Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

~ George Carlin ~

How Can Your Children Succeed at Reading?

November 24th, 2011 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 18 secs

How come some children love reading and others don't?

We fret a lot about children reading.

As a teacher, parents frequently asked, “How can I get my child to read?

It’s a straightforward question that’s both simple and complex.

To understand how children can become better readers it’s helpful to go back to the way we all go about learning.

Firstly, I believe children are immensely clever. By the time they reach three or so most have mastered walking, running, eating, speaking, and understanding speech. That’s so mind-blowingly smart it’s hard to think of an adult equivalent.

Then comes reading. To grasp that squiggly patterns of ink mean something is a complex process when you think about it. Yet most kids master it without much trouble.

All the rules of grammar (which I am still learning, despite having taught English), along with the subtle aspects of language in text need to be pulled together into a meaningful whole. Sheesh! That’s tricky.

Many educators, scientists, and therapists over decades have studied how children learn to read and the prevailing conclusion is that they still don’t know. All they can tell is that children have a built in mechanism that helps them get there.  Each child has a kind of natural language making ability for learning to read. So it’s a natural potential.

Complicated? It is to me. But it gets even more involved. Despite opinion, we don’t exactly teach children to read. We can only help them work it out for themselves.

Think about that. The focus is always on making a child read by doing what we think they should. But really, all the research points to reading being a complex neurological process that children put together themselves with the right support.

Which explains why some kids struggle so much with reading.

Difficulty comes from the way particular children process text. Whether this is first caused by their environment or some other neurological block widely varies. That means some children cannot read regardless of what we do. Whilst others will eventually but need a lot more help for it to finally click.

This is all very heavy duty, isn’t it? But here’s the good news. Whatever the block, we at least encourage good reading to develop and thrive.

How? Well here are 8 marvelous steps that I recommend. Together they require commitment and care. But then, that’s what parenting is all about, isn’t it?

  1. Children – all children – need to be read aloud to daily. Not in some boring, regimented way of course. But in a way that’s fun and reassuring of your love for them. Twenty to thirty minutes every day is a wonder tonic.  Even if your child has an underlying condition preventing reading to happen, they will love the closeness and affection that you give them in the process. Reading to your child is like sharing a secret treasure.
  2. Read yourself. Yes, much of what children learn is caught not taught. So if they see you reading naturally as part of life, they will want to copy your example. That means having books around the house, newspapers,  magazines and anything else readable. If you enjoy reading you are sending an incredibly powerful message to your child.
  3. Go to the library together and also newsagents and bookstores. Remember to choose books and magazines that capture their interest rather than yours (easier said than done). Bring reading matter home.
  4. For older children you can give them a magazine allowance – money strictly for purchasing their favorite magazine. This gives reading status, even if they can only look at the pictures.
  5. Work on keeping your home a loving, secure place. Children who feel anxious and disturbed often struggle with reading. So make sure they have a safe place to encourage reading and other forms of concentration.
  6. Keep the TV off more and ration all forms of screen time. Computer based reading is helpful, but books are better – especially for learners.
  7. Keep regular rhythms to promote good habits. Children benefit from knowing when bedtime is, and when they are going to be read to.  Making the experience more of an event promotes reading over passive TV viewing.
  8. Finally, weave reading into other forms of daily life. Leave a sticky note on the refrigerator saying where that extra piece of pie is, or write little love notes. Use your imagination so it feels fun and friendly for your child and it will be warmly received.

Do all of these things and you can be assured you are providing the best climate for your child to successfully learn to read.  By all means talk to your child’s teacher and act on their advice. But, above all else, relax and keep showing loving approval. Because when it comes to children and reading, nothing beats your power to nurture.


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