10 Ways to help your child be an excellent reader
Reading is one of the most important habits to instill in a child. It will increase their vocabulary, which will directly improve their performance at school. Reading will also expand their knowledge in every other area and open their minds to so many possibilities! Because children mainly learn the technical phonetic combinations at school where they focus on the practical side of reading, the love of reading is best fostered at home, and supported by you, the parent. Remember to focus on fostering a love of literature, and many other aspects of reading. In general, and especially when children reach elementary school, the focus is on knowing how to read, not loving to read.
When children are little, take the time to read to them every night, and delight in the stories you discover together. To make that time even more special, here are 10 tips you can use:
1. Take the Time to Look at The Images Together
Instead of just reading the words in the book, look at the images with your child and see what they tell you. This will teach your child to look for cues in the images that tell them what is about to happen in the book. Using this strategy will help your child increase their vocabulary by helping them “guess” what a new word means, just by understanding its context. This is one of the main reasons why children’s books are illustrated.
2. Use Different Voices for Different Characters in a Book
By making a special voice for the ogre of the story, then for the little girl he meets, and all the other characters, you help your child imagine the story, making it come to life! Once your child begins to read, even when they are not reading aloud, they will, in turn, adopt the habit of giving book characters their own voice, their own life. This will greatly increase their reading comprehension skills, foster their love of reading, and expand their imagination and creative thinking skills.
3. Follow with Your Finger
If your child is just learning to read or is an inexperienced reader, it helps when you follow with your finger as you tell the story. This will show them that, in the English language, we read from left to right. It will also help your child discover that every word you are reading is there, on the book, and once your child is beginning to read, they will start visually recognizing whole words. This is like watching a movie with subtitles. You don’t need to read the subtitles if you understand the language, but you tend to want to read them anyway.
4. After Reading TO Your Child, Read WITH Your Child
When your child is beginning to read alone, make this a great bonding experience by spending time with them while they read. Many parents put a lot of effort into teaching their children to read. They read to them every night until they learn to do it alone. As soon as their child learns to read on their own, parents usually stop reading to them, expecting their child to read on their own instead. Even though your child can now read, they will miss that time with you and will not feel as excited or enthusiastic about reading once you are no longer part of that special shared time.
My recommendation would be to continue sharing that special time with your child. You can take turns reading books to each-other (you can read one evening and your child can read the following evening), or take turns reading one page each, or even each reading your own book together when your child is older.
My sons are now adults, but we always had the habit of reading together in the evening. We would sit in the living room and each bring our book to read. Sometimes we would read the same book together – our favorite was an atlas of the world. We would choose which places we wanted to visit, and share what we learned.
Choosing a time to read as a family (or just you and your child if you can’t get everyone on board) shows your child that you love reading, and that you value it.
5. Go Out with Your Child to Buy A Special Book
Make it a time you spend together, just the two of you. Take your child to the bookstore and tell them you would like to buy them a book; one that they choose. Bookstores have a special feeling to them and are wonderful places to spend time looking around. Your child will love the experience so much that they will remember that happy day each time they read their new book at home.
I understand that buying a book is not in everyone’s budget, but fortunately, you can share a similar experience by taking your child to the library and choosing a book to borrow! The idea is to spend the time together in an activity that values reading.
6. Reference the Stories You Read Together
Casually in your conversations, refer to the stories you read together with comments such as “It’s like that rabbit that we read about in that story, remember? When he couldn’t get out of his home?”. This will help your child make their reading experience more valuable and relatable and learn to enrich their personal life with the things they learned about, or just experienced through the book.
7. Write A Special Message
When giving your child a book as a gift, write a special message on the inside, sharing with them how much you look forward to sharing this book with them, or how proud you are that they are reading so much or so well. This will strengthen the bond between the two of you and make the habit of reading even more enjoyable for them.
When my son was born, my sister bought her favorite book for him. She wrote a message inside, telling him she hoped he would love the book as much as she did when she was little. What a treasure for your child to have your family’s favourite books in their collection, all with a personal dedication!
8. Read in Front of Your Child
Children learn by example. Take the time to cozy up and read at home every so often, a book that you really enjoy reading, or even the newspaper. Children will see reading as a part of life and will tend to do the same. If you enjoy reading, they will learn to enjoy reading just by watching you.
9. Share Your Books with Them
During dinner time, or at any time throughout the day, share the things you read about in your books or the newspaper (using common sense of course) by saying things like “This book really made be think about…” or “I loved reading the part where this happened, it reminded me of …”. When sharing with your family about something you read, preface it by saying “I read today that …” so your children see other positive examples of how reading enriches your life.
10. Read Your Children’s Books
I will never forget the day my then-10-year-old son, having just finished reading a 400-page novel, passed it to me and said, “You should read it mom. I’m sure you’ll love it. It has a really emotional part in it.” I was bursting with pride that he was so enthralled in his novel, but what I realized that day was that our bond was so strong, and we had spent so many years reading together and talking about our books, that he knew which books would appeal to me. I could see the confidence in him that reading created, knowing that he was now reading books that were more complex, not simple picture books or children’s stories, and that he felt they were mature enough that he could recommend them to me.
Literacy is the most important skill. Take the time to foster it at home in a way that will make it fun and appealing to your child, so they will enjoy a lifetime of reading and literacy.
As published in NY Metro Parent December 2016.