Importance of Reading for Children

One of our goals as parents should be to create independent, literate readers. Children who struggle with reading and understanding the written word do poorly in school, have trouble following instructions at home and in the classroom, and may experience problems in their social interactions.

On an economic level, raising literate children makes good sense.  According to the National Center for Family Literacy, "The estimated cost of illiteracy to taxpayers and businesses is $20 billion per year." [7690]

Given the ever-increasing debt burden on American taxpayers, most of us would probably agree that if we can cut the costs of illiteracy by teaching our children to read, we should.

Reading to Your Children Fosters Literacy

Man Reading to His Son
Credit: adassel under royalty free license via SXC

Schools Can't Do Everything

While schools can help in the battle against illiteracy, parents, guardians and other involved adults are the foot soldiers in the trenches, and the burden falls on us to help children develop the reading and literacy skills and habits they need to be successful in life.

However, adding one more task to an already time-starved lifestyle may seem overwhelming to most. Here's some tips for some easy reading strategies for parents that you can use to develop and to encourage your child's reading skills and fluency.

Author Tomie dePaola on the Importance of Reading to Children

Tip #1. Recap In Their Own Words

After your child reads a paragraph, ask him or her to tell you what they just read using their own words. This helps you check for reader retention and comprehension.  If they get stuck, encourage them to predict what might happen next in the story.

If you are working with younger children, read them the story and then ask them to tell you what happened in the story. If necessary, prompted them by asking questions like "What was the first thing that happened in this story about the big cats?"


Tip #2. Help Them Focus

Use a pencil, finger or an index card to draw the eyes toward small chunks of text or key phrases. Teach your child to focus on chunks of text to avoid being distracted by several sentences.

"The agile cheetah chased the scared antelope."

Using our sentence above, focusing on the words "cheetah chased" and "antelope" would help an uncertain reader decode the sentence quickly and easily.

Tip #3. Use Open Rather Than Closed-end Questions

Open-ended questions stimulate conversation and require children to offer more than a "yes" or "no" answer. Using our big cats example, if you asked your child "What did the cheetah chase?" you probably get a one word answer - antelope.

However, if you asked "What kinds of animals do big cats hunt for food?" you learn more about their level of comprehension and retention of the information they read. This allows you to go back through the book with your child and re-read any sections that were unclear or not completely understood.

Tip #4. Prediction Based on Context

Make sure your child knows that understanding what they read is more important than pronouncing every word correctly. It's also a good idea to let them know that even adults make mistakes and mispronounce words or confuse meanings.

When your child encounters an unknown word and they cannot sound it out, make a game out of substituting other words that help to make sense of unfamiliar words and concepts. Here's an example:

If you are reading a children's book about big cats like lions or cheetahs, and a sentence says "The cheetah chased the antelope," it wouldn't make sense to substitute the word "bear" for cheetah, but it would make sense to substitute the words "big cat." While a child may not know that the word "cheetah" represents a member of the big cat family, they would most likely associate the words "big cat" with a lion or other large cat. 

Tip #5. Rewrite The Story

Encourage children to rewrite a story using their own words. Asking them to illustrate their writing with images is another good way to test comprehension levels. Focus on the product and not the process, and help them out (if necessary) by offering writing prompts in the form of open-ended questions.  

Challenge them write their own books about their own experiences as reading books which they have created themselves may be more interesting to them.  For instance, they could write about "My Trip to the Memphis Zoo" or "3 Things I Don't Plan to Do on My Summer Vacation" and add illustrations.

Tip #6. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Encourage children to read and re-read books they enjoy and read well. As adults, we become bored quickly with repetitive information, but children learn best from spaced repetition. Re-reading a book they can read fluently builds their confidence level in their reading skills and encourages them to want to read more.

The only way for children to become better readers is to read. Reading every day for a set amount of time is the foundation of lifelong literacy skills.

Think about this. If your child reads for 30 minutes per day for every school day, her or she will read for  5,400 minutes or 90 hours each school year. By the time these children reach middle school, they have logged an impressive 540 hours of reading, and their skills have increased exponentially.

Here's the equation:

(Insert the number of days your school is in session)

(Insert the required amount of daily reading) 

School days X minutes equals: 180 X 30 = 5,400 minutes or 90 hours

While the amount of words read will vary by child, most experts agree the average adult can read about 250 words per minute. While most children read slower than adults, just imagine how many words your child could read in those six years between kindergarten and middle school as their skills improve.

Tip#7. Variety Is the Spice of Life and Literature

Make reading a fun experience! Check out audio books from the library and play them in the car while you are traveling to and from school, church and extra-curricular activities. Let your child follow along in the book to help make the connection between the printed word and the spoken word.

Mix in books like those by Dr. Seuss, which use lots of rhyming words and creative illustrations, or joke or riddle books with required reading materials from school. Some other great children's book authors to try are Tomie dePaola, Eric Carle, Kevin Henkes, or Beatix Potter. 

Tip #8. Read to Others

A popular reading program being offered at many public libraries encourages kids to read to dogs. You can develop your own twist on this by having your child read to his or her stuffed animals or your own pets. While it might seem like a good idea to have them read to their siblings or other relatives, this is probably not a good idea.

Struggling readers are self-conscious and the anxiety of trying to "read perfectly" for a peer or relative could make reading aloud a negative experience. Pets and stuffed animals will not judge the child's reading ability and therefore, make the perfect audience.

Tip#9. Be a Good Role Model

There's an old saying that goes something like this: "More is caught than is taught." If you want your children to become proficient readers, you must lead the way.

Here's some easy ways to incorporate reading into your everyday activities:

  1. Take them to libraries and bookstores regularly and help them select their books.
  2. Read with them every day.
  3. Read every day yourself, and make sure your kids see you reading.
  4. Listening to audio books in the car can offer lifetime benefits that listening to the latest hit song on radio may not.
  5. Read everything! Street signs, billboards, theatre and church marquees and so forth are everywhere you look, so make the most of your commute times.
  6. Have your kids help you fix a meal and teach them how to use your cookbooks.

The neat thing about these simple reading strategies for parents is how easy it is to merge them them into the things you do every day. Make it a habit to include at least one of these reading strategies into your family routine, and do it for at least 21 days. By that time, you will have established a new (and positive) habit, and your children will be on the right road to reading better.