Raising an Eager Reader

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Gone are the days when keeping books about the house was enough incentive for kids to read. Today’s readers need a full diet of variety to stay engaged.

Cover Kid winner Kimiko revealed at her photo shoot that reading is a favorite activity. Her mom, Sheri Yonenaka, estimates that Kimi reads two to three hours a week outside of school.

“Since Kimi was an infant, I’ve read to her. I have always tried to read with animation and talk about the pictures,” says Yonenaka. “Frequent visits to the library and participating in library programs for toddlers kept her excited. We still visit the library each weekend.”

Not all parents are lucky enough to have a child that devours books. Plenty of kids resist reading, much the way a picky eater side-eyes veggies. But just like picky eaters can be enticed with the right snack, the right book can draw in a reluctant reader  — they need the right book.

The Book Hater

“I hate reading.” Words uttered by kids every day, and for plenty of good reasons, including Reading = B.O.R.I.N.G. But why?

Jenny Krieger and Allison Grimes, kindergarten language arts teachers at Cincinnati Country Day School, say that getting kids to read is all about getting them interested.

Parents should make reading engaging and fun in every way possible. Find books that “hook.” Follow your child’s interests. Read books from favorite hobbies, movies, TV shows, sports … The bottom line: Make reading fun!

Sometimes finding out what a kid likes to read means asking the right questions. Kerry Rhoad, reference librarian/assistant children’s librarian at the Blue Ash Branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, says she conducts informal interviews with parents, using questions like:

• Does your child get to choose what he reads?
• What interests does your child have, such as a certain sport, certain time in history, certain animals, specific TV or movie characters, etc.?
• What has your child read in the past that he enjoyed?
• What types of books interest your child: mystery, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, etc.?
• Is your child reading at his grade level? Above? Below?
• Have you ever tried the audio version of a book along with the print version?

“I prefer to have the child with the parent because then I can speak directly to the child and get his feedback about what he likes and doesn’t like. I usually have the parent (and child, if present) come with me to look at the books in the children’s area. This gives me the opportunity to pull books as I talk about them and try to get the child interested by the story/character or the cover illustration,” she says.

You might be surprised at what kids consider fun reading — a March 2015 study published in Imagination, Cognition and Personality found that plenty of kids like real stories over fictional ones, and might even like real stories more than grown-ups. “Nonfiction is a great choice,” says Rhoad.  “Children are still learning about the world around them and nonfiction books are a great way to continue that learning.”

The Struggler

Maybe the problem isn’t that your child thinks reading is boring. Maybe he just thinks it’s HARD.

Christine Scheadler, learning specialist at Cincinnati Country Day Schools’ Lower School, says, “I find that often when a student doesn’t enjoy reading, it’s due to an underlying weakness in reading, often in decoding (sounding words out).”

The letters and words on the page just aren’t clicking, and your child’s so stuck on sounding out words that he can’t keep track of the meaning when collected in a sentence. Soon enough, he’s frustrated and wants to stop.

In the classroom, Scheadler teaches comprehension strategies. “I begin by telling readers that good readers don’t always comprehend right away, that they sometimes have to ‘work’ to understand what they’ve read. But struggling readers don’t know that because comprehension happens in your head … They don’t hear good readers comprehending, so they think that they are the only ones to not understand.” She points out that good readers monitor their reading, and make sure what they read makes sense. They ask questions, make predictions, make connections, infer and visualize what they read. A good way for parents to help their children with all these tasks is to ask open-ended questions about the material, like:

• What do you think will happen next? Why?
• Does this remind you of anything?
• If you could ask the character a question, what would you ask?
• What does this look like to you?

On Reading Well

Plenty of kids appear to read well.  They sound out words, skimming right along the page, seemingly devouring the books they’re given. Yet something is amiss when you ask questions about what was just read. This has to do with reading fluency — the ability to read a piece of material accurately and with expression. Fluency is necessary for comprehension. Fluent readers are good at reading aloud, because they can use appropriate expression to demonstrate their comprehension of the story, rather than a reader who progresses one word at a time, without expression.

Krieger and Grimes suggest that parents make sure reading material is appropriate and not too complex. “After a child reads a simple book, get in the habit of re-telling what happened (what happened first, next, then last). Teach the child to talk about the book after reading it.”

Virtual Reader

Technically, we read every day: text messages, e-mails, road signs, even the newsfeed that scrolls across the TV screen — don’t think that doesn’t count.

The value of decoding words and developing fluency with actual books can’t be denied. There’s a reason why your pediatrician may give you books at your tot’s well-child visits. A lot happens in the brain when reading — imagination, visualization, prediction. You may  lament that kids are more interested in iPads literature, but when’s the last time YOU read a book? Kids learn from modeling, and if parents are glued to their devices, kids will be, too.

“I really believe that as parents, we need to model reading,” says Yonenaka. “We need to let our kids see us take a break and read instead of watching TV, and share the things we read about. I mean, we know we can get lost in a book, so we need to be able to share that with our kids and encourage that in them.”

Audio Boom

Don’t give up digital reading altogether. Scholastic’s 2015 Kids & Family Reading Report found that the number of kids who read e-books is up 14 percent from 2010, and while the majority of kids who have read an e-book mostly read print books, 50 percent of kids polled said that they enjoy books more having read an e-book.

“There is definitely value in e-books,” say Krieger and Grimes. “E-books allow students to interact with text in our digitally driven world. Students should be familiar with e-books so they are successful in our world today. E-books might also be more engaging for struggling readers and provide motivation.”

Audiobooks are also on the rise, with sales up 20 percent from 2012, thanks to celebrity narrators and cool sound effects. Rhoad says that using an audiobook with the print version can take the pressure off your child so he can enjoy the story while still following along with the reader.

Scheadler says that while listening is not the same thing as reading, audio books have value.

“Listening to audio books together is a shared experience that bonds people. It’s a point of conversation that can lead to imagination of other stories. It develops vocabulary. It’s access to texts that are beyond the reader’s independent or instructional level, but within their capacity to understand and enjoy.” In short, if it motivates kids to read, it’s well worth it.

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