The school year is drawing to a close and there is only a short time left—have you done everything you can to help your child’s reading improve? Will he be able to read at the level required when he comes back to school in September? There is still time for you to have an impact on your child’s performance in the next grade, and, even more importantly, time to help improve his attitude to reading, which may need an infusion of enthusiasm.
Your job is to not to teach your child how to read but to provide the opportunity for practice and make it fun and rewarding so that he will try harder and his skill will improve with practice. Yes, you can and, yes, he can.
No One Wants to be a Loser
Imagine if you started working for a company with a culture that expected employees to learn to play tennis and compete in tennis matches in order to foster better employee health and better team/company spirit. Suppose you thought the idea sounded fine, were willing to learn tennis, were hired, and loved your new job, but there was a problem—you discovered that you are very slow at learning tennis and, even when you tried your best, you played poorly and lost every match. Eventually, you realized that other workers were avoiding partnering with you, and you could hear people who watched you play laughing at your clumsiness, and your boss couldn’t hide his disappointment in your poor performance. How long would you continue trying hard to improve your tennis game? How long would you stay with the company?
A child has no choice about going to school and, if he is a poor reader, it is a very unpleasant place for him to be. He is forced to compete using a skill at which he performs poorly and he feels incompetent. Keep that thought in mind when your child tries to avoid reading practice at home. You may be very busy yourself, but don’t give up on him. Your help IS of utmost importance. It should start now so that you have a plan in place that can be carried on throughout the summer.
Here Is What You Can Do
You don’t have to know how to teach reading, or how to teach phonics, or be a good reader yourself, nor do you need to hire a tutor for your child. You need only make time for your child to read with you or to you and supply the motivation for him to do this. Your goal is to help make reading fun and rewarding for your child so that he becomes faster and better at it, which will make it more enjoyable for him. Here are the do’s:
- Do Set Up A Schedule – Make a realistic plan with your child, draw up a reading chart, and prepare to be flexible about it. Remember the goal is to make reading fun and rewarding. Make a chart and use a sticker to signal when a session is completed. If you have been interrupted (which will certainly happen from time to time), record the amount of time spent and add the sticker over it when the time is made up. If necessary, adjust the schedule to accommodate new sports schedules or new TV programs when summer vacation begins.
- Do Provide Rewards – Set up a reward system for the number of stickers on the reading chart. A reward can be a new book, a special privilege, skipping particular chores, or anything that your child will enjoy and will motivate him to reach the goal for the week, and the month. Remember to include lots and lots of praise after each goal is met. Reassure him frequently that he is improving and that the extra reading is helping him.
- Do Share – Be matter-of-factly sympathetic about his reading problems and share with him any learning problems you have experienced or jobs that you had to do and didn’t want to do because you weren’t good at them. Tell him that he will find, as you did, that when you had practiced until you could do a job well, you discovered that you didn’t mind doing it after all and, in some cases, found that you liked doing it. Explain that although it may be hard to believe, he will love reading when he learns to do it well and reassure him often that he WILL become good at it with practice.
- Do Read to Him – Unless you have trouble reading because English is your second language or for some other reason, spend time each night or several times a week reading to him and talking about the story. It will benefit him much more than watching another TV show or playing a video game. Reading and discussing stories helps him learn how much fun it is to have a story unfold in his mind as his own private, imagined movie, and also helps with reading comprehension.
- Do Show Your Interest – “Invite” him to the reading sessions instead of “warning” him they are starting soon. Ask what he thinks will happen next in the story after reading time is over. Thank him for reading to you at the end of each session.
- Do Remind Him of the Benefits of Reading – When your child seems unhappy about sticking to his reading schedule, remind him of the benefits of reading well:
- It is the single most important skill he learns at school.
- Reading well improves his marks in all subjects, including math.
- People who read well can understand exam instructions and questions more quickly than poor readers and can check answers and re-do work more quickly.
- Learning to read faster makes reading fun.
- Reading well makes everything in life easier: it makes school more enjoyable, it makes staying in school easier, and education beyond high school possible. It helps people get jobs and gives them more job choices, and it makes the performance of everyday tasks easier because directions for the use of any product or item can be read quickly and easily.
- One way of illustrating the importance of reading is to remind your child that he has to be able to read to pass a driver’s test. Most children can relate to that one!
- Do Use Flashcards if Needed – Flashcards are commonly used in the early school grades to help create a good “sight vocabulary,” which means students are taught to recognize whole common words on sight, rather than having to puzzle them out. Beyond grade three or four, there is no flashcard practice at school but you can provide it at home for words he has trouble recognizing by buying or making flashcards for him. If his sight vocabulary is weak, it will help it improve a lot.
- Do Find Appropriate Books – Choose books or help your child choose books that interest him and are a grade lower than what he is reading at school. With books that are easier to read, he can read more quickly and will gain confidence in his ability, which helps.
If your child’s reading has not improved enough for him to read really well in the next grade, start now before the school year ends with a home reading schedule that will help make reading more fun and rewarding for him so that he will work harder and improve before school starts again next September.
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