Here are 8 ideas for how to help your child enjoy reading more than they do right now. (Lots of people asked me how Penny became such a strong reader and whether we used any specific programs. As I reflected on a post about reading with kids with Down syndrome, I realized that we’ve done the same thing with all three kids, so these are more broad suggestions. I hope they are helpful.)
1. Be a reader.
Kids imitate their parents. I remember once when Penny was three, walking in on her in our bathroom. She was standing on a stool brushing her teeth, with TIME magazine in her hand. She couldn’t read a word of it, but she knew what she saw her mother doing every morning! If you want to raise kids who are readers, let them see you reading.
2. Read with your kids every day, even if it’s only for five minutes.
I used to be intimidated by the idea that we needed to read a lot. I’ve since realized that if I am going to live in reality and read with my kids, it won’t be for a lot of minutes.
3. Read books out loud that stretch them…
Penny doesn’t love fantasy or history. She gravitates towards social stories about girls in middle school, which is to say, girls just like her. But when I read out loud, it is often a novel with a plot that will challenge her, either because of the reading level being more advanced than what she would read on her own or the subject matter being outside of her comfort zone. The fact that we can pause and talk about what’s happening helps. But within this idea of stretching, I do try to offer enough comfort that it doesn’t feel foreign. So we’ll read Little Women because it is historical (a stretch) and about girls (Penny’s favorite). Or we’ll read Fish in a Tree, which was above Penny’s comprehension level when we read it but about a girl with a learning disability in school, so easy for her to relate.
4. …but encourage them to read books on their own that feel easy.
I remember encouraging Penny to tackle Charlotte’s Web when she was in second grade. After hearing her struggle through the first paragraph, I looked a little more closely at this beloved story and realized that yes, indeed, this author used to write children’s books and essays for The New Yorker and might well have used the same vocabulary! After that, I let her choose her own books to read alone, and to the degree that she wanted my help, I steered her towards familiar books or books that would be easy for her.
5. Put graphic novels to work.
For kids who are struggling to read, graphic novels can offer a terrific bridge. The illustrations allow a different part of their brain to work and do some reinforcing of the words they might stumble over. Penny loved the Smile, Drama, Sisters books as well as Dork Diaries (not my favorite, but…). William felt such a sense of accomplishment when he finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret because it was so long, even though much of it is filled with pictures. Marilee, my emerging reader who still struggles a lot with chapter books, is far more determined to read the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time.
6. Take turns reading out loud.
We do a lot of “page by page” reading out loud, where I read the left side and they the right or vice versa. When we are reading together, I also rarely let them work hard at a word. The point is for them to enjoy it and become more fluid, not to get it all right and not for it to take so long it feels frustrating and impossible for us both. Unless it’s a word I know they can get easily with another look, I fill in the blanks for them to help the reading move along and feel enjoyable.
7. Reward reading with reading.
If your child needs an incentive to read on their own, then you can reward them for reading a set amount. Marilee is currently obsessed with “Land of Stories” on audible, so she needs to read with me or on her own for either one chapter or one picture book before she gets to listen to Land of Stories again. Similarly, when Penny is in a rut of reading the same book over and over again, I’ll push her to branch out by reading one chapter of a new book before she can go back to the old.
8. To sum it all up: make reading feel as easy and successful as you can.
We haven’t found a special program or an app that works. We’ve tried keeping reading logs and journals. We’ve tried post-it notes at the end of every chapter. But the things that have helped us become a family of readers comes down to spending time doing it, together, in a way that we truly enjoy. If there are any “tricks” to helping your child learn to read and keep reading it is spend time reading, with them, in a way that you both enjoy.
If you’d like to read more about my thoughts (and struggles and joys) on raising kids – especially when mine were little, check out my book Small Talk.