One of the questions I receive most often at my workshops, is "how can I help my child learn to read?" Or, "how can I help my child improve their reading ability?" Many of the parents asking the questions are frustrated or embarrassed or completely baffled by the problem they are facing.
One of the first things that I tell parents, is that not all children are ready to read at the same age. Schools must keep everyone "on track" because they do not have the staffing or the funding needed to help each child at their own pace. In homeschooling, we do have that luxury. We can wait and try many different approaches.
In most cases, the main problem is a lack of readiness for reading. The child may be spending all of his energy on other tasks, like building with Legos or running races, and has little energy, or interest, to put to use figuring out what those little squiggly lines might mean. With time, and with continued effort from the parents, most children will learn to read.
What can parents do to speed this process along? Include story time in the schedule each day. Hearing good stories often inspires children to want to read on their own. Choose books that are well-illustrated and interesting. Stories that are humorous or exciting are often good choices. Read to your children with enthusiasm and with expression.
If your child has hobbies or enjoys sports or loves animals, choose books that relate to those interests. Read some of them aloud to your child, and leave others on the table, or somewhere they will be seen. Just getting children to pick up a book, and look through it, can increase their interest.
Subscribe to magazines that are interesting and fun. "Sports Illustrated for Kids" is a wonderful magazine for any child with an interest in sports. It covers a wide range of sports, avoids sensationalism, and includes wonderful photographs, activities and games. For animal lovers, check out "Ranger Rick," "Your Big Backyard" or "National Geographic Kids." Filled with facts, photos and activities, they will pique your child's interest in learning. "Highlights for Children" was always very popular at our house, because it included such a wide variety of activities and stories.
Try giving your child a "book allowance," money that can be used only to purchase books. There are many places that offer inexpensive books for children, such as the grocery store, library book sales, used book stores and garage sales. Ownership is very important to many youngsters. Set up a spot in your child's room for their books. If they purchased them, and they can see them on their own shelves, it often increases their desire to learn to read them.
Comic books, interesting and educational websites and computer games that require reading are, also, good options for increasing interest in reading.
One of the most important factors is to be a reader yourself, and to enforce a positive approach to reading. Most children should not have a required reading time each day. Forcing children to read for pleasure usually has the opposite of the desired effect. You might try a family reading time each day, where everyone spends time "reading." Let them choose what interests them, even if it is something that is very light. Keep the time fairly short, and be sure to participate in this event yourself!
If you feel that there may be other reasons your child is not learning to read, consider having them tested to determine if there is a learning difference that might be causing the problem. Dyslexia or ADHD or other differences in learning are all challenges that require specialized approaches. Determining if your child needs a specialized approach is important. There are many resources to assist you and your child.
Learning to read is a very important skill, and one that should be encouraged. Celebrate your children's improvements (even small ones) and let them know that you are proud of their efforts. Include time at the dinner table to discuss interesting, exciting or humorous things you've read. Include enrichment activities to bring stories "to life," such as meeting a favorite author, visiting a location mentioned in a book, making a recipe or trying a craft that was described in a favorite story.
When my daughters were ages 7 and 11, we read the book, “The Beaded Moccasins: The Story of Mary Campbell,” by Lynda Durrant. This story is based on an actual event in Ohio's history. Mary Campbell, the young girl in the story was kidnapped by Delaware Indians, in 1759, from her family's farm in Pennsylvania, and taken to a location in Ohio, near the Cuyahoga River. Their tribal village was near a cave, and next to a waterfall. This cave and waterfall is now part of a park in the city of Cuyahoga Falls, which just happens to be very near our home. I took the girls to the park where the “Mary Campbell Cave” is located. We hiked to the cave, and spent time listening to the roar of the waterfall. I will never forget the look of awe on my daughters' faces as they exclaimed, “It's just like Mary Campbell described it in the story.” That part of history was indelibly etched into their memory. It was no longer a story. It was real!
For my older daughter, that experience strengthened her love of history and reading. For my younger daughter, author, Avi's Dimwood Forest series of books (“Poppy,” “Poppy and Rye,” “Ragweed,” and “Ereth's Birthday”) inspired her to read more about animals, their Latin names and their habitats. She was thrilled to visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and see the taxidermied porcupine, clearly labeled Erethizon dorsatum, which just happened to be the full name of the porcupine in the Dimwood Forest Series. He was affectionately known as Ereth.
Of all of the ideas I have listed in this article, I think reading aloud to your children is the most important. There are so many wonderful books to read, fiction and non-fiction, adventures, fantasies, comedies, poetry and books filled with fascinating facts. Reading aloud leads to great conversations, intriguing questions and memories that will last a lifetime.
And, remember, just because your children grow older and learn to read stories by themselves, does not mean that you should no longer read aloud to them. Sharing great stories never grows old. Just before bedtime tonight, when everyone's in their pajamas, gather the family together in your coziest, comfiest spot and share a great adventure... reading!
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss, "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!"
"Never judge a book by its movie." - J. W. Eagan
"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991
"I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book." - Groucho Marx