Reading with children remains a cherished parenting ritual, one that has withstood the test of time. Whether it happens every night at bedtime or sporadically to fit busy schedules, reading with your child and reading to your child offers a time for bonding, skill development and fun.
Parents of early readers often worry about their child’s progress, especially as it compares to peers or older siblings. Parents also wonder what role they can play in helping their child develop a love of reading and a lifelong reading habit.
I share the following tips and guidelines with parents of my first graders. These can be useful in fostering your child’s love of reading:
1. Helping your child become an independent reader
The first step for children to become an independent reader is for them to believe they are readers. The best and most important way to help children believe is to make sure they are choosing “just right” books. These are books in which they can read 95% of words quickly and accurately. Even books at a “just right” level offer some reading challenges, which is important in developing word-solving skills, fluency and comprehension. Another goal is to help children build reading muscles—their stamina for reading in extended blocks of time either by themselves or with a partner.
2. “Just right” is just right
Varied reading experiences and exposure to many kinds of books are an important part of developing your child’s reading identity. Equally important is for your child to spend time reading at their “just right” level. At times, these books may seem too easy or different from the stories they enjoy reading at home. But these books afford children the opportunity to practice and develop new skills and gain confidence. The terminology of a “just right” level describes where the child is in that moment. Having a positive attitude and celebrating your child’s “just right” level goes a long way to validate where they are on their reading journey.
3. Reading levels are like clothing sizes
Parents should not worry if a child remains at their “just right” level for several weeks. Each reading level has a unique set of skills to practice and master. Sometimes, a child will sit at a level for an extended period of time, as they master the skills they need to continue to the next level. I encourage parents to think about reading levels in the same way they think about clothing sizes. Children grow out of levels, “wear” the appropriate level for the moment and grow into a new level when they’re ready.
4. Establishing a reading routine
Parents can help a child develop good reading habits by establishing a routine for reading the books they bring home from school or the library. Blake has daily reading expectations for students beginning with 10 minutes nightly in first grade. This is increased by 5 minutes per grade, so that students are reading independently every day for 30 minutes by the time they are in fifth grade. Whether or not this is an expectation for your child’s school, these guidelines can be a good rule of thumb for any parent when it comes to daily reading. For early readers, this is work best done with an adult who can help a child establish a good reading spot (without distractions) and a consistent time of day.
5. Expand your definition of “reading”
Parents should know that a daily reading routine consists of more than just reading a book’s text. An independent reader thinks and talks about books. Reading time can also be filled by discussing what is happening in the story, making careful observations of the cover, reading the back blurb and making predictions about how the story will unfold.
6. Re-read to deepen skills
Parents should also encourage their child to re-read books they have previously finished. Children gain a lot from re-reading, allowing them to notice new things in stories, smooth out their reading voices and build their fluency and confidence.
7. Developing a home library for children
While it is important for your child to have daily reading experiences at their “just right level,” it is also beneficial for them to have experiences with a broad range of books in their at-home library. These books offer a chance to experience the pleasure of reading purely for enjoyment. My recommendation is to have a variety of books, genres, topics and levels available at home, and to let your child choose widely when not reading “just right” books.
About The Blake School
The Blake School is a Pre-K through 12 independent school with three campus locations in Hopkins, Minneapolis and Wayzata. For information about our early childhood education program click here or talk with teachers, parents, students and staff at an upcoming Discover Blake event.
About the Author
Tessa Resta-Flarer has been a first grade teacher at Blake for three years. Before that, she taught young readers in New York for five years.