Helping kids learn to read is a fundamental job of parenting. That said, there’s a tendency for parents to believe the task is best left to experts who know how to teach a kid to read. But the problem is that learning to read is more than just educational mechanics. Children need to know more phonics and sight words, they also need to develop a love of reading and books. The good news is that if you read (and you clearly do), the battle is half won. The bad news is that 66 percent of fourth graders in this country are reading below the basic level, which means parents everywhere need to step up their game.
Your role in all this is pretty obvious, according to Julie Rodriguez, Vice President Of Literary Services for Reading is Fundamental, the country’s largest nonprofit devoted to promoting reading to young kids. “I don’t even remember him not reading to me,” Rodriguez says of her own father, who she credits with getting her hooked early with Mark Twain books. “I know someone whose dad read baseball stats with his child. Share what you love, and increase their vocabulary.”
Here are some more great tips from Rodriguez to help a kid learn to read.
Take a Cue From Elementary School Teachers
It’s never too soon to start reading to your kid. Apply these reading tips common in elementary school classrooms and your child will get a head start:
- Ritualize a reading time 5-7 days per week
- Alternate reading nights with your spouse to offer a new perspective and voice
- Get weird with the voices when you read
- Read when your kid’s around. Your example is a major factor in success
- Visit the library regularly and let your kid select whatever they want
Read the Same Books Over And Over
Rodriguez’s three kids could each read before kindergarten, and she attributes it to putting “miles on the page” with them on their favorite books. “They just need to hear it over and over again, point to the word, and have that access,” she says. “It’s OK to read the same book 5,000 times.” Mind numbing and torturous for you, but OK.
Read Your Child Something You Want to Read Too
Reserve a couple nights every week to put down the picture book you’ve read 5,000 times in favor of a classic you love. For Rodriguez’s dad, that meant not just Mark Twain, but Jack London and John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. “They were far above what my little 6- or 5-year-old brain could handle, but I loved listening to him read it and that shared experience.” Bonus points for letting them hear their first swear words in the name of literacy.
Create Activities Around Elements In The Book
Make a book exciting and not just a bedtime precursor by using its thematic elements to inspire fun stuff in the real world. Rodriguez gives the example of A Balloon For Isabel about a forlorn porcupine who can’t get a balloon like the other kids because she’ll pop it, so Isabel solves the problem by putting gumdrops on her quills. Rodriguez created an entire lesson plan around balloon science experiments, but even if you just use the book as an excuse to stick gumdrops on toothpicks with your kid (and then eat them), you’ll be strengthening their connection to the book
There are other tricks to ensuring you kid loves to read — you can pull the ol’ The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe in their actual wardrobe! bit, which is rock solid. You can stock your home with the exact right number of books. But, mostly, you just need to make sure you kid sees a page at least as often as they see a screen. And talk funny when you read to them. Do that enough, and it should be smooth sailing.