“Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.” – Mem Fox.
I honestly believe that most kids do not need a curriculum to learn to read. They may need suggestions and help. Curriculum? No. In many cases, curriculum, and those “easy reader” books will HAMPER learning. Your kid doesn’t want to read that, so they have no motivation to learn to read. They may even resent being forced to read something they don’t want to and that will make the learning process take longer. The best way you can help your child learn to read is to read to them. A lot.
Get your hands on a copy of Jim Trelease’s “The Read-Aloud Handbook”. Read the whole thing. Follow his suggestions. Pick out books from there to buy or check out from the library. A lot of our “best reads” have come from there. I also find good suggestions for books on blogs, on twitter, on FB, and at the library.
I think reading right before bed – in bed – is excellent. It’s a nice way to get their attention, calm down, and have some time to connect. If you’re a two parent family, you should BOTH read. We do one book a night each with Kai. When he naps, I do two myself, if my husband is at work. (If I’m reading a chapter book to him, he gets to pick one picture book and one chapter or two chapters.) If you did this – if you ONLY read TWO books at night, but you did it every single night without fail for a year, you’d be reading over 700 books a year. Think about that.
It is never too early to read to your child. You could read to them the first night they’re alive and it would not be too early. It may take a while for them to understand all of what you’re saying, but then it is a habit and they’ll be used to settling in for it. (This, by the way, is a good way to develop attention span.)
With that being said, it is never too late to start reading to your child. If they’re ten and still struggling, pick something you enjoy. Ask them if you could read it to them out loud. Make it fun. Curl up in bed together or on the couch or make a blanket fort.
Make it a fun family event or tradition. I know one family who has a tradition of hot cocoa or cider in the cooler months and iced lemonade, blended ice drinks, or milkshakes in the warmer months. They usually have some sort of sweet food and will climb onto the couch or in bed or even just sit around the table and eat and read. And their kids are teenagers. The other day, I was at the zoo and there was a homeschooling family one table away from us (not just a guess – Kai has played with the kids a couple of times). The mother was reading a chapter or two of a book to them during lunch. I couldn’t help but think how awesome that would be: mom takes you to the zoo AND reads to you during lunch.
Read it again. Yes, you may have read, “The Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog!” a hundred times. Read it again. Move your fingers beneath the words sometimes. Purposefully “mess up” a word sometimes and see if your child catches it.
Use voices – “silly” voices work particularly well with young children. If you can, use the SAME voice every time you read that story. I’ve been telling/reading “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” to Kai for… a really long time. Our littlest billy goat has a meek voice, our second billy goat has a normal voice, and the third billy goat has a big, strong voice. The troll in that story has a loud “crotchety” voice. Kai tells me the story sometimes and mimics the voices. He entertained an entire bus this way once.
Read books to your child out loud that there’s no way they could currently read to themselves. We’ve read several chapter books, our latest being “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” These books would take him FOREVER to read by himself (but not so long when a parent does it). But these are entertaining, long-lasting stories that have helped him learn to love to reading.
DO NOT STOP READING TO THEM just because they’re starting to be able to do it themselves. Kids like being read to. I have seen kids stop being willing to read because it means they no longer get read to. Don’t do this.
Read to your child. Out loud. Every day. If I could only give you one piece of advice on how to help your child learn to read, this would be it.
This part two of my “Instead of Easy Readers” series.
Part one was “Why I Hate Easy Readers“.