What We Can Do Right Now To Help Our Child Become A Good Reader

Getting involved in our children’s reading is crucial to early reading success and future achievement in school.

My first child Nico was a great reader. Usually first children get all of that ATTENTION, right, because they are the first and onlies. I tried with my second child, Ross. It doesn’t come  as easy with most boys. Girls are more verbal and better readers on average. I worked and worked with that kid but he wasn’t interested. Finally, in the fourth grade, he stumbled on the Redwall series. It was the right combination of fantasy and battle, little mouse warriors with teeny, tiny swords.   It was also  a series, which meant there were five or six books after the first one. He was off to the races! I remember the Parent/Teacher conference that I had with his teacher, Mrs. Park. She said, ” All Ross wants to do is read, read, read. He is not getting any of his work done!”

I was secretly thrilled because I knew if you were a great reader the world was your oyster. Giving the gift of reading to our children, to me, is more important than many after school activities that we are always hustling them off to. It’s calming, and  it helps build that positive emotion structure that Dr. Martin Seligman talks about in his book Flourish:

 “Unlike the negative firefighting emotions, which identify, isolate, and combat external irritants, the positive emotions broaden and build abiding psychological resources we can call on later in life. So when we are engrossed in a conversation with our best friend, we are laying down social skills that we can call on and use for the rest of our lives. When a child feels joy in rough-and -tumble play, she is building motor coordination  that will serve her well in school sports. Positive emotion does much more than just feel pleasant; it is a neon sign that growth is under way, that psychological capital is accumulating.

Reading can build that psychological capital in our children as well.

Reading helps our child learn about heroes that get discouraged and small creatures that beat epic odds. Reading about different worlds,  different characters and people   builds deeply into  our child’s inner life of who they are.

Encouraging reading is a stupendous amount of time and effort. We can entice our children away from all their devices   by reading to them initially and helping them find powerful books as they become good readers. LIMIT THEIR MEDIA. It’s too tempting and persuasive to walk away from. Having time in our daily schedule where all screens are off or don’t have any TV at all in our home will encourage reading. The payoff for cultivating this culture in our families is that  they are being taught important life skills—courage, honor, sacrifice, how other people in other times lived and solved problems, and they are processing these influential and compelling stories internally. They will think and ponder on these stories. These weighty and new  thoughts will help them start building a successful story for themselves.

Children need volumes of reading materials to practice with, and if they don’t have them in their homes, they don’t practice. If they don’t practice, they don’t succeed. Some tips to encourage reading:

• Point to each word on the page as you read.  (My note: Have the child point, not you.)

• Read the title and ask your child to make a prediction.

• Take “picture walks.” Help your child use the picture clues in most early readers and picture books to tell the story before reading.

• Model fluency while reading, and bring your own energy and excitement for reading to your child.

• We can ask our child questions after reading every book. Reading comprehension is the reason we read — to understand. The new CCORE standards assessing U.S. children’s readiness for the workplace and college ask children at all grade levels to compare and contrast their understanding of concepts. This takes practice. Helping our child explain his understanding of any given story in comparison to another can build mental models of contrast. Having our child share a personal experience similar to a problem or theme within a story will internalize the story within them. Higher-order thinking skills (critical thinking) are skills children are expected to use in both written and oral assessments in school. There is no way for a teacher to ask every child to use a critical thinking skill every day. Parents can.

• Be a good example and model reading with an actual book. In their early years they want to do everything we are doing.

• Make the library a weekly outing. There is something so wonderful about going into a building and walking out with stuff without getting arrested. I felt that especially in our early penny-pinching years. Put up a big sign of when they are due.

• After getting library books we READ them.

• I liked reading chapter books at night to my children.  I was recently reading in an old journal from 2001 where I had chronicled a busy day, and at the bottom of the page I wrote, “AND finally at night I managed to read to Abby and Sophie Tasha Tudor’s book on the months of the year. Chase kept making little comments until I “chased” him out of the room!”

That made me happy that I managed to do that every now and then. I remember a man in my ward read all the Harry Potter books to his three daughters. I loved that image of a parent having that kind of commitment and it was a time they could connect together each day. It does take time. Hours and hours. The more we do it, the more we will see the value of it and the impact it is having on our children.

• Have our children read easy books over and over. That is how they become fluent readers. My mother got her doctorate in Early Childhood Education and she taught me how to teach my children to read. She taught me that fluency comes from reading words hundreds of times over and over.

• I didn’t let my children have a phone until they were 14. That helped a lot. 

• Don’t overdue movies in the car. Use that as a last resort on a long trip and after they have read every book in the car twice. That’s a wonderful place where they are “trapped” and they can read. My parents didn’t listen to “it makes me sick to read in the car.” It was up to us to regulate that.  The new normal of having  screens all the time so you don’t have to deal with boredom isn’t normal. Audio books in the car or using “Audible” (an audio book app where you pay per book and listen to books rather than read silently) also is a fun way to listen to books as a family.

• Libraries have wonderful lists of books to read. We can help our child find some good ones from the Caldecott or Newberry Award book lists. They can mix  in this well-written children’s literature with what they have chosen themselves. They will start trusting your judgement as you find recommended books for them off of lists. My library even had lists such as,  “5th Grade Books” or “Young Adult Mysteries”.

There is so much data on how important this early intervention is for our children. I love the psychological capital that it builds in our children, of reading book after book. More than ever, building these mental models of heroes who conquer and endure hardship, or the ability to enter another world is so valuable in building our child’s inner life of character and how to make sense of the world around them.

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