How To: Inspire the Reader in Your Child

It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that our children need to be good readers if they are going to experience success in life.

But there’s more to reading than just good phonics instruction (though that is a critical foundation).  Does your child comprehend what they read?  Can they use context to interpret words they don’t know?  Do they know how to read dialogue, i.e. do they know where the emphasis and pauses go?  Do they understand the pacing of a story?

Encouraging and inspiring the reader in your child is a process.  It’s not something that you spend a few days on, and then move on.   But that’s okay because, quite frankly, I think watching our children discover the joy that can be found in good literature is one of the more delightful aspects of parenting!

The first aspect of inspiring the reader in your child is, obviously, actually teaching them how to read.  If you’re still in that phase of the process, I encourage you to read my post “How To: Teach Your Child to Read.”  In that post I share the challenges I had teaching one of my sons to read, and the resources I finally found that worked.

Once your child has learned to read, the hard part is over!  I know that sounds simplistic, but let’s be honest.  The “professionals” often make education more complicated than it really is.  That applies when it comes to teaching your child to read, and it applies as well to teaching many other subjects, including comprehension, grammar and other facets of the language arts.  Much of teaching has to do with readiness – if your child is ready to tackle a new subject or component of a subject, they are far more likely to learn, and it makes things that much easier for you!

There are really only two things you need to do once your child has learned to read, in order to inspire the reader in them.  They are:

  1. Have your child read to you.
  2. Read to your child.

Again, it sounds too simple, doesn’t it?  But let’s look at why these two “simple” steps really do work:

Why should you have your child read to you?  Let’s face it, there is really no way to know if your child is comprehending what they are reading unless they actually read to you.  But let me encourage you, if I might, to step away from all the programs and curriculum and textbooks and workbooks, etc.  Consider, instead, simply reading “living books” with your child.

Let’s face it, there is really no way to know if your child is comprehending what they are reading unless they actually read to you.  But let me encourage you, if I might, to step away from all the programs and curriculum and textbooks and workbooks, etc.  Consider, instead, simply reading “living books” with your child.

Okay, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, to some extent.  Yet I hear from many homeschooling parents who are still quite stuck on thinking they need to have a: reading program, spelling workbooks, grammar program, writing curriculum, and on and on.  Yet the truth is that those books and workbooks can be rather superfluous if you actually read to, and with, your child.

If you have never heard it before, you may be wondering what the term “living book” means.  Simply speaking, pretty much anything that goes beyond the readers you have been using with your phonics program could be considered a “living book.”  They are biographies, fictional stories and stories about historical events.  We often think of living books as “chapter books.”  In other words, they are the kind of books that you go to a library to find, books you read for information and enjoyment rather than to fulfill a curriculum requirement.

One set of books I strongly recommend for your children, once they have gained some fluency with their reading, is the “I Can Read” series.  I have a couple of dozen of these books that I bought over the years when my grown children were young.   One of the outstanding aspects of these books is that they come in levels, so you can start with the easier books and then work your way up as your child gains greater fluency.  Another great feature of these books is that they range from fun, entertaining books such as Frog and Toad All Year, to books about history such as Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express.  These are great books for kindergarten through 2nd or 3rd grade.

Also consider other easy-reading books such as those by Beverly Cleary
and E. B. White.  When having your child read to you, you will want to stay reasonably within their reading level, while gradually adding in more challenging books.  At the end of this post I’ll share the list of books I’m reading with my 5th grader this year to give you an idea of what I mean.

Why should you read to your child?  Studies have shown that there are numerous benefits to continuing to read to your child long beyond the point where your child can read for themselves.  For instance, reading to our children is said to improve their comprehension and vocabulary.

There may be different theories as to why this is so, but it seems only logical to me that if my child isn’t focused on decoding words or interpreting context, as he needs to do when he is the one doing the reading, he will be able to focus more on the other aspects of reading, such as comprehension of the material itself.

In order to make reading to your child more effective, consider a few strategies such as:

  • Before you begin reading, ask your child what they remember from your last reading session.  For instance, what happened in the last chapter?  Did your last reading end with some climactic moment that will, presumably, be resolved in what you are going to read today?  Ask them not only what they remember, but what they think will happen next.
  • Ask them about the characters.  Who do they like?  Who do they identify with?
  • Ask them about the mood of the book: is it suspenseful?  funny?  silly?
  • Not every book has to have some sort of “lesson” but if the book you’re reading does have a message, discuss that message.  Discuss the choices that the characters make.  What did they do right?  What could they/should they have done differently?

I believe that “reading time” can be a great way to relax and make memories with your child.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be infused with opportunities for your child to learn how to extract more meaning from their own reading by using techniques such as those described above.

Finally, it’s almost cliché to say that we need to spend time reading to our children.  But let’s face it, that’s sometimes easier said than done.  Between household chores, outside activities, and the thousand-and-one unexpected things that come up in the course of a day or week or year, it can be challenging to set aside time to read.   But as I so often say when it comes to all aspects of homeschooling, do what works for you.

When my older children were young, I was in the habit of reading to them every night before bed.  It was something we all enjoyed very much.

But with my 10-year old, who is the “child of my old age,” I simply don’t have the energy at night to read.  His older brothers do read to him at night, at times.  They have read through the “Boxcar Children” series and some of the “Sugar Creek Gang” series.  They also like to read with him historical novels by G. A. Henty.  But their reading to him is pretty hit-and-miss.

Realizing that I needed to put aside some committed time to read to, and with, my 10-year old, I decided to make our “reading time” part of our homeschooling schedule.  That may seem like an obvious choice to many of you, but for me it meant making some choices about what we could realistically tackle in regards to the rest of our curriculum.

In order to make time for actually reading “living books” with my son I needed to ditch the reading program that I had been using with my children for years (decades actually!)  I still have a vocabulary workbook for my son, but I don’t bother with grammar or spelling at this point.  We are just reading, reading, reading.  And you know what?  It’s fun.  I enjoy it.  My son enjoys it.  It’s been many years since I sat and read with a young one this way and I am really enjoying the relaxed-ness of it.

Maybe you’ve let reading to your children get squeezed out of your schedule with all the other activities that are so pressing.  If so, I encourage you to make the time to read to, and with, your children, even if it means putting aside, for a while, that wonderful curriculum you thought was going to turn your children into rocket scientists!

One last recommendation: when my son and I have our “reading together” time, we take turns reading.  This accomplishes both of the objectives I outlined above.  It gives me the opportunity to assess my son’s comprehension and grasp of the various facets of reading, and it allows him the opportunity to learn from my interpretation of the material.  Taking turns reading allows my son to read to me AND it allows me to read to my son, all at the same time!  You might want to try this to see if it works for you as well.

I said that I would include my son’s reading list for this – his 5th grade – year.  It might give you some ideas of books you could incorporate into your child’s reading:

I hope you will consider sharing this post with other parents, homeschooling or not, who may be interested in inspiring and encouraging the reader in their child!