Because society has become more technologically inclined, there are fewer people reading books than there were twenty or even ten years ago. This means that the children of today have become accustomed to seeing their parents and other adults around them staring at screens instead.

But this isn’t an ideal situation and we need to preserve a legacy of keen independent reading and literacy before it’s too late. Books are places where children develop imaginations and this is a critical life skill.

Two girls reading book
Make reading a part of family life. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Children learn by example, so we need to start picking up books as habitually as we do our phones.

Kids are great mimics and it’s imperative that as adults and role models we forge a new trend of habitual reading by turning the pages of real books. This is the best answer anyone can offer parents asking how to teach children to read. A parent is the ultimate reading teacher.

How to Teach Children to Read From a Young Age

Reading needs to be second nature. Make sure that your child grows up being accustomed to books. Fill your home with book collections, both fiction and nonfiction and invest in good quality children’s books placed on easy to reach shelves where little fingers will be enticed to reach out and read.

“Children learn what they live.”

- Dr Nolte Avers

And if that’s the case then it stands to reason that children who grow up listening to bedtime stories and surrounded by books in the home, will end up being proficient readers.

It’s never too early to read aloud to your little one.

Social studies show that you can start activating your newborn’s listening skills from day one. As your baby listens to the soothing tones of your voice you will create a unique type of bonding. And as your child grows into adulthood, they will almost certainly seek solace in books as they subconsciously recall the sense of well being they felt at the sound of their mother’s or father's reading voice.

baby girl reaching to touch hand
Spend time bonding with your newborn by reading to them. ⎢Source: Unsplash

The habit of bedtime stories is something that should endure until your child begins to read with fluency. And even then, shared reading time is still a wonderful way to stay connected.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself re-reading the same children’s book repeatedly. Perhaps you’re on the verge of “accidentally” tossing it in the fireplace? Don’t! Even if you’re being driven to insanity by The Three Little Pigs, stick it out, there is method in the madness!

Kids love being able to anticipate what happens next, it gives them a sense of security.

This is why we are always told how important routine is in a child’s life. The reason you end up retelling the same fairytale night after night is possibly also because your little one connects to one of the characters or appreciates the subtle morals of the story. And it could be that their little minds are slowly grasping new words, repetition will help your child to commit the new vocabulary to working memory.

Perhaps we should say it again?

Children learn by example. If they see active reading happening in the home, then they’ll want to get in on the action. It’s no good telling your kids how good reading is for them and then being stuck on your phone.

Take your children to the library or make visiting a book store and picking out a book to add to their book collection a special treat. It’s all about association; we have to convey to our children that reading equals fun.

Help children to develop an appreciation of poetry by reading aloud to them. This style of literature can be introduced with nursery rhymes. Allow your child to choose picture books even if they only contain a few written lines. The beautiful illustrations will excite them as you look at the pages together and read the words aloud.

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Reading Strategies to Make Daily Reading With Children a Learning Opportunity

1. Kids Learn When They Can Read Along With You

Make sure that your child can see the page clearly as you are reading together. Use your fingers to underline each word as you go along.

Once you have re-read the text on a few occasions, practise word recognition by pointing out key words and asking questions like: “What is this word?” or “Can you help me read this word?”

Choose words that are used repeatedly throughout the text. They should be simple monosyllabic words such as “cat” or “bed” or “toy”. This kind of guided practice is the beginning of early literacy and phonemic awareness.

Just imagine the glow on their little faces when they get a sight word right! Be sure to really celebrate and affirm every small triumph like this.

And if they don’t get a word right - no big deal, brush over the error with a tickle and a joke and jump onto the next part of the story. The point is to put emphasis on success. You can make a second attempt at the same word again in a couple of days.

2. As Tempting as It Is, Don’t Skim! Read Their Favourite Story Word for Word.

It may be that they can’t read yet, but they know when you aren’t reading a text in full and they’ll catch you out! It’s very cute when they do this, but it’s also actually part of their pre_reading learning process.

3. Test Comprehension Skills by Asking Simple Questions

Particularly when you are reading a familiar story book, a little quiz here and there is a stimulating exercise. Keep it very basic and ask things like, “Tell me the next part of the story” or “Is this character mean or good?”

little girl reading
They may be mastering their phonics with Dr Seuss but it's still important to read with your child. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Little tests like these teach reading comprehension and help children to develop memorisation and synthesising skills, stimulate analytical thinking and open the door for discussing values and teaching children to trust their own opinion.

This is also how you can introduce the idea of debating to your youngsters. As they become more confident you can make the comprehension questions more sophisticated like, “Why do you think that character always gets into trouble?”

Keeping Little Ones Keen on Books

Add some variety to children’s early reading experiences and sign up to a reading programme for preschoolers. Enquire at the local library where they often organise reading events to create literacy awareness. Most children learn when they observe other kids participating in an activity, that’s why a reading workshop is one of the most popular teaching strategies for small children.

Books are still the perfect go-to gift for young children.

There’s so much variety out there, from nursery rhymes, picture books or multi-sensory books. These are all fantastic choices for adding to any child’s book collection. It’s wonderful to make books accessible to children and allow them to spend time on their own becoming familiar with books.

But no matter how much time children may spend “reading” on their own, it’s so important to read with children. Creating a bedtime routine that involves a story before sleep every night is the ideal reading strategy. Not only is it a calming activity but it also reinforces the bond between parent and child.

They may be mastering their phonics with Dr Seuss but it's still important to read with your child - unsplash

It really doesn’t matter if they choose the same book night after night or if they prefer to pick from an assortment of texts. The main thing is that if you read to your children while they are young they are likely to continue the pattern into adulthood.

Allow your children the freedom to choose what kind of stories they want to listen to instead of making too many suggestions. By giving them the freedom to compare and contrast different books, you are encouraging the natural development of their personalities and their likes and dislikes. This also gives you a wonderful insight into your little one’s developing character.

However, sometimes children’s books aren’t just useful for reading practise, they can be a very helpful teaching aid for parents. There are plenty of picture books addressing everyday activities like bath time and, perhaps, you could use this as a way of encouraging a reluctant bather! The same applies for any number of practical activities.

See reading aloud to your child as an opportunity for fun and silliness. Put on voices for different characters or make funny sound effects. This kind of drama will help to construct meaning, stimulate their enthusiasm and create special memories for them.

Of course it’s good to be open minded about what your child wants to read, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t help them to find books that they would enjoy reading. Take special note of what their natural interests are and you will be able to guide them to books that hook their attention.

Surprised boy reading
Keep an eye on the kind of books your little one is naturally drawn to and discover their developing personalities. ⎢Source: Unsplash

It’s highly unlikely that you will drum up much enthusiasm from a book about Thomas the Tank Engine if you are reading to a little girl who dreams of being a ballerina. But if you chose Angelina Ballerina you could be setting yourself up for a lifelong reading partnership.

Talk about the story you just read together as you tuck them into bed, this keeps characters alive and stimulates the imagination. Ask questions about the story once the book is closed for the night. This is a new challenge for little minds that have mastered the comprehension strategies mentioned earlier.

Let’s say you have been reading a book about a little boy going on a picnic to the beach, perhaps you could pose a question like’ “What colour was his bucket and spade?” or “Why did they go to the beach that day?” and “Why do you think he was scared of the ocean?” By doing so, you are stimulating their visualising and memory skills and encouraging their sense of opinion.

There is nothing kids like more than celebrating their triumphs. Set up a kind of reward chart that is focused on reading and jot down every little achievement. Perhaps you could motivate them by awarding them with a new book for every ten stickers they manage to collect.

Getting School Going Kids Excited for Reading

At this age, more than ever, it’s important to know what kind of books your child enjoys. Another important thing to be aware of is their grade level and reading skills. As a parent, it is so important that you point your kids towards books that they will not only enjoy but actually have the ability to read.

A child who is given a book that’s above their reading level can easily be discouraged and begin to feel ashamed of their abilities.

Make reading fun for your child by making sure there are always interesting books available for them to page through. Books with beautiful illustrations are so wonderful for children because they keep them enticed. It’s really important that parents don’t just rely on the school’s core reading syllabus to fulfil their children’s reading needs. Motivate your kids to read fun books in their own time.

Working Together for Reading Awareness

Pizza Hut has come up with an awe inspiring reading program that is sweeping across America in an effort to promote literacy in young children. It’s a simple strategy and it seems to be working.

From kindergarten (Grade R) to Grade 6, language arts teachers create goals for their students in order to encourage reading. It could be to finish a book, or read an informational text within a limited time frame. When a learner reaches their goal they are awarded a voucher to redeem a free pizza at any Pizza Hut.

Even children doing home schooling are able to benefit from the programme. All that’s expected is that learners present some form of written work to prove that they have done the reading. This could be completing a written quiz or writing a short book review, thereby encouraging both reading and writing skills.

Think to yourself if there is anything like this in your area. Perhaps it’s something to consider pitching to your child’s school? Of course we don’t advocate bribery as a form of teaching but there’s a difference between that and incentive. What are we willing to do, in order to draw reluctant readers out of their shells?

Speak to your child’s class teacher about setting up a reading chart in an effort to ensure every student is learning to read. Perhaps it will set the stage for a life-long love of reading.

A sure way of getting kids to read more than one book is to introduce a series of books. Children become attached to favourite characters and are always inquisitive to find out what happens next.

silhouette of boy reading
When a child finds the right book, he finds a friend. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Kids from as young as eight and nine are able to read the Harry Potter book series. It’s a childhood classic and you could reward them by allowing your kids to watch the movies once they have finished the books.

It’s a great idea to get creative and use interactive learning resources to really get kids excited about books and reading. Find worksheets, quizzes and puzzles pertaining to a book your child is reading; this is the kind of thing that helps struggling readers to engage with the storyline and develop their analytical thinking while improving reading comprehension.

As your child gets older, it could be a good idea to set the bar a little higher and get them to write an engaging book review.

Is Quiet Time a Good Idea?

Yes! We all benefit from spending time unplugged and quiet, children included. Consider making a kind of resting time for your kids where they can do anything from reading to working in an activity book or doing a puzzle. The main thing is that it must be a quiet activity that stimulates their thinking skills.

Of course we all want our kids to go outdoors and get some fresh air but there are a number of reasons why it’s actually good for children to spend a little time indoors sitting quietly, especially after a long school day, it’s a wonderful opportunity just to unwind.

Understanding How Learning Disabilities Could Impact Reading

So you have taken all the advice to heart, your child’s room is stocked with easy to reach books and you are constantly flipping through any kind of reading material you can get your hands on, from magazines to newspapers, historical novels and more (in plain sight of course).

“Darling, choose any book and I’ll read you a bedtime story,” is met with a sullen glare and let’s not mention those unsuccessful trips to the library a.k.a. torture sessions.

It may be worth your while making a trip to the optometrist. Poor eyesight is so easily overlooked in small children. In fact trained professionals in the field of optometry will let you in on a little secret: it’s advisable to get your child’s eyes tested for the first time from as young as six months.

If the eyes turn out to be in mint condition then it could very well be that there is some other kind of undetected disability of the learning kind such as dyslexia.

Dyslexia is usually only diagnosed once a child is attending school, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to detect before then. In fact, it would only be to your child’s advantage if you were to pick it up sooner and this can be diagnosed in children as young as three.

If you do detect a challenge such as dyslexia early on you will save your child and yourself a great deal of frustration and set them up for greater academic success.

And you will have a greater chance of building a happy reading relationship with your little one.

Motivating Teens to Read

Reading is cool! We all know this, but try telling that to a millennial teenager.

These days you are viewed as some kind of super hero if you’ve mastered the art of separating an adolescent from their phone - a type of techno parental surgeon. High school hallways aren’t exactly abuzz with chatter about the latest Hardy Boys novel.

Nevertheless it’s still a battle worth fighting. In fact, it shouldn’t be viewed as a battle in the first place. Think of encouraging your teen to read as an opportunity to re-connect. Explain to them how much a bit of extra reading will benefit their education and overall well-being. And of course, continue to lead by example.

There are all kinds of magazines available from skateboarding and motorcycling to music and pop culture. Pay attention to what your teen is interested in and offer to buy them a year’s subscription. It’s all about getting them engaged in the content and eager to read.

On the other hand you may discover that your teen who is an avid reader is getting frustrated or bored with the books that are available to them and my need some more challenging reading material.

Teenager reading book
Look for content that your teenager is interested in. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Although there are wonderful books written by adults and aimed at teens, it could be that adolescents might be more enticed to read something written by someone closer to their age. There are plenty of brilliant emerging young writers who have a greater insight into the  challenges and interests of today’s youth.

Encourage your teen to read e-books online written by very talented young people such as Lucy Saxon, a young girl who was diagnosed with ME while she was still in school. Since then she has had a number of books published. She writes fantasy novels for teens and has now become an inspiring role model for other youngsters who find themselves in similar challenging situations.

Another insightful and thrilling book entitled Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly Mc Creight, takes a look at the complicated journey of being a teenager in this day and age. Addressing the pressures and level of competition adolescents deal with in the modern world.

The book begins with Amelia being accused of plagiarism. Her mother is shocked by the revelation, as this kind of behaviour is something Amelia would never usually do. Grappling with the news, Amelia’s mother rushes off to her daughter’s high school only to discover the police have arrived there first – to investigate an accident ...

Steven King’s Dark Tower series is also a brilliant choice for youngsters and seems to lack the recognition it deserves. Unlike his usual spooky horrors, this collection addresses a different kind of terror that we can all identify with.

The last Gunslinger is a protagonist that is navigating an abandoned earth, chasing down an enigmatic Man in Black. The books follow his adventures and makes unlikely friends along the way. Ultimately, the dark tower is a place where the Gunslinger learns important life lessons. These books address a deep-rooted fear, that of the loss of those dearest to us.

There is so much good literature available for young adults; the trick is getting your hands on the right books. You could enquire at your local library and ask a librarian who works in the children’s section for some pointers. Or perhaps your child’s teacher could give you some good ideas. There are also plenty of parenting platforms that address issues like reading and book recommendations too.

But the most insightful advice will come from your kids. Be sure to really explore their interests. What are their friends reading? Keep communicating and you will soon find out what they’d like to read and before you know it, your kids will be compulsive readers!

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