One of the most important skills your children need to learn is how to read well and at a good speed. Imagine going through middle school, high school, college, and then a job and not being able to read quickly and understand what you read. It would be pure torture. Assignments that should take 20 minutes to complete would take a slow reader hours. Ack! Wouldn’t it be kinder to enforce a little tough love and make sure they were good readers by 3rd grade?
I was an elementary teacher for 16 years, so I have a passion for teaching children how to be great readers. The key? Practice, practice, practice! (Yes, the method by which they are taught is a huge factor too, but that’s another blog.)
Each year on Back to School Night, I always shared with the parents my experience of learning to play the piano. Although I took piano lessons for 12 years from a good teacher, I never learned to play well. The reason? I rarely practiced. I was the youngest of six kids, and my working mother just didn’t have the time to make me.
So although I know all the notes, rhythms, clefs, etc. I’m terrible at reading music because I rarely practiced. I’m extremely slow. It’s painful! And because it’s slow and painful to get through a piece of music, I hate it. And because I hate it, I don’t do it.
It’s the same way with reading. Your children can know all the letters, sounds, sight words, etc., but unless they practice every single day, they will be painfully slow. And if they’re painfully slow, they will start to hate reading. And if they hate reading, they just won’t do it.
The solution? Get your children into a DAILY habit of reading. I used to tell my first grade parents to diligently practice reading with their children every night for 15-20 minutes until Christmas. After that, their children should be able to practice on their own. They just need someone who makes them!
It would be lovely to think that you could just encourage your children to read daily and they would. Sadly, that generally is not the case for the vast majority of children. Most children have to be forced to practice reading in the beginning - in a positive, encouraging way of course! Once they learn how to read quickly, however, you won’t need to force them anymore. They will begin to read for pure pleasure.
So how exactly do you get your children into a daily habit of reading? One of the best things I did for my sons when they were in elementary school was to enforce a nightly reading routine. Just like they had to take a bath and brush their teeth each night, they also HAD to read. The rule was they had to go to bed 30 minutes early each night during the school year and read. So, if their bedtime was 8:30, they knew they had to get in bed at 8:00 and read. Always. Every night.
I would leave their door open to make sure they were actually reading too. It wasn’t 30 minutes to continue playing. They were supposed to be in bed reading during that time, and I frequently checked on them. It’s not that I didn’t trust them, but … well, okay I didn’t trust them.
Now my boys didn’t have a TV, laptop, cell phone, tablet, or video games in their rooms. However, if your children do, you probably need to check often to make sure they’re actually reading and not playing video games under the covers. (Take all their technology out if it becomes a problem.)
While that worked during the school year, it didn’t work in the summer when they stayed up later. So in the summer, I would make them lie or sit in the living room in the middle of the day and read for 30 minutes. I would set the timer, and they couldn’t get up until the timer went off. Sometimes I would read with them, or sometimes I would be cooking dinner. However, I kept them close so I could make sure they were indeed reading.
To be honest, my boys didn’t like it in the beginning. They complained a lot, but I continued to make them read every day anyhow. Eventually their complaints stopped because they knew I was dead set on having them read daily and it wouldn’t do any good to complain. By third grade, however, they really started to enjoy reading and I no longer had to force them. By sixth grade, they were both reading on a post-high school level. They both did very well in school and on their ACT scores, and I attribute most of it to them being excellent readers.
I want to add that even though I made them practice reading on their own, I also continued to read aloud to them. I tried to choose great chapter books that were highly recommended. I remember being totally exhausted at the end of the day as they begged me to read just one more chapter of an exciting book.
Yes, it initially takes a lot of time and effort to practice reading with your children. Then, it takes a lot of supervision and diligence to make sure they read on their own. But oh the time and effort is so worth it!