Anita Silvey writes in 100 Best Books for Children, "Nothing in a child's intellectual development offers more pleasure or excitement than a good book. Nothing lasts longer in memory than childhood reading experiences. And nothing ensures the success of a child more in society than being read to from infancy through adulthood."
While Silvey's statements may be true, what about children who have problems with and/or who don't like to read? Reading expert John Jay Pikulski said, "An impressive and growing body of authoritative opinion and research evidence suggests that reading failure is preventable for all but a very small percentage of children." This is good news for parents who are frustrated by their children's inattention too books. Attitudes and reading problems usually can be corrected.
But how can parents encourage their children to read, and to grow to love doing so? And how can parents help their children who may struggle through even a single word?
Kathryn Perkinson, in an article for the U.S. Department of Education, writes that to get kids to love reading, you must read aloud to them and encourage them to read to you. Reading aloud to children familiarizes them with language and with specific stories. Reading familiar stories, ones children love, will encourage them to try and read those stories for themselves, according to the Reading Recovery Council of North America.
Reading specialists agree that it is important to talk to your child about reading, maybe talking about a book you loved as a child or discussing the stories of famous authors or characters, such as Dr. Seuss, Lemony Snickett or Harry Potter. (In the case of Harry Potter-or any book made into a movie-you could make a game out of asking your child to pay attention to what things differ between the book and the movie and ask her to talk about it with you when the movie ends. This will also help develop her critical thinking skills.) And don't forget to occasionally ask your child what she or he is reading in school, and if he understands it or wants to talk about the story or novel.
Another idea to instill a love of books and reading is to peruse the library or a bookstore with your child, letting him pick out books that look interesting. If your child gets to choose the subject of the reading material, he is more likely to read. Perkinson writes of the importance of starting a home library. Children who are used to books being a part of their homes and their lives are more apt to read, and to be better readers, than their counterparts from whom books are rare.
Another tip to improve reading can be found on The Family Education Network's website to "encourage a variety of reading activities." These activities can be as simple as asking your children to read street signs and billboards, comic books or newspaper comic strips, or to play spelling games with you. The Family Education Network suggests your child will read better and more often if books and other things to be read (magazines, comics) are kept handy, especially in the car and other places (while waiting for appointments, in line at the grocery store, etc.) where your child might have idle time.
Though Richard Feldman, Ph.D., of Columbia University, agrees everyone should read-and he is a speed reading expert-he emphasizes that all people should read in a proper environment. "Angling your reading material at 45 degrees improves your reading speed and reduces eye strain." Feldman also says it is important not to read in bed, especially for a child who is working on his reading skills. Reading in bed makes one more relaxed and not as alert, and this may make it more difficult for beginning or troubled readers to actually read.
Other exercises to do with your kids if they are having issues reading include teaching your child to hear the sounds in words, teaching your child to perceive and identify the letters of the alphabet, and teaching your child to recognize (or even memorize) whole words, especially ones that occur often in language. These ideas from the Reading Recovery Council of North America, coupled with the tips mentioned above, will help strengthen your child's reading skills.
But one of the most important things to remember in helping your child become a better reader is to seek professional help for reading issues before waiting to see if they become reading problems. As Pikulski says, most reading obstacles can be overcome and future problems prevented with the proper tools and a little work-one both your part and your child's.
Recommended Reading for More In-depth Tips (in alphabetical order):
• Improving Reading: Strategies and Resources by Jerry Johns and Susan Lanski (Kendall Hunt Publishing Co.)
• Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphic Method for Teaching Your Child to Read by Carmen McGuinness and Geoffrey McGuinness (Free Press)
• Reading Rescue 1-2-3: Raise Your Child's Reading Level 2 Grades with this Easy 3-Step Program by Peggy M. Wilber (Three Rivers Press)
• See Johnny Read!: 5 Most Effective Ways to End Your Son's Reading Problems by Tracey Wood (McGraw-Hill)
Writer, Editor and Professor Jill L. Ferguson writes on family issues for magazines nationwide. She is the author of the young adult novel Sometimes Art Can't Save You, as well as co-author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work and Women Are Changing the Corporate Landscape: Rules for Cultivating Leadership Excellence.
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