When I was teaching, there were a couple of things about reading that I wish I could have told parents in the weeks before the school year began. Had I been able to, here’s what I would have said…
If you have children just starting school, building their confidence and comfort with books is the most important thing that you can do. In order to accomplish this:
1. Read to your children every night.
This really is the most important thing that you can do to help your children grow into readers. Spend just five minutes each night – more if you have it, but five minutes are enough – and read from a variety of genres. Read pictures books, poems and articles from kids’ magazines.
2. Let kids know that reading happens all of the time, every day
. We read signs and labels and directions. We read short articles and long books. We read for enjoyment and to get information. Reading is not something that takes place in isolation, once or twice a day in the classroom.
3. Show your kids that they are already readers
. Point out what your children already know about books, and praise what they can do. It may be as simple as holding the book the right way and turning the pages in the right direction, or as complicated as recognizing a few words when they see them. Whatever it is, no child goes to school without any knowledge of books. Let your kids know that even though they can’t read every word they see, they are absolutely readers.
As kids get older, there are several things that they should be able to do at the start of the school year.
1. Come to school prepared.
Most teachers will ask their students what they read over the summer. It’s hard for teachers to respond to “nothing” or “I don’t know.” Allow your children to read what they’re interested in – whether that means comic books, magazines or chapter books. If your children struggle with reading, read with them or have them listen to books on tape.
2. Identify strengths.
Some children excel in all parts of reading, but many find that they are “really good” at something specific. Maybe your child can decode like a champ, or perhaps she’s great at identifying with characters and understanding why they feel or act the way they do. Maybe she’s great at predicting what’s going to happen next or asks particularly insightful questions. More frequently these days, teachers are beginning the school year with a “Reading Inventory” that asks kids to identify their reading strengths – and all kids have them!
3. Articulate worries and needs.
Just as all kids have specific reading strengths, they also have things they can work on. When kids know what they want to work on, what they need to improve, it opens them up to learning in a new way. Kids need to know that struggling with one area of reading, whether decoding or comprehension, is normal and nothing to worry about – and being able to articulate this makes them incredibly thoughtful readers and thinkers.
Finally, there are a couple of things that you can do with your children, regardless of their ages, to help them grow into individuals who love to read.
1. Never turn reading into a chore.
In the beginning of the school year, teachers tend to get bogged down with mandatory assessments, building community, and setting boundaries with their students. Kids may not get the chance to share the books that they love with their friends or take time out of the school day to read on their own or in a book club. Make sure they get this time at home in a low-pressure, comfortable way.
2. Read together and talk about books
. With younger children, it’s quite natural to read to them and to talk about the books you read. Continue this with kids as they get older. Share interesting articles with your kids, talk to them about the books they are reading, as well as the books you are reading. Or start your own mini-book club and read the same book at the same time.
3. Find ways to have fun with reading
. Compare books with the movies and television shows made from them. With younger kids, copy a poem and put it in their lunch box. Read recipes and cook together, or read directions to create an art or science project. Have fun with your kids, or encourage them to read for these purposes on their own.
All of our children can be successful readers in school, and passionate, engaged readers out in the “real world.” The start of a new school year is just the time to get them motivated and excited. JENNY RICH worked as a teacher in the New York City public schools. She received her Masters degree in Reading and Literacy from Bank Street College of Education, where she later worked as adjunct faculty. Jenny now stays home with her son and runs www.ethansbookshelf.com, a children’s book review website.