How to help struggling readers develop a love of the written word
At this time of year, plenty of kids would rather hoist a hockey stick than pick up a book. But sometimes problems with reading aren’t seasonal, which may worry parents who’ve heard the statistics that correlate poor reading ability with academic underachievement. One website even claims that when the State of Arizona projects the number of beds it will need in its prison system, it factors in the grade-four reading level of the upcoming generation; the less skilled the readers, the more room Arizona makes for inmates. The report is unsubstantiated, but it sure gets you thinking.
While worrying about our children’s futures is a perfectly normal parental response, you can use your energy more effectively, and enjoyably, by helping kids develop better reading skills. Here are some approaches you can start using today.
Make it fun
Learning isn’t supposed to feel like boot camp. That’s something I had to keep reminding myself when working with my dyslexic son, Torben, now 11. As a natural-born reader, I sometimes found it difficult to understand that Torben simply couldn’t process printed matter the same way I could.
“Too often, emotion gets in the way” when parents help their kids with reading, says Ron Jobe, a professor in the department of language and literacy education in the University of British Columbia’s education faculty. “Reading should be joyful, and too often adults forget that. Don’t get really frustrated and put the pressure on. Just be upbeat and positive about it.”
Elizabeth Larsen of West Vancouver tries to do just that with her two boys, Sean, 10, and Joshua, 11. She downloads audiobooks for them so they can experience the great stories their friends read, but that are too challenging for them in print (one of their favourites is Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer). There’s no pressure to follow along with the text; Larsen says the boys pick up language as they listen to the stories — and, just as importantly, they enjoy the books they’re hearing.
Reading aloud to children long after they can read on their own will also nurture a lifelong love of books, advises librarian Ken Setterington, the Toronto Public Library’s child and youth advocate. And family read-aloud sessions don’t have to happen at bedtime when you’re dead tired. Keep a storybook in the car that you can pick up when your partner is driving, or start the day with an inspiring newspaper account over breakfast.