Getting your kids to read can be a challenge these days with all the distractions! Wondering what your approach should be? Join us as author Kathryn O’Brien discusses some tried and true reading strategies for kids!
Long before Dr. Seuss put a cat in a hat or invited kids to hop on Pop, parents have been concerned with improving their children’s reading skills.
Every decade or so, a new idea in education sweeps the nation. During the 1950’s, Dick and Jane ushered in the “Look and Say” approach, which was replaced ten years later with direct phonics instruction. Whole-language dominated the 1980’s, prompting a sharp return to phonics toward the end of the millennium. Currently, of course, the hot-button issue is deeper-thinking Common Core State Standards. With each trendy philosophy, teachers either cheer or complain. Administrators defend or dismiss. Politicians advocate or denounce. And parents are left wondering whether their kids will be helped or hindered by the latest and greatest approach.
As a former primary teacher and current Director of Instruction in a Christian elementary school, I regularly encourage parents and teachers to disregard the most recent frenzy and opt for tried and true, common sense strategies when it comes to enriching reading aptitude. Here are a few suggestions to get started.
#1 Fun Counts– It’s a simple formula: kids who enjoy reading equals kids who become better readers. Investing time to find books that are tailored to fit your child’s interests, hobbies, curiosities and funny bones, will result in improved reading. A National Research Council study from a few years back maintains that one major cause of low reading ability is a lack of motivation (Snow et al., 1998). So if your child just can’t wait to dive into a comic book, let her! If your kid doesn’t want to put down a book about ogres, don’t force him to. From lizards to Legos, baseball to ballet, find books that excite, inspire and enthuse your child’s unique personality.
#2 Get’em Hooked– Unfortunately, one book won’t last forever. A major key to fueling the reading fire is finding a series that makes your child want more. I recommend trying The Imagination Station series by Marianne Hering and Paul McCusker to share God’s truths in a fun and creative way. For an exciting historical context, give Bible KidVentures Old Testament Stories a try. For kids who loves all things silly, check out Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants with 70 million copies sold or the Bad Kitty series by Nick Bruel. Just like you and me, finding a favorite series is a surefire way to keep the pages turning.
#3 Let’s Get Together – Millions of adults join book clubs each year for one simple reason; sharing a great story makes the experience even better. So why not try book club at home? Set aside time each week to read a book together. Choose a title your child enjoys and purchase your own copy. Partner-read by alternating pages. Struggling readers can take turns with paragraphs or even sentences. Kids benefit greatly from hearing one-on-one modeling of correct pacing, expression, tone and pronunciation of new vocabulary.
#4 No Question About It– Whether your child is partner-reading or reading independently, be sure to stop frequently for inquiries. Start with the basics: who, where, when, what? But don’t quit there. Delve deeper by asking the biggies: how and why. Questions that start with how and why introduce children to a more sophisticated set of comprehension skills (inference, prediction, categorization) and important critical thinking relationships between ideas (compare and contrast, cause and effect). Don’t allow kids to simply guess and move on; invite them to become Reading Detectives by searching for evidence in the text that supports their answers.
#5 See the Big Picture– As your child reads, ask him to visualize the story in his mind. Encourage her to describe the details she sees. Keep crayons and markers on hand to illustrate, making a valuable concrete image. Graphic organizers, like “Word Webs,” are another great way to create a solid picture of written words. Simply write the main idea or main character from a story in the middle of a page, then surround it with related details. “Story Maps” make good graphic tools as well; just sketch the main events of a story in the sequence in which they occur. Any way that children are able to diagram, chart, frame, illustrate, or graph a text is a reliable way to ensure comprehension.
If these strategies feel a bit overwhelming, choose one and give it a shot. Add more activities as you feel comfortable. Don’t get bogged down by pressure from politicians, academia or the PTA; simply share with your children the reading strategies that have stood the test of time.
Kathryn O’Brien has been published in numerous parenting and teaching magazines, including ParentLife and Shining Star. As a former elementary school teacher, Kathryn continues to write on education topics and blogs regularly at kathobrien.com.