Facebook Twitter

Ask an Expert: Motivating a child to read

Educator Amy Turino offers a parent advice about her elementary-aged daughter’s reading ability and lack of motivation. 

Q. My child is a struggling reader. How can I help her get to grade level or beyond?

A. What is all the hub bub about?  Does your child come home speaking in code about reading levels rather than just loving a book for the sake of enjoyment? Do you find yourself puzzled and confused and wondering, How do I play this new game of competitive reading?

Photo courtesy BigStock.com

Photo courtesy BigStock.com

Well here are some ideas and solutions to get the fun and enjoyment back in reading that will end in getting your child to advance levels without having the point system of books being the only guiding light:

  • Read often in your home Your children should see you reading for enjoyment as much as they are expected to read themselves.  Reading to your child is always a supportive act, but when is the last time you just enjoyed a book on your own? Set aside a 20 to 30 minute reading time in your home where everyone has their own book (or Kindle, Nook, etc.) and is reading. This is a great modeling strategy. You know when you read a good book and it strikes you emotionally: you laugh out loud or a tear skims your cheek, these are all visuals of quality reading. When students start to worry only about the size of the book they are reading and what level they are on, they don’t connect with the characters or the story. Seeing their parents read and having responses to literature will awaken a curiosity in your child that there is something more in books than turning the page.
  • Engage in discussion about what is read  Many children are word call readers. They can recognize the words on the page, read at a fast pace and get through a book. However, the way they are judged for the next reading level includes being able to synthesize and talk about what they read. Many fast-paced readers aren’t taking in the information – they are just calling out the words they see.  So when you read to, with, or listen to your child read, stop at every chapter or after a pivotal event and talk. Ask about the characters, what has happened, what made them decide to do what they did, speculate on how the story would be different if they decided to take a different path.  These discussions are the valuable ones that will get your child thinking and communicating about their reading, which starts to play a very important role in moving up the reading level scale in school.
  • Recognize that reading is everywhere Most reading is technical or non-fiction and doesn’t have to be in a cute story book to be considered reading. When you are in the car, grocery story or the park there are things to read and there are reasons behind the text.  Have these conversations with your child. Many times it is the non-fiction text that students are tested on that stymies their ability to be considered for the next reading level. This is often because the only stories they have practiced talking about are all the fairy tales and fantastical literature that they have spent the most time discussing. If they recognize reading in many contexts then they will start to synthesize this data and be better communicators. We are talkers before we are writers, so if your child doesn’t talk about what they read they won’t be able to write a book report, summary or synthesis of it to their best ability.
  • Don’t treat the reading level like a badge Have it be one more piece of the puzzle, but not the whole enchilada. Too much pressure on some measly score that is given when you are sitting one-on-one with the teacher in the corner of the room while everyone else is doing something else is not the best indication of your child’s interest or passion for reading.

Reignite the passion for reading simply by providing a model. Read yourself and engage with your child when you share reading. These simple acts will have your child seeking out new books or possibly asking you for recommendations before you know it. Let us know how it goes.About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.