Expert Tips to Make Your Child a Better Reader

School is out! While your kids may be focused on hitting the pool, these lazy, hazy months can also be a good time to hit the books and do some pleasure reading as a family.

“It is critical for young people to stay engaged in learning over the summer, which many parents already know and is confirmed by research,” explains Katie Willse, Chief Program Officer of the National Summer Learning Association.“Lots of studies show that students lose ground over the summer, and it sets them back.”

The experts offer tips and suggestions for easy things parents can do to help their kids become better readers and develop strong literacy skills over the next few months.

Read Aloud Together

All the experts agreed that reading aloud is beneficial, and they stressed that it is important to read to older kids, and not just little ones. “Reading aloud is a huge predictor that kids will fall in love with reading,” says Maggie McGuire, parenting expert and Vice President at Scholastic, which is hosting its ninth annual Summer Reading Challenge. “When parents read aloud, it’s building a habit with your kids. It’s just like rooting for a sports team or going to the theater. It influences them.”

Reading aloud to children at any age is important. “We’ve found that parents start reading to kids too late and stop reading to them too soon,” says Judy Cheatham, Vice President of Literacy Services at Reading is Fundamental. Parents should start reading to children as infants and should continue through middle school.

“Parents think children do not want to be read to, but children do want you to read to them—and they want you to initiate it,” Cheatham says. “People are soothed or energized by being read to, and enjoying a book together makes it interactive.”

Focus on the Fun

Summer is the time to let kids read whatever appeals to them. Parents should not worry about sampling a wide variety of genres or focus solely on skill building.

“Skills will come,” she says. “If a kid is diving into a book they love, they’ll want to repeat that experience and that will build vocabulary, an understanding of character development, and all different kinds of skills.” She reminds parents that schools offer many opportunities for diverse reading, and that 91% of children Scholastic surveyed said that they want to choose their own books.

Cheatham recommends creating a fun, comfortable space to read with beanbag chairs and not insisting on long stretches of time. “Just 20 minutes a day makes it a low lift, but it can have big benefits,” she says.

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Don’t Be Bound to Only Books

Books are great, but McGuire urges parents to incorporate other fun reading materials, like magazines and books on tape. She says that kids as young as 3 years old can enjoy them, and that her tween boys love them, too.

She recommends the Harry Potter series of audio books, even if you’ve already read the traditional books. “The narrator is amazing, and listening to them on tape is a whole different experience.” McGuire notes that audio books should not replace reading aloud with kids, but that they can be great options when on the go.

Cheatham suggests looking for reading opportunities in daily life, like having your child read the flavors on the menu at the ice cream store, so that reading doesn’t seem staged or contrived and so that younger children recognize that words are everywhere.

Game On!

Books are not the only way to develop reading skills.  Games can be very beneficial for young readers, too. Board games like Balderdash, Boggle, Jr. and Scrabble can be a fun way of teaching language, but McGuire says verbal games in the car, such as rhyming games, can be a fun and easy way for parents to build literacy skills on the go.

Help Your Kids Pick Great Books

The library is an amazing place and the first place many parents head when they think about summer reading. The experts all favored participating in a summer reading program at the local library. While the power of choice is important, navigating the library and it’s thousands upon thousands of options can be hard. Telling children to pick just one book can be a daunting task for them. Cheatham suggests that parents of younger kids pick four or five books that would be good and let their kids pick from that selection. That gives them power of choice but does not overwhelm them.

Screen Time is Okay

Reading a book that connects with a game or television show can positively reinforce literacy lessons. Willse recommends the PBS Kids site. “Take advantage of online resources that are fun and engaging. Kids have fun playing cool games while simultaneously developing skills,” she says.  Another benefit is that technology is integrated into many classrooms, so practicing computer skills reinforce the way they’ll be learning during the school year.

Visit Old Friends

“It’s absolutely okay to reread a favorite book,” says Cheatham, noting that adults also enjoy revisiting books they love. “You find out more about a book every time you read it.” It can be fun to discuss how the child’s feelings or perception of the book have changed over time.

Keep a Journal

Have your kids write their thoughts about the books they read this summer, as well as their activities, vacations and special events. Keeping a journal allows kids to exercise both reading and writing skills. Encourage them to use some new vocabulary words they’ve learned in their reading. As an added bonus, it will make a great keepsake commemorating the fun summer.

If you need some help getting started, consider checking out some of these book recommendations from the experts:

Early Elementary

Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems

Iggy Peck, Architect” by Andrea Beaty

Balloons Over Broadway” by Melissa Sweet

Mid to Late Elementary

I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis

Flora and Ulysses: The Illustrated Adventures” by Kate DiCamillo

Any book by Blue Balliet

Middle School

The False Prince Trilogy” by Jennifer Nielsen

Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Bartimaeus Trilogy” by Jonathan Stroud

 

Check out these booklists for many more wonderful recommendations:

Reading Is Fundamental, Scholastic, and the American Library Association.


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