How to Help Your Kids Improve Their Reading

There was a time, years ago, when TRC wasn’t a big reader. Granted, it was in Kindergarten, right after he’d learned to read in the first place, but still. I remember wanting him to read more, and so I started reading aloud with him in the evenings. This lasted all of two or three evenings, because after that, he decided he wanted to read the book faster so he could find out what happened, and he really hasn’t stopped reading since. Seriously.

So for four years or so, that’s what I thought “encouraging your kids to read” consisted of. (Come to think of it, I helped a bit earlier with him too. I told him he could start staying up a half hour later if he could read all of Green Eggs and Ham, way back at the very beginning stages of his reading. That worked easy peasy too.)

But one thing you learn as a parent is that each child is different. The time came for DC to learn to read, and I used the same approach I’d used with TRC. First, the Green Eggs and Ham bribe. But she didn’t jump all over it like TRC had. Where it had taken him days to do it, it took her months and much more coaxing.

Not to worry, I said to myself. It might just be a bit soon for her.

But the years passed, and things didn’t seem to improve. She was reading at her grade level, but she didn’t really have a love of reading at all. This is something I couldn’t really understand at all. I finished Lord of the Rings in second grade. I love me some reading. But I didn’t want to give DC a hard time. She’d grow into it. She looks much older than she actually is, so it’s easy to assume she’s farther along in her education than she is. That had to be it, right?

About two months ago, someone asked her to read something out loud on the spur of the moment. She happily agreed, and then did her best. It was a real struggle for her, and I saw that first hand and couldn’t really get around it. My daughter was struggling to read, and she was already through with second grade.

This wasn’t working.

Reading is such a huge part of school and life. If you can read quickly and read well, it’s so much easier to stay on top of your school work, to learn new things, to come across new ideas. I wanted that for my daughter, but I didn’t know how to get it.

Like with many things in my life, I prayed about what I could do to help. The answer I got was to start reading with her every evening. I’m a goal-oriented fellow, so I added that to my daily routine. I sat DC down and told her that she and I would be reading the Chronicles of Narnia every night. It was one of my favorite series growing up, and I thought she’d love it too. But there were some stipulations I made with her. First, she’d be reading over my shoulder. She had to be following along on the page with what I was reading. To help this, I used a piece of paper to underline each line as I went, moving the paper as the reading continued. Second, she’d have to read out loud herself, some on each page. To keep her honest, I told her that at any time, I might tell her that it was her turn to start reading, and she’d need to pick up from where I’d left off, right away.

It was new to her, but she liked the idea, so we started with Prince Caspian (the family had read Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe a while ago, and I wanted fresh material.) It went very well. She struggled reading out loud, but she really enjoyed the story. (I do voices, because how can you read out loud and not do voices?) It took a few days of effort to establish the pattern and the habit, but we hit our groove soon after.

We’ve now finished all of Prince Caspian and 2/3 of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, following that same pattern. A chapter a night. She reads with me, and she reads out loud on her own now and then too.

I’ve been amazed at how well this has worked. For one thing, she’s started reading a ton more in general, finishing many books in her summer reading program. Reading aloud has also become much more natural for her. She still struggles on longer words, but she handles shorter words like a champ and has improved so much. But even more importantly, it’s given me something to do with her every day that she really looks forward to and enjoys, and that I enjoy too.

In the end, it wasn’t anything earth shattering. I doubt I’m doing anything different than what most parents are doing, and it’s a shame it took me this long to come up with the basic idea of “just read to her more,” but such is life. Sometimes it takes time to come up with obvious solutions. And so I  thought I’d pass this obvious solution on to any of you who might need a little kick in the pants to follow suit.

Thanks for reading!

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