Parents and educators are over-complicating the reading process
I feel like I have this secret for creating smart and wonderfully well-rounded little humans, but so many parents, educators, and other well-meaning mentors over-complicate the process. We worry about all the wrong things—the right toys, the perfect after school activities—and put way too much weight on test scores.
Instead, all you need to do is help your child learn to LOVE books and reading. If you help your child become a really confident and better reader, everything else will fall into place. I know there are always exceptions, but in my experience teaching middle and high school, and working with my own children, reading is the key. As a general rule, the kids who love reading, and keep consistently reading through high school, will excel in every subject, even math.
What kids really need is the formula below, and the great news is that it’s so, so simple.
Love + Immersion = Great Readers
That’s it. All you need to do is set kids up to love reading, and then give them lots of time and practice doing it.
Step 1. Love: Help your kids love reading
In order for kids to love reading, it needs to be pleasurable. Children need to feel connection with their parents and caregivers through books. In every way, they need to see reading as a treat, as one of the most rewarding, pleasurable experiences on the planet. They need to read books that make them laugh, that pull at the heart-strings, and that they feel a connection to. All the “warm-fuzzies” around reading books with kids are not just fluffy. They are vitally important to helping your child love reading, which in turn will make the process of learning to read virtually painless.
Follow Kids’ interests
Let kids read about things that interest them. If they love dinosaurs, read them dinosaur books until you know everything there is to know about every type of dinosaur in the world! In the process, they will learn complex ideas, and vocabulary, and best of all, the joy of learning! Some parents—I’m guilty here!—want to control and limit what their kids are reading. If I had my druthers, my kids would always be reading the classics, and there’d be no Diary of the Wimpy Kid. However, those silly books have made them laugh out loud so many times, and have really helped my kids fall in love with reading, so I’m learning to chill out a bit.
Variety is good
Let kids read what interests them, but help them find good books if they’re struggling. One major thing I’ve noticed is that most teachers, parents, and students think they “should” be reading novels, especially as kids get older. It is absolutely okay if kids are not interested in novels. Let me repeat that. It is absolutely okay if kids are not interested in novels! Try biographies, memoirs, picture encyclopedias, comic books, graphic novels, and magazines. Be willing to think out of the box, and be willing to search high and low to help kids find books and texts that will interest them. As they gain confidence with different kinds of texts, they will want to choose more difficult things to read.
Step 2. Immersion: Children need to be immersed in high quality language
If you’re learning a new language, being immersed in that language is the best way to learn it well. The same theory applies to children learning their first language. Think about ways you can immerse and expose your child to as much high quality language as possible. Before they can read on their own, they need to hear words aloud, all the time.The best way for children to learn these skills is through reading aloud to them. They need to hear language that is more advanced than what they can read and understand on their own. This allows their vocabulary to expand. It allows their brains to hold on to ideas for a long time and make connections to things they already know. They will absorb language, sentence structure, vocabulary, intonation and all the subtle parts of language that just can’t be taught in a formal classroom setting. These skills have to be picked up intuitively.
Supplement with high quality audio
I read aloud to my kids as much as I can, but I’m not supermom, and many days, I’m just too exhausted to do one more thing. So, we listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and watch TED talks, educational documentaries, and even educational Youtube channels. (You can find some of my favorite audio resources here.) We live in an amazing time when technology makes learning easier than ever, and so much of it is free! Take advantage of all these things, but don’t substitute them for the wonderfully pleasurable experiences of sharing books aloud with your children.
Make books part of your family culture
One of the best ways to help make sure that kids spend time in books, is to make books a part of your family culture. Have bookshelves that are accessible to kids as part of your decor, and fill them with books. Visit the library often. Visit used bookstores. Give books as gifts. Let your kids see you reading. Make books an important part of your family life.
“The presence of books in the home has a greater influence on a child’s level of education than does the parents income, nationality, or level of education.” -via Education World
Love + Immersion= Great Readers
It’s really not rocket science. Make books and reading important to your family. Expose kids to as much time hearing language as possible. Put interesting books in the hands of kids, so they will love their time reading. The rest will fall into place. Now, go grab your kids and read something together!