When most of us parents think about reading with our child, we generally think it is an activity reserved for their younger years. Over time, we give them more and more autonomy to read, or not, as they prefer, and to do so alone. The difficulty with this mentality is that leaving it up to them can sometimes mean that it doesn’t happen at all, even for the purposes of doing homework.
Continuing to read with your child has many proven benefits, among them: an improved imagination, a stronger vocabulary, and better writing skills as they get ideas for stories of their own. By taking turns reading with your child you also improve their reading comprehension, and can pause to discuss difficult or more mature topics that come up. These discussions, and reflecting on the choices that the characters in the stories make also aid in developing a child’s critical thinking skills (would they have chosen differently? What would happen if they did X instead of Y?). Finally, continuing to read with your child deepens the bond between you, and gives you special time daily to check in with one another and connect.
But what happens when an older child struggles with reading? Their grades will suffer, they will lose their self-confidence, and they will often also distance themselves from those who are best suited to help them: their parents. Children with reading problems will instead develop counterproductive coping strategies, such as relying on the context of what they can hear friends and classmates discussing, and drawing their conclusions from that, rather than being able to do the work on their own.
Correcting the issue takes a great deal of patience, and time, from both parent and child. Rather than losing tempers, parents need to show over and over, that they are still on their child’s side, like a coach cheering on their successes, no matter how small. At the same time, parents need to be careful about patronizing the child, and not giving them reading material that is too simple or babyish. A great solution we’ve found is to introduce them to graphic novels. There is a visual element they can follow, but the words are just as important, and the excitement will keep them interested in reading more. Another great trick is to pick books on topics that already interest them. Think of what hobbies or sports they might already really like, and ask a librarian for a suggestion based on that.
Here are a few other great ideas of how to encourage a child with developing their reading skills:
- Limit reading time to 15 minutes.
- If reading together is chaotic in your house, do it in a café, or in a park. If that doesn’t help, try reading just before bed.
- When preparing to read aloud, talk about the book beforehand to get your child interested in it.
- Try ‘echo reading': read a sentence, paragraph or page aloud, and then get your child to read it.
- Praise the reading, not the reader. ("I liked how you read on to find more information." Or “I like how you expressed that character’s emotions with your tone of voice.”)
- Take opportunities to let your child order from menus, read recipe books or select from the TV guide.
- Take time to play word games such as Scrabble or Pictionary.
- No matter their age, read to them regularly.