As an educator I spend a considerable amount of time providing advice to parents whose children are finding it difficult to be inspired with reading! Parents will describe their child as “struggling,” “disinterested,” or ”anxious” about reading and are searching for ways to instill the love of reading, when it is such a tedious task for their child.
It’s really quite simple: Children who do not read well will not be inspired to read, or to practice reading more. So, how do we get our reluctant readers to find reading fun?
As the director of a school that specializes in working with students with reading disorders—and a parent of a youngster who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 3 rdgrade—I see this issue from both sides. Some suggestions that I share with our parents (and that I used with my own son) can create a safe haven for reading for the emerging reader, gifted reader, or a student who needs more direct instruction to improve reading skills.
The Practice of Reading Skills
Keep the work of developing reading skills separate from pleasure reading. Students who require reinforcement in their decoding or vocabulary should practice those tasks for a short time (15-20 minutes) several times per week. Use some of these ideas to make the reading fun!
- Play Scrabble using real or nonsense words!Get the real game board! Let students use a dictionary to look up words that they can create with their tiles. Or, play a game with nonsense words, but everyone should be able to read their words! Non-word reading is a good way to practice decoding.
- Word of the day: Have the whole family select a “word of the day” and keep a tally on how many times that word is read, or spoken throughout the day. At dinnertime, share the results of the family “survey” and select a new word for the next day.
- Matching game: Have your child use index cards to write their words for practice on one card and the definition on the other. Play this game like the Memory card game (also known as Concentration), encouraging the student to read the word and the definition for every card turned over. (My son and I both did this when we were studying—he used his 5 thgrade spelling words and vocabulary, and I had my “deck of cards” on education law terms and definitions for my Master’s degree coursework).
- Use Unique Materials!Change it up! Have your child practice by writing spelling words on the sidewalk with colored chalk. Put shaving cream on the kitchen counter and let your child write their spelling words in foam! Put a piece of screen material in an open picture frame. Have your child place a piece of paper over it and write their words on the paper with crayon. This approach provides practice and highlights the individual letters with a unique, textured surface. See some examples here:
- Create your own storybook: Children, by nature, will be more involved and interested in practicing oral reading if they are excited about a topic. Using some of the newest technologies, such as the camera feature on your phone, have the child take photos of a favorite activity that the child or the whole family enjoys doing, or take pictures that match the vocabulary list! Put those photos into a PowerPoint and have the child tell or type the words, match vocabulary or create a story to go with the photos. With PowerPoint you can add motion, sound, or music—so be creative! You can even print the pages and bind them into a book, and you have some great stories for practicing oral reading. The book can also make a great gift for a relative for a birthday or holiday.
Reading for Pleasure
Children who are behind in their reading abilities, such as decoding, vocabulary, or comprehension, may not always select independent reading material that “matches” their age and grade. In fact, many children who struggle with the mechanics of reading may be interested in topics that are way above their independent reading level. To meet their intellectual interests and instill the “habit” of reading for pleasure, consider these ideas:
- Read aloud for evening wind-down: What child doesn’t want to delay bedtime? This is a perfect time to read a chapter or two and discuss the elements of a read-aloud story. Ask questions about the characters and setting and inquire if they can predict what will happen next. Let your child select a book that they have an interest in, regardless of the reading level, and read it to thembefore bedtime. For those youngsters who are gifted, be sure that the topic is not above their maturity level. You may want to read the selection before you read it together, as some authors do include more mature themes than some of our learners are ready to handle.
- Books on tape in the car:Face it—we are a mobile society! I have parents who report spending many hours in the car for errands, driving kids to practice for sports, and waiting on our busy roads to make it home in the late afternoon hours. Audio books can be a great way for everyone to enjoy a good mystery or listen to a story that will soon be featured in film at the local movie theatres. Use of an audiobook is also a great way to keep a youngster connected to current trends in literary work. Students who are behind in their reading abilities may still have an interest in the latest chapter book that will be featured in an upcoming movie, such as Hunger Games. Although your child may not be able to wade through the actual printed version, listening to the audio series will permit them to understand the content and will encourage their discussions with their peers about the latest chapter of a popular series.
- Model reading activities!In our busy lives we sometimes forget that our children and students need to see us reading! Some schools still include a specific reading time where everyone in the school reads a book or magazine for 15 minutes. As parents, we should practice what we want our children to do, so they can see our enjoyment of literature! Every summer, I would take a stack of paperback books with me to the beach, and my children would know that I was enjoying my “junk novels”. Now, when we get together for our annual beach week, my young adult children break out their Kindles and read too!
- Don’t get concerned if your child has selected something to read independently that is not at their grade level.Nothing concerns me more than when I hear a parent or teacher indicate that the “child” is selecting a storybook, chapter book or series to read that is “not at their grade level”. Reading for pleasure should be just that, for pleasure. Allow and encourage reading for entertainment value. I often remind my students’ parents that “eyes on print” is a good thing, and not to get concerned over the level of the material that a child reads for pleasure. I don’t look at the back of the book I am purchasing for my annual beach trip to see what grade level it is before I purchase it. I select books that I am interested in reading for fun!I enjoy books that have a mystery and involve law, written by authors such as John Grisham. What I don’t do is determine the Lexile Score, or Independent Reading Level of the text or content. So, allow your child a choice in what they wish to read independently and encourage them to develop the habit of reading!
Above all, BE PATIENT and ENCOURAGINGwith your child as they develop independent reading habits. The “art” of reading is quite complex. Some children will require more support, individualized instruction, and continued practice, and may benefit from the services of a reading specialist. Your positive influence, patience, and support can make your child feel safe to take the “risk” of reading new words or selecting more challenging material. Celebrate the small steps, and keep positive so your child will become more confident!