Without a doubt, reading is a critically important skill! In fact, research tells us that how well and how much a child reads have a direct impact on his/her long-term school success. But, as a parent (who is not necessarily a trained reading teacher), you might be asking yourself: how do I keep my kids reading well and often at home? Don’t worry – as a former reading teacher who now works full time training both teachers and parents, I have some easy, fun and free secrets to share with you!
Step 1: Create a Reading Nook
Setting aside a special spot for reading can help reading feel like a special activity. Work with your child to pick a spot in your home to be the designated Reading Nook. It should be:
- Comfortable: a bean bag chair, corner on a couch with a special blanket and pillow, outside on the porch (weather permitting), kitchen table with pillow on chair, corner of the house with pillow
- Well-lit: lamp, window, phone light with full battery
- Distraction-free: far from the TV, no phones nearby (unless that is how they are reading the book, of course)
- Quiet: if there is noise that you cannot prevent, research suggests classical music (no words) can act as a wall to decrease the distracting effect of other sounds. Also, consider using earbuds or headphones.
Again, the most important thing here is to help your child build buy-in by giving them as much input as possible. Let them make as many of these choices you can tolerate!
Step 2: Find the Right Books
Children need a book to have two qualities if they’re going to start and keep reading it: to be about a topic that interests them and to be at their “just right” reading level. Let’s talk about interest-level first. I can’t stress this enough: under the current circumstances, let your children read whatever is of interest to them. Even if you work hard to “broaden their horizons” at other times, don’t feel badly if they read 15 Pokémon books in a row now. In this moment, the point is that they are reading. Letting them choose topics they are naturally interested in will keep them reading far longer.
But what if the books you have at home aren’t getting much interest from your children? Good news: there are dozens of free reading websites! Bad news: some are much better than others. I’ve sorted through the good and the bad to find the best ones to share with you:
Second, let’s talk about picking books that are at the “just right” difficulty level for your children. There are many complicated systems that schools use to track your children’s reading level. While these systems are fantastic, there’s a simple trick you can use at home that will help you to know you’re picking the right level of books. It’s called the Rule of 5.
If there are 5 or more words on the second page of the book that your children do not know, they COULD choose an easier book (or have a parent or older sibling read that book to them!). The Rule of 5 can be controversial because if students cannot read the book with some fluency and ease, they could abandon the book quickly versus stick with it. On the other hand, I have seen many students in my classroom stick with extremely tough text because of their interest. You know your child best, so enjoy facilitating the book choosing process!
Step 3: Plan the Reading Time
Children respond well to structure and schedules. Having a sense of order during uncertain times helps children to feel safe, which, in turn, helps them to regulate their behavior. I guarantee – whatever time you spend creating and implementing a schedule will come back to you ten-fold!
A reading schedule could have:
- Clear start and end times (ask your child to create a goal of how much time to read each day)
- One clear cut time to read or several chunks of times throughout the day
- Clear expectations of behavior and location
- Total ownership from the child as much as possible (let them create it with your help)
One of my favorite literacy authors, Laura Robb, said: “Developing reading stamina is like training to run a mile in less than eight minutes. Both require regular practice to increase energy and concentration.” Click here for a free downloadable schedule that you can start using tomorrow.
Step 4: Prepare the Brain for Reading
When we preview information (or in this case, the book), we are prepping the brain for the bigger picture of what is going to be read. Teach your children the following four steps for preparing their brains to read any book (this is a life-long skill that many adults do naturally):
- Book Walk: Flip through the pages of the book to look at the pictures, chapters titles, captions, summaries, subheadings, etc. These “walks” through a text prime the brain and promote the big picture in a reader’s mind.
- Personal Connections: Ask questions like, “What do you already know about this topic, author, or ideas within the book? What do you think the book/chapter will be about? What do you think you might learn about this topic?”
- Vocabulary: Define a few, challenging vocabulary words that you notice during the Book Walk. Learning critical words before reading (or even during reading) drastically improves comprehension. Quick tools for definitions: dictionary.com; vocabulary.com; ninjawords.com.
Once you’ve done these three things, it’s time to help your children create a purpose for reading. More information on this key step is coming in my next Literacy Insights for Parents! (Click below to download the free schedule and make sure you are subscribed for the whole series – I promise to send only free, easy-to-access, and simple-to-use resources to help you during these challenging times! I will never send spam, and I will absolutely never sell your email address!)
Using the four steps outlined here to empower your children to be habitual readers in your home today will help keep them on the path toward being strong readers forever. Literacy is contagious and a lifelong skill.
If you know any other parents who could benefit from this article, please feel free to share!