Making Kids into Readers

Current library selection
Current library selection

First of all I must say there are people way more experienced in this than I am. Teachers, librarians, tutors and specialists for example all are eager and able to help kids become better readers, or help them learn to read at all. I happen to have tutored in AmeriCorps for a year in the America Reads program, taught ESL to both children and adults for several years, and have had measurable success with both my own sons, so I thought I’d write this in case these tips help anyone else out. When my oldest was a baby and toddler he did not have the usual interest in books that most young children show. His attitude was, if he couldn’t rip it apart, what good was it? This frustrated me and I would not let it go, (did I mention I was an English major?) so, I started getting every book on vehicles that our library had, and then ordered them online through our library system, KCLS, which totally rocks by the way. His biggest interest was vehicles, and those books were at least holding him captivated for a few minutes at a time. As the library ran out of vehicle book options, I widened the search to anything construction, tool related, or worker-man related. His attention and interests grew. I was then able to get animal books, silly stories of all sorts, and anything with a superhero theme and he loved them. Soon, he would look at books, without tearing them to pieces, for as long as I would let him. He never was able to sit through a library story time, but a love for books was good enough for me. After learning to read he really resisted chapter books, so I started getting easy chapter books on CD for the car. Their favorite series at that time was The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne, and sure enough after listening to the books on CD they were the first chapter books my oldest picked out on his own to read at school, because they were familiar, and also because the books have some pictures in them which he found fascinating after hearing the CD versions and creating his own pictures in his head. From then on, he has been an avid reader and generally has several books going at once~ something I never could do myself but he seems to manage it fine. My younger son struggled a bit with learning to read in Kindergarten, much to my surprise because he started memorizing books at a very young age, which is the first sign of learning to read. Over the summer before first grade I dedicated time every day to teach him to read myself, and it worked. He started off first grade as a very good reader and has continued to improve. Here’s how I did it which is how we were taught to do it in AmeriCorps when I worked in a struggling school: First, let them read a short book that is easy for them. If they don’t know how to read at all, then this will be a book with one or two words per page with pictures to help. Next they read a slightly challenging book for them. This whole process should be around 20 minutes, and it should be fun. When they are finished you can give them a sticker or whatever motivates them. It is best to do this with a series that gets progressively more difficult, like BOB books or something like that. For example if they have already read books 1-5 of a series, and book 6 will be the ‘challenge’ book of the day, the student can pick any book, 1-5, to read as the ‘easy’ book for that day, then they read book 6 as the challenging book. This helps in memorizing words, which might sound funny b/c reading is often all about phonics when learning, but memorization is what makes fluent reading. You aren’t sounding out every s-i-n-g-l–e word of this, for example, I hope. Guessing is also a valid technique that one should not discourage. If the picture shows a dog going through a door and the child reads dog as door, that’s a good mistake, not something to freak out about (which I’ve seen a fair number of well-intentioned people do~ “Your just guessing! Don’t guess!”) because we have a lot of weird words in the English language and guessing is something that helps figure out some of those crazy words, like night, laugh, have and cough to name but a few. We continue to listen to books on CD in the car, and one reason is that it focuses the kids’ attention on something other than each other, which if you have more than one child you know exactly what I mean. (Poke, poke, he’s on my side! etc.) A friend got in the car the other day while we were listening to something and she remarked, “It’s so quiet!” and I promise you that is not a statement often heard around my kids. The books on CD do serve another purpose besides peace-keeping though, and that is to introduce harder books to the boys than they would normally pick out on their own. We have listened to the whole Harry Potter series (as my older son also read them) and also classics like the Narnia books and Treasure Island. This continues to be a good way for the boys to feel out a book or an author and decide if they want to then read the same book, the next in the series, or maybe not at all. That goes for the books I read at night to them also. Often my older son will continue to read the same author after I have finished a book, while my younger son still tends to pick short chapter books that can be read in one sitting. Lastly, I get them all kinds of books from the library that I think they might like, even if they aren’t exactly something that is great literature. It’s more important they like reading in my opinion, so I get them books to make them laugh or are interesting to them, and I get the good literature in them by reading aloud or books on CD. So, those are my reading tips~ what are yours?


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