that is small and crammed on a page vs. larger text with maybe the spacing between the text lines at 1.5 is so much less intimidating. I’ve seen children flip through books and decide not to check them out based on this. If you have a particularly visual child, you might take a look at a page of text – based on how much white space there is. If you have a particularly sensitive child, it really does make a difference!
As a librarian, I teach my students strategies for finding a “good book,” and my Number One, Tip-top strategy is always: ASK. Ask a friend, parent, sibling, teacher, how about a librarian for a recommendation! I tell my kiddos that they know each other better than anyone! I encourage them to develop book-buddies: people with whom you have similar reading taste. You might not be best-friends in real-life, but so what? You can still have this special relationship in that you tend to like to read the same things! Some teachers and librarians really get to know their students and can just know what they might like to try – ask!! And, if they miss the mark, do not give up: ask another one. I know it takes time, but often a person-to-person conversation ends up with better results. It is difficult for me to recommend a book to a parent over email because I can’t read body language – often, it will tell me more than what they’re telling me verbally.
Just in case you’re dying of curiosity, the other strategies I teach my elementary-aged students for getting their hands on an awesome book are:
–finding an author or illustrator you like and see what else s/he has written
–finding a series you like and reading all that you can
–looking at the displays, posters, marketing pieces that libraries have out (many librarians spend a good deal of time rotating displays and trying to promote all kinds of materials)
–think outside the box! What do you want to know? It is still reading when you read a cookbook, joke, science experiment, etc.
11. Be Patient.
It takes time to learn how to read, time to become a fluent reader, and time to love the process. Having anyone – teacher, sibling, parent – hover or pressure or nag does not allow that young reader time. If reading takes time, there should be time allotted for reading. I’m not suggesting a specific time every day (although maybe, if that works with your child’s personality, but that’s not too common). I’m talking about stretches in the day when there is not much else to do but grab a book. I’m talking about having times in a day when electronics are turned off, no questions. Or, rides in the car when the entertainment is a bag of books to look through. If there are chunks of time when books (and ideally it would be that big, fat variety of books mentioned #2) are available without much else going on, a child will take one, and open it up. I promise.
12. Go Back to Points Number One and Number Two.
Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud. Big tub (or basket or pile or bag) of books. Just sitting out. There. Full of all kinds of books. Available. Ready. Waiting.
Contact me at fplweb (at) frontporchlibrarian dot com