Children should be able to read and comprehend what they read as it is the foundation of education.
In our previous blog article “Almost 80% of South African Grade 4 pupils cannot read”, we discussed the problematic literacy rate in South Africa. We encourage you to help your children read. The benefits of reading are infinite. Your children’s future will depend on the level of literacy they have. However, reading should not feel like a punishment for them. Mary McLeod Bethune said, “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.”
This week we want to share 8 steps to improve your child’s reading skills.
1. Read every day.
The first action you can take to improve your children’s reading abilities is to make sure they read every single day. It doesn’t have to be hours on end, but a good 20 – 30 minutes will improve their reading ability significantly. Make reading time part of their schedule, for example early in the morning when there are no other distractions yet. Otherwise, directly after dinner.
2. What should my children read?
This is sometimes a confusing question, because we might initially not know at what reading and comprehension level our children are. That’s why we need to try out all forms of literature to see what level of difficulty they can handle, what they enjoy and how fast they can read. If your children are slow readers, then start of small, with short pieces of reading material – like an article out of a magazine, poetry or a blog post (just like this one). Later on you can increase the volume by changing to short stories and novels.
3. Choose the right book.
The most important aspect of reading is your child’s interest in the topic. Of course they won’t want to read Early Modern English literature if they aren’t interested in Shakespeare. However, if they have a sports hero, let them read their biography, or if they’re interested in superhero movies, let them read the comic books. Don’t force your children to read something they don’t enjoy. Open up their world by showing them all the different kinds of books that are available. It’s important to note that the correct book must be compatible with their reading level and appropriate to their age.
4. Gradually increase the difficulty of books.
Sometimes when children are forced to read in class they get discouraged because the reading material is too difficult or they lack interest in the subject and give up too early. It is our job as parents to make sure our children doesn’t fall behind. Ask them if they are able to read the books prescribed in class. If they aren’t able to, find books that are just slightly less difficult. When you can see they become more comfortable with the reading material, increase the pace and difficulty of the books.
5. Learn to pause.
It is important to know how to read, but it is even more important to understand what you are reading. Otherwise it is just a string of senseless words. Teach your children to pause every few minutes when they are busy reading to ask a question about what the just read. This promotes understanding of the topic and the story. Children should ask themselves the following questions when they are reading:
• What did I just read?
• What are the most important things that happened in the last chapter?
• Did anything confuse me?
• Did anything surprise me?
• Are there any parts I didn’t understand?
6. Check your rate per minute and practice to improve that.
The goal isn’t always to see how fast your child can read. However, as children get older their total words per minute need to increase proportionally. In the beginning of each term, do an easy reading test. Take a page of a book or an article and let your child read the page (not out loud, as it take longer to fully speak each word). Set a timer for one minute and then count the number of words your child has read in that minute. Make sure to ask questions about the text so that you know your child didn’t cheat. Remember to keep track of the amount of words per minute by writing it in a diary or journal. Next term you need to repeat the test. See how much your child’s reading skills have improved.
7. Take care of your eyes.
Our eyesight is one of our most important senses, that’s why we need to take care of our eyes. Know whether your child requires glasses or not, and that their glasses or contact lens prescription is up to date. Make sure they read in well-lit places and that they receive enough nutrients to keep their eyes healthy. This includes food that have Omega 3, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E.
8. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
The best tip to help your child read better is to lead by example. Are you as a parent reading enough? Your children will be more likely to read if they see you always have books on your nightstand, or that you love going to a second-hand book sale.
Foster a love for reading in your children by reading to them at night. Also ask them to read to you. If you and your teenager enjoys the same books, then form a small book club where you talk about the book and the characters. Marilyn Jager Adams, a specialist in cognition and education, said the following: “Read[ing] aloud with your children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.” Show your child that reading will open up worlds for them and that reading a book is one of the best ways to explore and go on new adventures.
Let us know what you and your children are currently reading. On what level of reading skills are they currently and how do you encourage your children to read? We would love to hear other parents’ stories.