Five Secrets to a Better Reader

Q: So, why are kids so good at computer games?   Is it digital genes? A rewired brain?

 A: Because they practice every day, day in and day out – and some do it for hours.  They master the game.

The secret for making better readers follows the same formula. The more children read, the better readers they become. Just like with computer games. Instead of play, play, play – the mantra needs to shift to read, read, read. While it sounds simple, it’s not  – because reading takes more work. The pay off isn’t as quick as a computer game. There’s no immediate rush – no fun, interactive game bouncing with color, action and sounds. That’s why kids often default to screens.

But reading takes a child to another world of human interaction and imagination – a place no app, video or game can go. Reading is the foundation for all learning. The more your children like to read, the more they’ll read and the better they’ll do in school. Here are five ways to get your kids reading more:

#1. Read to Your Kids, Everyday. If you’re like most parents, you respond to this idea with “O.K., yeah…did that when they were little; we’re beyond that.” Not so fast. Reading to all age kids, including those who are becoming fluent readers, or those in middle school (their friends don’t need to know), has great benefits. Your children hear your fluency. They catch your rhythm. They hear expression in your voice. And it “counts” as reading if they follow along. Reading to your child also allows you to ask questions along the way. “What’s really going on here? What do you think will happen? Do you trust this character?” Questions that improve comprehension – especially with nonfiction books, a much harder read for most kids. Most of the time, just sitting with and being close to your child is half the experience for them. They want your attention and they are listening. The best book ever on this subject: The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

#2. Let Them Read What They Want to Read. Cast a wide definition for “books.” Junie B. Jones? Check. Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate? Absolutely. The Guinness Book of World Records? A great gift – kids love it. Judy Blume? Definitely. Sports Illustrated? Yes. Dr. Seuss for 8-year-olds? Yes, yes. A child interested in a story or the characters is more likely to read - and stay with it. A child forced to read something he doesn’t want to read at home (it’s natural when this happens at school) will eventually turn his back on reading. The same holds true when a child is forced to read a book that’s too hard. Use the five finger test: If kids can pick out more than five words they don’t understand on the first page of the book, it’s above their level. Let your child take the lead. Encourage reading for 30 minutes a day. An hour is even better. Praise the reading, no matter what they read.

#3. Bring Them to the Library. And give them their own card. Sounds obvious but it can have a big affect. The idea of having a card with their name or signature on it empowers children.  Make weekly trips to the library. Let the kids hang out, read and check out whatever books they want. (We used to do a child’s age = number of books to borrow.) Get them a book bag so they can carry them back and forth and keep them safe at home. (This did not put an end to lost library books at our house, but it helped.) Go to story times. Or just go hang out at the library. It’s a great retreat for you, too.

#4. Let Them See You Reading. A book, the newspaper, a magazine. And if it’s on a screen, let them see you’re reading vs. surfing the net or playing Words with Friends.(And don’t let them see you jumping back and forth if you are!) On many Sundays – especially in the winter months – we try to have some unplugged time. Build a fire, grab a good book, curl up on the couch and read. If the kids know its screen free time, they’ll usually end up next to us reading (until their 14 or 15 anyway). Doing what you ask your kids to do often motivates them better than anything else.

In a recent Parent Backpack workshop, a mom asked me, “But how do I get my 7-year-old daughter to read when she’s addicted to games and screens?” My simple philosophy:

#5: Find the Electronic OFF Button and PUSH it. Lucky for us parents, every device comes with an ON/OFF button. Remember, you are the parent. If your kids can’t turn it off themselves or follow the limits, simply push the off button yourself. Then grab a book and read. Or let them read to you. I know it’s hard to push that button. I get that it’s easier to leave the screens on. But if you want your kids to become better readers – and get the best education they can – you need to balance screen time with reading time.

So find that button, push OFF and start reading. As for the issue of reading on screens vs. paper – that’s a great topic for a future post. For now, just get them reading – whatever they want.

Helpful links and books:

readkiddoread.com

www.trelease-on-reading.com

imaginationsoup.net

guysread.com

www.readinglady.com

oprah.com kids reading list

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