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Helping Kids Become Lifelong Readers

If you had asked my middle school students to describe our class routines, you might have thought I was their English teacher, not Social Studies. As a teacher and tutor, I’ve tried to pass on a legacy for the love of reading to my students. I often tell them, “If you can read, you can teach yourself anything.” In this article, I will give you some tips on how to get your children to read more, and more often.

It’s Not Magic!

Occasionally, parents visited my classroom to ask, “How do you do it?” They were usually referring to the success of my Friday Silent Reading routine.

Each fall, I explained the importance of literacy to my students and said that practice is best way to improve reading skills. I told them that I expected them to bring a book of their choice to class every day, to read it if they finished all the day’s scheduled activities I’d given them, and that the first 20 minutes of class every Friday was reserved for sustained silent reading.

Parents seemed awed when I told them my middle schoolers would sit and read without talking for 20 minutes. They confessed their struggles to get their son or daughter to read anything at home. My answer didn’t satisfy many of them, “I told them what I expected of them, explained why it was important, and followed through with the plan I outlined on the first day of school.”

It really is that simple. If you want your children to read daily, explain to them why it’s important, let them know you’ll be there for them if they have trouble with vocabulary or reading comprehension, and then reserve time for reading. Here are a few other things you can do to make starting a daily reading routine less painful:

1. Read with them! Show your children that reading is important by reading along with them. I had a “reading chair” in my classroom that I put at the front of the room every Friday. I sat in the reading chair once all students were settled and reading quietly themselves and read a book, too. A small clock on the table beside me let students know I was minding the time. Reading along with students was the key to getting them to read quietly every Friday.

2. Teach them their “reader’s rights”. You may not know this, but schools don’t teach their students about what 6th grade English teacher, author, and literacy advocate Donalynn Miller calls their “reader’s rights”. In her book titled The Book Whisperer, Miller explains that she teaches her students their rights as readers at the beginning of each school year. Here is her list of the “rights” she teaches them:

  • “You have the right to abandon books you don’t like.” She writes that students are usually forced to keep reading books they hate, which makes reading a chore. Let your kids know it’s okay abandon a book and choose something else if they aren’t hooked after reading chapter four (4).
  • “You have the right to skip sentences or paragraphs in novels.” Let your older (middle school and above) children know that it’s okay to skip some sentences or paragraphs. They won’t be tested on what they read. Let’s face it – some characters or scenes are boring. Tell them it’s more important to understand the story and have fun versus reading every single word in the book.
  • “You can adjust your reading speed if you want to.” Explain that they should slow down when they read their textbooks to make sure they understand the material. When they read novels they can increase their reading speed as long as they understand the story. Their goal is to have fun - not memorize!

3. Give them plenty choices. The public library is my resource for everything book - related. They have a wide variety of literacy – based programs for children and adults. Their knowledgeable librarians can recommend books or let you know what’s on the New York Times Bestseller list. Plan regular trips to the library and encourage your children to check out lots of books. I also recommend free online book swap websites like bookmooch.com and paperbackswap.com. The only requirement is that you list a certain number of books you’re willing to give away. The only cost you’ll ever pay is postage to ship your books to people who request them (about $2 USD if you ship them via media mail).

4. Make reading time sacred. Schedule a consistent daily reading time. In a day or two, your children will be used to the routine provided you are consistent. Turn off the TV (gasp!), cell phone ringers, and have them sit so they can’t see any computer screens. Have them gather a couple of books in case they decide to abandon the one they’re reading during your scheduled reading time. Bring a book or magazine to read, too. Let them know that reading time starts once they’ve started reading quietly if they drag their feet. That should end any procrastination and/ or misbehavior.

The reading skills and habits you teach your children will last a lifetime. Don’t pass up the opportunity to give them the gift of literacy.

Summary

Parents can do several things to help their children become lifelong readers. Explain why becoming a good reader is so important and implement a consistent daily reading time. Show them you value reading by reading along with them. Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV, cell phone ringers, and anything else that might disturb their reading. Make sure they know the difference between reading to learn (textbooks) and reading for fun (novels). Teach them that it’s okay to abandon books if they find they don’t like them. Also, give them access to a wide variety of books by taking them to the local library or bookstore or browsing the choices on free online book exchange websites.

I hope you found this article helpful. Please take a minute to leave a comment, Like this post on Facebook, or Tweet the post via Twitter using the buttons on the right side of my blog page. If you have questions about this article, or if you need advice for your unique situation, feel free to E-mail me using the “E-mail Jeff S.” button on my Wyzant tutor home page. If you have a topic suggestion, please leave it in the Comment section below. I welcome any feedback you have!