We all know how wonderful and enriching reading is, but sometimes our children are too frustrated with reading to see it the same way. Reading skills don’t always come as quickly or easily as we’d like, and this can make for some unhappy readers. My best friend Dayna has a son who has had a negative relationship with reading most of his life. As much as he loves superheroes and learning new science facts, the time and effort of just a minute of reading has him passing the book to mom so she can read it for him. I felt for my friend and her son so much and I became determined to find a way to ease the pains and frustrations of reading. Thanks to some time reading up on childhood education and volunteering as a reading aid, I came across some amazing insights and tips that can transform reading struggles into reading triumphs.
Be A Drama Mama
When I’m lying awake at night I often wish for the monotone drone of my old Anthropology professor. Even when we would cover the most interesting of cultures, I would still find myself nodding off to his robotic voice. Droning has it’s advantages when you’re sleepless, but you don’t want to take after my professor when you’re reading with kids. Whether it’s a college lecture or an Eric Carle book, it’s our job to capture attention by making things interesting. Bring the story to life by stomping your feet, shaking your hands, using voices, and exaggerating questions and exclamations. Make reading an extravaganza of sounds and visuals (puppets anyone?), and they’ll be hanging on each and every word. A little dose of theatrics will make reading fun just as fun for you as it is for the kids (and it’ll encourage their reading prosody too!).
Photo by Margaret
Make A Reading Nook
Sometimes children don’t find anything appealing about sitting down with a book, but you can change that in a weekend! Nooks and reading corners are a great way to add a flair of fun and comfort to reading. Bean bags, big pillows, snack tables, and secret reading spots make literature more fun and alluring than ever. A little creativity and coziness will give kids a fun escape that they’ll want to return to again and again. You can make a fancy nook with all the best Home Depot has to offer, but wood pallets and other household items will do the job too. Get some creative inspiration from Apartment Therapy’s list of lovely examples and don’t forget to get the kids in on the DIY action.
Reading = Pleasure
Our kids can struggle with reading for all kinds of different reasons, but there’s one overriding theme; pain. Struggles with reading can lead to a lot of embarrassment, confusion, and boredom, and that makes reading painful. It only takes a few of these experiences to connect reading with negativity, so it’s no wonder that some kids are afraid to even touch a book. Sadly, we often add to this as parents by turning reading into a chore and countering their resistance with “you have to read because insert reason here.”
Instead of making reading something they need to do, let’s make reading something they want to do. Get your kids to associate books with pleasure and they’ll create a whole new relationship with reading. Merge reading time with snack time so they can happily munch and read away. Or try tying books into the idea of fun and relaxation by making it something they get to do after (or before) chores and homework. You could also add a flair of creativity with fun reading activities (aspiring artists would love to pick out their favorite page from their story to print out and color). There are even events like Fairy Tale Day that offer an excuse for fun costume parties that are just as fun at home as they are at schools and libraries. There’s a million and one ways to do it, but if you’re ever short on ideas, just ask your young reader how they would make reading fun!
Get a Reading Buddy
We know our kids put more effort into reading when there’s someone looking over their shoulder, but this can come with some uncomfortable pressure too. Kids need a comfortable environment to take on their challenging tasks, and the family pet can offer all that and more. Animal boast some powerful magic, and this is actually something recognized by even the professional world. We can find animal “therapists” of all furry shapes and sizes working as veteran assistants, autistic aids, and reading buddies, so pets obviously come with benefits.
All that silky stroking offers an oxytocin boost that soothes frustrations and helps them focus. Most importantly, no matter how we may fumble, cats and dogs will just go right on listening without a peep of critique. Kids everywhere are benefitting from their furry reading buddies, but they can always be replaced with a happy substitute that’s eager to listen (like baby brother’s and cherished “stuffy’s”).
Photo by USAG-Humphreys
Skip Grades, Not Reading Levels
It’s tempting to get books at a higher reading level so that we can raise our children’s skills, but if your kiddo is shaking their head at the mere mention of the word “book,” it’s not the way to go. Go for books that match their reading level so they can develop important basics like comprehension, fluency, accuracy, and expanded vocabulary. In fact, you may even consider reading along with audio books or going down a reading level or two. The idea behind making reading easier is to cut back on frustrations and work on building skills that got left behind. Mastery of one level makes advancement to the next level natural and effortless, so it’s important that we focus on progress in proficiency (not progress in reading levels). Lower level books can offer an important boost in confidence and they can be a great way to show kids that they’re progressing in their reading abilities. Even “easy reading along with audiobooks can help comprehension too.
Stories are all about making connections to real life! Fables, myths, and legends were sources of powerful lessons and metaphors that demonstrated important points and morals, and this stance on storytelling can be practiced with virtually any book today. By showing our kids how a story relates to a real-life situation, we provide them something they can reflect on later in life. It’s a great way to throw in a bonus lesson on morals or new ideas, and it gives us a fabulous opportunity to spark some enriching discussion. When we ask kids what they would have done and why, or what they would do if they were in the story, we foster their imagination and reasoning (not to mention our own!). Try generating connections and discussion before you even open the book by using the title and book cover to make predictions. It’s a great way to engage readers interests!
Reading can be a challenge for some kids, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. If we take a moment to look at where the challenge lies, we can put a whole new spin on books. So cut back on the pains and add in some fun, and see what it does for your kids.
Happy reading everyone!