If we were to rank the basic school subjects by their importance, reading should, and probably would, be at the very top, because the ability to learn any other subject is based, primarily on one’s ability to read.
Parents who are overly-impressed with their child’s abilities in sports, or skill in computer games are often dismayed when the same child shows up with failing grades on a report card due, in large part, to his inability to read and grasp the meaning of what he has read.
If your child insists that he or she hates reading, and balks at reading even the simplest material, here are some steps you can take steps to help improve your child’s attitude and success in this vitally important subject.
1. Never stop reading to your child.
Most of us do read to our children when they are tiny. Remember how they enjoyed hearing, Mister Moon, Mister Moon, 20 or more times before going to sleep every night? And remember how you enjoyed reading it to them? Sadly, most of us stop this nightly ritual after a couple of years, and, by not reading to them, we are showing our kids that we don’t really think reading is all that important.
Why not have a family reading time each evening? Give each member of the family a chance to choose a book, and go through those books one by one. Soon the whole family will be looking forward to the reading time to find out what happens next in the current story. This is also a good time to incorporate values that you think are important by making sure some of the choices have themes that reinforce those values in your children.
2. Make sure your child has some kind of bookcase in his room.
It doesn’t have to be huge, or fancy. Just a special place for him to keep his own special books. A cardboard box can be cut down on the front side, covered with colorful paper or paint, and labeled with something like, “JEREMY’S FAVORITE BOOKS,” or “TOMMY’S OWN LIBRARY.” Encourage your child to keep his books in his library when he is not reading them. (Books scattered all over the floor, under the bed, in the bed, in the toy box, and all over the house may cause the child to think that books aren’t very special, and can just be discarded when one is tired of them.
3. Give books to your child as gifts, for special occasions, or rewards.
If a gift book ties in with something else in the child’s life, it will be even more valuable to him. A child who loves sports may also love books about sports or people who take part in sports. Youngsters who like animals can be introduced to all kinds of animals and their habits through books. Hobby books are a great choice for boys and girls who like to make or collect things. Let kids see that there is a connection between books and other interests in their lives.
4. Take books along when you travel.
Kids love to make a special visit to the library before a scheduled trip to pick out a few books to take along. While you are traveling, let each of them take turns reading to the rest of the family and discuss the story when they have finished reading.
5. Have your child keep a log of the books he reads.
A log isn’t very impressive at the beginning, so make a big deal of entering the first few books. If they are older, encourage them to write a few sentences under each entry telling in their own words what the book was about. (This might be a good time for Mom and Dad to make their own reading logs. After a month or two, share the logs so that family members can keep up on what other family members are reading about. When Grandparents come to visit, encourage your children to show them their reading logs.
Instead writing their log in a notebook, some children may enjoy a huge tag board log displayed in their room with large columns marked off for the book’s title, the author, the date they finished reading the book, and a brief comment about the content. They might even want to have a column to rate what they thought of the book with a gold star for very good, silver for good, and their least favorite color for a book they didn’t like at all.
7. Ask your child what kind of story he would write if he was an author.
If he seems interested, take down some of his main ideas, and help him put together a story of his own, complete with cover, title page, contents if the story is long, and the story itself. Of course his own name, and artwork if desired, should be on the front and it should occupy a prominent place in his very own bookcase. If he is really enthusiastic about this project, extra copies could be made to distribute to siblings, grandparents, and friends.
8. Question your child frequently about the content of what he is reading.
Don’t make your questions sound like the Spanish Inquisition. Instead, use a tone of voice and a manner that shows your child your really want to know about the story he is reading. Don’t be satisfied just to ask, “What was the story about?” Draw him out with questions that will show you whether or not he really understands what he is reading.
Ask him why he thinks the main character acted the way he did; why another character got into trouble for a particular action; and whether or not he thought the ending was a good ending or not. Ask if there were any animals in the story and what they did. Ask if there was someone in the story he would or wouldn’t like to have as a friend.
9. Share what you are reading with your children whenever it is appropriate.
Don’t bore your child by telling him in detail the entire plot of, War and Peace, but when you read an interesting article in the paper, or a magazine that might hold some interest for a child, condense it down and share with him. A lot of kids feel like the only time their parents ever talk to them is to tell them what to do or what not to do. Surprise yours, and tell them that you read in the paper about a cat that learned to swim, or a child about their own age that collected 700 cans of food for needy people in a food drive. This type of conversation will let them know that you consider them adult enough to share your interests, but may also cause them to see newspapers and TV as places to get interesting information—not just as places to read the comics and watch sitcoms.
10. Keep track of your child’s reading improvement and recognize it orally.
When your child has read an especially difficult book, compliment him on his achievement. If he logs a large number of books or stories in his reading log and you feel that he really understands what he is recording there, take him out to a movie or an ice cream cone.
Make comments to your spouse in front of the child about how “Ricky just finished reading a book about Ben Franklin. Let him tell the family how Ben Franklin discovered electricity.”
The ten steps above will go a long way to help a reluctant reader become less reluctant, and perhaps even turn him into an eager reader. The real key, unless there is an underlying problem such as dyslexia or vision impairment, is for the parent to treat reading as a valuable, fun activity, rather than just another school subject that has to be learned. As someone has already said, “love for learning is caught, not taught.” That is also true for reading. May we, as parents, at least where reading is concerned, work at being as contagious as possible.