The day your enthusiastic kindergartener comes home reading with that little twinkle in her eye is truly a memorable and monumental day; the day she falls in love with reading and indeed becomes a reader. Years pass and in the blink of that twinkling eye, she is struggling to find a book she loves and struggles to keep up. What happened? It’s a cycle some kids go through, and parents, too. We want our kids to grow up to be good readers, but it’s harder than we had expected and the pandemic definitely didn’t help. That initial excitement of “Mommy I can read!” can easily go into the downward spiral and pure exhaustion for you. So how can you win this never-ending battle? Persistence, consistency and patience.
WHAT IS READING LOSS?
Reading loss can happen at the turn of a page. Kids can easily get behind if they are not participating in formal literacy programs during the long summer months, or they are learning at home and unable to match up to the curriculum taught at school. Although it doesn’t mean all is lost, it may take some extra work to get back on track. Unfortunately, reading loss is a thing and affects more than just a kid’s ability to read at the level they should be at.
“Reading truly does affect all academic areas of a child’s education,” says Maria, a reading specialist in Fairfield, Ohio. “Reading is required to perform well in other content areas such as math, science and social studies.”
Reading fluency affects comprehension, so it is important for a child to be able to read grade level materials independently, she continues. Between sports, work and daily life tasks, finding the time to read seems close to impossible which is another reason kids get behind on reading. Kids’ sports can get demanding, leaving no time for reading before bed. It’s head home, shower and sleep; and the cycle continues.
Getting behind in reading can suddenly lead to a snowball effect as it continues to get harder and harder every year, becoming more demanding as the school year progresses.
“From year to year, reading materials will increase in difficulty across subject areas, so it is very important to meet benchmarks each year,” says Maria. “It’s possible to ‘catch up,’ but it’s difficult to watch a child struggle, and the gap can continue to grow wider from year to year. It’s much less stressful to stay on top of benchmark objectives. This will also help student confidence and hopefully increase their enjoyment of reading.”
LOVING TO READ
So how can you realistically help your kids squeeze in reading day-to-day? We’ve heard it all – read to them every night; set an alarm for 30 minutes of reading per day; read before breakfast; etc., etc. Unfortunately, this isn’t always realistic for every family, but there are ways you can win the reading battle. If you put forth all of your effort, it can be done.
“There is definitely a shortage of time for many families,” says Maria. “I think it’s about finding little spaces to incorporate reading, whether it’s having your child read to you in the car on the way to practice or reading together as you wait for an appointment.”
Maria notes that reading comes in many shapes and sizes. Reading the back of the cereal box, pointing out signs on the drive to school, or reading the menu together at your favorite restaurant you go to every Friday night are some creative ways to squeeze in extra literacy in a busy schedule. If you have a beginner reader, this is a great way to begin and help them to love reading from the get-go. It not only shows them reading is everywhere, it shows how reading is a necessity in everyday life.
And when you can, blocking out that time to read together is good not only for learning, but for bonding time, too. Of course, blocking out time to read with your child is always great. You can take turns reading to each other or even read out loud together, for example.
“When my children were younger, they always wanted to stay up past their bedtime. I would tell them that as long as they were reading, they could have 15 extra minutes,” she says. “They also loved reading to their stuffed animals when a parent was not available to read with them. I encourage my students to do this, and they often come back to tell me which stuffed animals ‘listened’ to their reading.”
ASSESSING YOUR KIDS
So is she behind and how do you know? Evidence of background knowledge is a good place to begin, according to Karen Clemons, K – 6 curriculum manager at Cincinnati Public Schools.
“Looking at what background knowledge the child has and making sure that they are able to produce simple sounds,” she explains. “And if they are able to do those two things – that will increase their vocabulary and for them to be able to read and understand more complex words depending on their grade level.”
Communicate with your kids’ teacher and know what is expected of them at school, and from there, you can work with them at home without having to have any special materials on-hand. According to Clemons, most materials you need are already in your home.
“Label items in your home, for example. A lot of the things you do, you can invent it in your everyday practice,” she says.
Embedding learning into the home as early as age 3 or 4 can help your child become a good reader. Spend a little time each day with your kids and work with their letters and sounds. This “simple” task may seem daunting at first, but if you think about it as a “To Do” on your weekly calendar and embed it into your daily routine, it will become something that doesn’t feel like an extra thing to do.
“The more you can find time to read with your child or encourage your child to read at home, the faster those pandemic gaps (or any gaps) will close,” suggests Maria.
Right now, many local schools are assessing kids and making up for their reading loss with additional courses, embedded classes and accelerated learning such as the “Every Child Reads” goal from CPS with the goal to teach kids to read by the end of first grade and making sure students have on grade level work and the materials they need.
“We know that learning loss happened due to the pandemic,” says Clemons. “So we are making sure we are meeting students where they are so they
can continue to succeed.”
It’s important for parents to stay informed with what is going on in their kids’ school and whether or not they are meeting their benchmarks. Check
with your district and communicate with your kids’ teacher as often as possible to see where your kid is. Students in some schools will be assessed in phonics and fluency and will use standardized tests for reading comprehension beginning in second grade. Other activities and assessments will occur throughout the year, too, to help measure your kids’ progression.
“This tells us where students fall compared to their peers with reading skills,” says Maria. “We also use a standardized test for reading comprehension
starting in the second grade. This test is normed on a national level. Scores from all of these assessments are shared with parents, as well as the benchmarks for these assessments.”
This helps teachers and parents to know if their kids are behind or on-track with their reading.
“Our goal is to keep parents informed throughout the school year,” she continues. “A strong homeschool connection will make a huge difference in your child’s success. Teachers are happy to match students with appropriate reading materials that can be used for practice outside of school.”
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
The good news is, not all is lost. With accelerated learning in the classrooms this year and a little push and shove at home, your kid can start right where they left off and excel. Even with all good intentions and utmost efforts, expect there to be wins and loses with this reading battle — especially during a pandemic and an “off” school year. The good news is, it CAN be done. One way you can normalize reading is by modeling it yourself, but how can a busy parent have the time to pick up a book?
“I had to make it [reading] a priority,” says Clemons. “I had to calendar it as a meeting and I had to take it seriously. A lot of times with parents working full-time, it’s more than a notion to say that I’m going to go home, I have a family, I have dinner to prepare, the kids might have sports and now I’m going to go read a book at 10 o’clock at night – it’s just not realistic.”
This is where creativity comes into play. Have a book on-hand at all times – anytime you have that “in between” time during your kids’ practice, for example, squeeze in some reading time. Once you model that to your children, they will see that you too have time to read. Even swapping out TV time for reading time is another trick which also models a balance between tech (social media) and reading. Time spent on tech can easily take away independent reading time for you and for you to be reading to your kids. However, if you must, there are great reading apps and programs that can work to you and your kids’ benefit. Keeping the balance is key.
“You can also use that time on their devices for their reading,” says Clemons. “There are different tech pieces that incorporate reading. There are a lot of learning games they can use that are structured and are aligned with Ohio Curriculum standards that can also be used as a tech tool and a reading tool as well.”
According to educators virtually everywhere, helping your kids love to read is one of the most important things you can do. Here’s how:
MAKE IT FUN!
• Read with a snack
• Read in bed
• Have them read to a sibling
• Record your child reading, then have him listen in!
• Find a series of books they’ll love (let your child choose)
• Talk about what you’re reading
• Read outloud to them from infancy on
• Be patient and persistent