For my son's first year of school, we decided to spare no expense, throw caution (or hundreds of dollars) to the wind, and send him to private school. I wanted his first experience in school to be nothing short of spectacular- I wanted him to be in a learning rich environment, where teachers were engaging and interactive, where his growing brain could be nurtured and filled, and where reading- above all else- would be a top priority.
Well, the school was fantastic, the teachers were top-notch, and my son's precious mind was filled with amazing things...but he didn't learn to read.
In fact, when we switched him to a local public school for Senior Kindergarten, he was reading at a Level B (keep in mind that each school/school board uses a different method of tracking reading levels but in my son's school Level A is the lowest reading level- students are expected to be at Level E by the end of Senior Kindergarten) ... and he didn't seem to be improving.
By the time we had our first Parent/Teacher interview, my concerns regarding my son's lack of reading skills were confirmed. He was very bright, inquisitive, engaged and energetic...but he just wasn't catching onto reading as fast as his teacher hoped. So what was going wrong?? Me. I was going wrong. I assumed that because he was a bright kid, he would pick up on reading with limited practice at home. I assumed that he would be a fantastic reader just because he was at school. AND I WAS SO WRONG!!!!
So I began my mission to help my son become a reader. And I'll let you in on a few of the tips and tricks I picked up!
But before you read any further keep in mind a few things: a) I am a trained teacher so the advice I'm giving comes from a combination of my parental experience and professional experience; b) All children learn to read at their own pace and comparing your child to another won't be helpful at all; c) If problems persist, ask for help! There's no shame in asking your child's teacher or special education assistant to guidance- that's what they're there for!
1) Find out what they want to read and get it
Here's the thing- if your child isn't interested in what you're putting in front of them, they won't read it. End of story. Yes, as they get older they will have to read things they aren't interested in, but when they are young and don't have the maturity necessary to understand a "must do" versus a "want to do", giving them reading material that is fun, engaging and interesting is needed.
My son was really into dinosaurs, so we loaded him up with dinosaur books. Just piles of them. He would flip through and look at the pictures (remember: the words don't have to make sense yet- we just want them engaged). We would take him to the library and let him choose his own reading material- I never said no. He chose Power Rangers and Pokemon and Geronimo Stilton and Captain Underpants...and we read them all. If they choose it and they want to read it, say yes. Put it beside their bed so they can pick it up whenever it's convenient for them.
Alternatively, use some online reading sites to encourage reading. I love Raz Kids and so does my son!
Tip: Don't worry about the level of reading at this point- just engage them with material they want to look and they want to hear about!
Tip: Owning books is amazing- if you can afford it, buy your child a few books to keep- BUT spend most of your time using the library! Free resources are the best resources:)
2) Read to them all the time
Got 5 minutes? Read a book. Waiting for dinner to cook? Read a book. Falling asleep? Read a book!
My point is that reading needs to be seen as an ANYTIME option in your household. It needs to take priority at all times of day. And the best part is that reading doesn't need to be a long, drawn out activity. It generally takes between 5-15 minutes for you (as a parent) to read a book to your child. But by taking those 5-15 minutes, you have shown your child that reading is a) important and b) a fun activity.
If you suggest: Hey! Why don't we read for a minute! And you're met with a NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO- Don't get upset and freak out (like I do all. the.time!). Instead, ask your child to let you know when they're interested in reading and pick up a book then. Let them feel some control over the process of reading and they'll start to become more interested.
Tip: Reading isn't just for bedtime. Try your best to make reading a daily, regular bedtime activity but sneak it in during the day as often as you can!
3) Phonics matters
There are so many schools of thought on phonics, but it seems that study after study support what most teachers already know- Phonics Matters!
So if your child is struggling with reading, go right back to the basics: letter sounds! There are a plethora of online resources to help you teach your child with phonics- apps for your phone, tablet and programs for your desktop - but I really like the idea of sitting down with a pencil and paper, writing the letter and getting your child to repeat the sound! It's simple, but it works! Don't frustrate your child by doing the whole alphabet day after day- choose 3-4 letters to work on each week. Slow and steady wins the race.
No child with be a successful reader without the right foundation, so don't be discouraged if you have to go back right to the beginning with them - remember that you are building a successful reader by equipping them with the right tools and that is so important.
Tip: Reading Rockets has some great information and resources for parents who are helping their child learn to read successfully!
4) Don't make reading a REWARD or a PUNISHMENT
Admittedly, I have been known to yell THERE WILL BE NO TELEVISION UNTIL YOU HAVE READ A BOOK! OR I have whispered 'If you finish this writing assignment, I'll buy you a new book'.
But here's the thing: we can't expect our kids to want to read if we use it as either a reward or a punishment. Reading should just be a thing we do- not a thing we force- and it should be part of our daily life.
If picking up a book and reading to a parent or being read to by a parent is becoming a regular fight in your house, turn reading into a daily game. Don't force books! Read signs at the grocery store or while you're on the road. Read magazines instead of books (Owl, National Geographic for Kids, and Chickadee are all great options). Write your child an easy-to-read note and leave it beside their dinner plate or tape it to the bathroom mirror. Read the back of the cereal box.
Tip: There are a few times that rewarding a child with a new book is a great incentive to read more, but make sure that you are not consistently tying new reading material to completing (or not completing) other tasks!
5) Practice Unbelieveable Patience
Encouraging and reading to and with a reader that doesn't want to read is so frustrating. SO SO SO FRUSTRATING!!!!!!! I get that more than you know! My son is the most stubborn child in the world (he is a red head after all!) and he would throw the biggest hissy fits over simply being asked to read one word- I mean, it may have even been his name and nothing else!
So, from one impatient parent to another I implore you to reach into your back pocket and pull out every single ounce of patience you can muster. Grab it and hold onto it. Keep your reading sessions short. Limit it to one short book, or one page, or a handful of words. Encourage, encourage, encourage! Tell them they're doing great when they read only ONE word correctly. Try your best not to let them see your frustration (I have been known to yell into a pillow post-reading session) because it will rub off on them.
Tip: Don't give up easily. It can takes weeks and weeks or months and months of regular reading practice (and reading to your child!) to develop reading as a habit. It can takes months and months or weeks and weeks of practicing patience to actually develop patience. Be kind to yourself and your child!
Got a tip for parents who are struggling with their child's reading? Share it below!