March is National Reading Month, and that's a great reason to spend some quality time with your child reading together. My children are grown now and live in other states, but we still share book tips and sometimes very lively discussions!
When my oldest son Jake started school, he was identified as gifted in math and science, but the gifted program in his elementary school was focused on English and language arts. It was a constant struggle for him, and by fourth grade he got to the point where he would do anything he could to avoid reading. After seeing his grades slip, I met with his teacher to talk about his challenges. She suggested that we try reading aloud together and to make it more about having a good time than about doing schoolwork. She also suggested that I find a book that would really appeal to him to catch his interest and that I take the first turn reading.
Boy, was Jake surprised when he got home from school that night and I whipped out a new book and asked him to cuddle with me while I read! As a very independent fourth grader, that was not an activity he thought he would enjoy. I bargained with him -- for every 30 minutes he read with me, I would go outside and play catch with him. He sat stiffly next to me as I opened the book.
Book selection is a critical component in trying to engage a reluctant reader. If he/she is already reluctant to read, having to read about a topic that doesn't capture his/her interest makes it even harder. I knew Jake had a goofy sense of humor, so I selected one of my favorites, The BFG by Roald Dahl.
As I started to read about Bonecruncher, Maidmasher and the Childchewer, Jake moved closer and closer. My youngest son Tyler even stopped playing with his trucks and scooted over to us to listen in as well. When I finished the first chapter, I saw they were still engrossed in the story, so I continued to the second. Halfway through, I complained that my voice was tired and asked Jake if he'd mind taking over for a while.
Over the course of the week, we sat each night and took turns reading aloud. Before we got to the end of the book, I discovered Jake had smuggled it into his room at night and was reading it after I'd sent him to bed! By the time we finished the book, Jake was asking me if there were any others by Roald Dahl we could read next. He was so into our reading time, he forgot all about making me play ball!
These are some of my fondest memories of my time with my children, and some of their favorite memories as well! Jake and Tyler are all grown up now, but still call me occasionally to ask if I've read the latest Christopher Moore or Vince Flynn books.
Here are some practical tips for you to create a wonderful family reading experience in your own home.
- Make it fun! Reading shouldn't be a chore, it should be an adventure. If your attitude reflects the joy you feel from getting lost in a book, it's easier for your children to catch it too!
- Set aside blocks of time to read together. Even if your child is more interested in reading on his/her own, sit together and read something else side by side. Then take the time to ask questions about what he/she is reading.
- Look for books that interest your child and match their reading level. For infants and toddlers, look for books with big, bright, colorful illustrations. For preschoolers, look for books that have lively rhymes and repetition. For young readers, try to find books with illustrations or photos that bring the text to life and provide context clues. For adolescents, find books about subjects that interest your child or introduce new experiences or opportunities.
It's never too soon or too late to read with your child, and I guarantee the memories you make today will bring all of you a lot of joy later!
Sherri Wilson is a senior manager of family and community engagement for National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Wilson develops and implements programs designed to increase family and community engagement in education, including the Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle, a free reading program that is designed to engage the entire family to support better literacy outcomes for children. The program features fun activities in English and Spanish using both physical books and e-books to help children better understand reading fundamentals.