Conversations are where children first learn many of the skills they need to learn to read. Talk with children about the story, the pictures and their reaction to the book. Some other thoughts for parents who want to make reading with their children enjoyable:
Keep the love of story alive. While your child hones his honest reading skills, encourage him to return to the picture books and early reads he loved when he was little - you are never too old to read a 32-page picture book! These are wonderful books to revisit and for older children to read on their own. They already have a love affair going!
Help your child find the hook of the story - what taps into their curiosity and captures their interest quickly. Children are not patient readers. They are not willing to read 50 pages to get hooked on a book. Give a book a fair chance and also let them know they don't have to finish or like every book. There is also no reason why every child shouldn't like every book - it is all about the right book for the right time.
Don't interrupt the reading of the story with explanations or editorials. This gets in the way of the story and a child can easily become annoyed and frustrated with too many interruptions.
Read the story as it is written. Don't "monkey" with the way the story is written. Once you begin to tinker with the story, by substituting an easier word of leaving complicated sentences or information that you think might be confusing, you are interfering with the magic of the story.
Respect your child's taste. Taste is personal and you may not like all the books your child chooses to read, but these are important books because they help your child hone her reading skills and build her confidence as a reader. Hang in long enough and you will see your child go from reading what you might call simplistic stories - those "okay reads" - to more challenging stories. Know your guidance is key in helping your child find books worth knowing with characters worth meeting.
Keep the pleasure in reading. The Call of the Wild in third grade may be a signal for Balto and the Great Race. If a book is too difficult, your child may better understand and enjoy the story if you read it to her out loud. Also encourage your child to read another book on their own for pleasure.
Read aloud. A child's desire to learn to read comes from being read to. Reading to your child taps into his imagination and curiosity and creates a love story. Many of the skills children need to become good readers are first learned in the stories they hear.
Don't stop reading aloud to your children once they have mastered the ability to read on their own. Some children, when they can read on their own, resist being read to - it can be babyish. Reading aloud, sharing ideas, and talking about what matters to your child is not something that anyone outgrows. Be creative. Read something that will interest your child and keep alive the habit of reading together and sharing ideas. You are never too old to enjoy reading aloud.
Don't turn reading into a vocabulary lesson. Learning words in isolation gets in the way of comprehension and pleasure. If a child meets five or more words on a page that he doesn't know and can't figure out, he is probably on the young side for that particular book. Don't push - come back to the book at a future time.
Have books in place where they will be easy to pick up. Is there a room in your house that does not have book? Why doesn't it?
Slow down. Encourage your child to read fewer books and know them well. Children need comprehension not speed to be good readers. Too many people find themselves on literary StairMasters, moving fast but going nowhere.
Encourage your child to read a book more than once. When you first read a book you are following the basic plotline. A second read delivers different pleasures by allowing you the opportunity to pick up the subtleties and nuances of the story that are often missed on a first read.
Audio books (not the abridged stories) are terrific. Listening to books on tape is not cheating! Don't relegate audio books only to long car rides. Audio books are another wonderful way to increase the stories children have in their memory banks. An added bonus - audio books build vocabulary!
Be creative and find other times in a day - not just bedtime - when reading can happen. Bedtime reading is wonderful but is not the only time of the day to read. At the end of the day children and parents are tired, and the last time I checked, tired and cranky and a short attention span all go hand in hand. How about a poem with breakfast? How about a short story with a snack? How about one chapter with dessert at dinner?
About Diane W. Frankenstein:
Diane W. Frankenstein, author of Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read, holds a Master Degree in Children's Literature and Language Arts. Since 1989 Diane has worked as an educational consultant in children's and adolescent literature. Her educational consulting business specializes in children's literature and provides school communities - parents, teachers, and librarians, as well as individual families, and private organizations - the tools, resources, and knowledge that ensure children learn to love to read.