By Wendy White
In 2019 more than half of all students in Arizona from elementary school through high school failed the reading portion of the AzMERIT standardized test. The reasons for this deficiency are varied—inadequate school funding, a lack of early childhood learning opportunities, a shortage of certified teachers—but a factor that parents can control is the amount of time a child spends reading at home. You can create more time by considering the competing interests for your child’s attention each day: cell phones, television, video games, and streaming services, etc. Time spent on those devices adds up quickly. Find out for yourself by tracking your child’s digital usage for three days. From there you can figure out a schedule that transfers some screen time to book time. But here’s the tricky part: how do parents encourage a child who is a reluctant reader to read?
At Read Better Be Better (RBBB), we’ve developed an after-school reading program to improve struggling 3rd graders’ comprehension, concentration, and enjoyment of reading. The literacy tools from our program’s curriculum have enabled thousands of students to improve their reading proficiency by more than 20% over their non-participating peers, and to have fun while doing so. Here are five ways that we’ve been able to encourage previously reluctant readers to read and to keep on reading:
Allow them to choose what they want to read: Encouraging your child to pick a book off the shelf themselves provides them with ownership over their reading, creating a more invested reader. Choosing their own books also helps them realize that any and all books have the potential to be interesting and fun. And reading comes in more print formats than just books. Maybe they want to read a newspaper article about their favorite soccer team. Or a comic book about their favorite super hero. Encourage them to read about anything that gets them excited and engaged.
Read aloud with younger children using your “movie voice” to make the story come alive: Remember that scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when the economics teacher is taking attendance and asks, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” in the very definition of a monotone, which is how kids who don’t enjoy reading often experience stories. By using your movie voice—speaking higher and lower to differentiate characters, varying your reading speed to build or release tension, emphasizing emotions to deepen engagement, and utilizing hand gestures and sound effects to further animate sections—the story plays out like a movie in front of your child because you’ve created more interest in the text for them. Encourage them to use their own movie voice when they read aloud and they’ll discover that there’s a lot more entertainment in reading.
Engage in conversations with your child as they’re reading: To stimulate curiosity about the story, ask questions like, “What does the title tell you about the book?” To help your child understand new information and construct meaning, questions along the lines of, “Does this character remind you of anyone you know?” encourages the child to make connections in their life to what they’re reading. To infer meaning, show your child how to merge the background information they know with clues in the text to come up with ideas that aren’t explicitly stated. Questions such as, “What do you think might happen next in the book?” allow your child to read actively, think critically, and gain more reading skills that they can continue to build upon.
Validate your child’s progress: Feedback is an essential part of effective learning. Providing your child with clear, specific, and immediate encouragement after a reading session gives your child more confidence, self-awareness, and enthusiasm for learning and motivates him to keep on reading. At RBBB, our students are given two pieces of positive feedback at the end of each session that focuses on their engagement, attitude, or an observation about the progress they’re making.
Consistency is key: In his book “Outliers,” writer Malcolm Gladwell discusses how we all have a decent chance of becoming an expert at anything—soap carving, extreme ironing, competitive mooing—if we’re willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice. The good news is that your child doesn’t need to spend 10,000 hours reading to become a happier and more avid reader. The recommended guideline is just 30 minutes a day, time enough for your child to discover that reading is great.
Wendy White writes grants for Read Better Be Better, a Phoenix-based nonprofit after-school reading comprehension program that helps children improve their literacy skills and become better learners. For more information, go to www.readbetterbebetter.org.