Sometimes, despite our best intentions, our kids still resist reading. But what you may not realize is that your best intentions may be backfiring. So read on to find out how to avoid these reading pitfalls at home:
1. Don’t reward reading with TV. The idea of rewarding kids for reading is, among literary experts, contentious. The idea is that, if we reward children for reading, we are sending the message that reading must be unpleasant and therefore the task must be rewarded. This may lead your child to perceive reading as a means to an end rather than reading being its own reward. Research has shown that, when extrinsic rewards are given for a task that would otherwise have been started purely out of interest, children lose interest in the task once the incentive is removed. In fact, this may lead to a drop in their to a level even lower than before the reward was introduced.
Some children, however, do respond better when rewards are dangled in front of them. The goal, after all, is for your child to practice reading and thereby develop their skills so that they will eventually find reading easier and more pleasurable. If this is what it takes to get your child motivated and reading, then consider offering an appropriate reward—one that is related to the activity such as a book or bookmark or a gold star on a reading chart.
“Kids are smart and they’re paying attention, and the message we want to give them is that reading is its own reward. When we [offer TV as a reward for reading], we show them that reading is what you do to get something really valuable, like watch TV,” says Thom Barthelmess, president of the Association of Library Service to Children.
It’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes the biggest motivator for kids is just knowing that you are cheering them on.
2. Don’t just “sound it out.” When you’re helping your child read, focus on the meaning in addition to the sound of the letters and words. Reading well is about understanding meaning, not just knowing how to say the words. If your child is stuck on a word, don’t just “sound it out,” but also “talk it out.” Talk about the text and ask question. Help your child figure out the word from the context of the story or by looking at the pictures.
3. Don’t stop reading aloud. Reading aloud to your child, and with your child, is the most important thing you can do to help them make the leap to reading independently. Try reading a book in unison—with their voice over yours—with a book like Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories: Read & Listen Editionor any other "Read & Listen" Dr. Seuss book. In this way, they have your support, hear themselves reading, and begin to feel what it’s like to be a reader. Once they become comfortable reading with you, try alternating sentences—you read one sentence, your child the next. And when they’re ready to read longer works, you can alternate reading chapters aloud to each other. Even when your child is ready to fly solo, still make time to read together (this will also alert you to any lingering difficulties in pronunciation or comprehension) or just read to your child and let them float away on the story. The Magic Tree House series is wonderful for slightly more advanced readers.
4. Don’t keep books out of reach. If you want your child to read, your house should be filled with books that are within reach of your child (rather than having the remote control in reach)! Try planting a book basket in your kitchen so that your kids can grab a book or magazine to thumb through over breakfast or in the evening while you’re making dinner. Surround your kids with reading material that is easy to digest in short blocks of time such as comics, magazines, joke books, or The Guinness Book of World Records. All of these kinds of books are easy to have on hand and can be picked up when your child has free moment.
5. Don’t choose your child’s book all the time. You want to encourage a love of reading and that means that your child should feel comfortable with the books they are reading. The best thing to do is to give your child a choice of books. While children may not like to be told what to read, if left on their own, they don’t always make the best choice. A child struggling with reading might choose a very simple, short book or, alternatively, may choose a book that’s too much of stretch so as not to be seen reading a “baby book.” A good strategy to try is for you to choose one book and the child to choose the other.
6. Don’t be the reading police. Reading is more than just about books. If your child wants to read a comic book, let him. If your daughter wants to read a kid-friendly website, then let her. It’s all still reading and will call upon your child to process and synthesize what they read and build their vocabulary. Ultimately, though, the goal should be to get your kids to read a mix of genres and formats so look for ways to nudge them out of their comfort zone. Reading different kinds of books—novels, nonfiction, poetry—develops other neural pathways, so it’s good to expose your child to the breadth of reading material.
7. Don’t make reading only a bedtime activity. While it’s great to read to your child before bed, or encourage them to read for a few minutes before “lights out,” reading shouldn’t only be an activity relegated to those sleepy times. Find other times to read to your kids or get them reading—at breakfast, outside on the porch, while waiting in the car pool line. Create fun spaces for reading such as an impromptu blanket fort or cozy reading nook on the side of the couch or under the dining room table.
8. Don’t make a reading list based on your childhood favorites. When my daughter started reading longer books, I was so excited to share with her my childhood favorites—Little House on the Prairie, Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time. Are these books for today’s kids? Of course they are. But not all kids will take to these books and many parents will try to make their child read by getting them to read what they loved as a child. My daughter found the Little House books to be too slowly paced and eventually put Laura aside.
Setting up a reading list might be a good way to organize a child who isn’t inclined to read, but let your child add her own books to the mix. And, if your child can’t get “into” a book, it’s okay to put it back on the shelf and try another title. There are many wonderful (new) books out there to discover!
9. Don’t pressure. The pace at which children learn to read is highly individual. While some young readers devour Harry Potter, others take tentative steps into beginning readers. As your child’s reading coach, resist the urge to pressure your child by setting page counts. Instead of asking them to read 10 pages (or 10 books), which may seem overwhelming, ask them to read for just 20 minutes. A time frame is more manageable for your child and doesn’t put the pressure on reading for speed but reading for enjoyment.
The best thing to do? Just encourage your child by praising and supporting their efforts, and being patient. In time, there will be a happy ending.