Most Central Texas schools are now in session, and students are just settling in for the new school year. If your child’s elementary school experience is anything like my child’s was, one of the first and most consistent things your child will be asked to do for homework is read.
Reading logs—in which students must record a minimum of reading time each evening—begin in the very early grades. In later elementary school, your child may be asked to produce creative projects that illustrate books he or she has read (think dioramas, posters and puppet shows) or to read and report on books of various “genres” such as biography, fantasy, realistic fiction, science fiction and so on. “Bluebonnet Books,” which have received special recognition from the Texas Bluebonnet Award Association, along with a yearly reading pledge drive called “BookSpring,” may also feature prominently in your child’s elementary school experience.
All these efforts to foster independent reading are important, but they’re only part of the process that enables kids to become strong, avid readers.
One way to boost skills and get kids more interested in reading for pleasure (which many experts agree is key to lifelong learning) is to create an interactive verbal and social experience around reading. In other words, kids need ways to talk about what the stories, histories, facts and other information they are reading means. This can be as simple as regularly reading aloud to your child and then allowing time for questions and discussion.
Reading aloud benefits not just the very young, but also older elementary and even middle school-aged students, according the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) at Columbia University, especially when reading sessions include discussion about the material. The group, which has been studying reading and writing for decades, calls reading aloud “the best way we have to immerse children in the glories of reading, showing both how and why one reads.”
Research cited by the TCRWP has found the benefits of interactive classroom reading for younger children is well-established, but that even for middle schoolers, its benefits have included increases in motivation, positive attitude toward reading, background knowledge in content areas and fluency. While the TCRWP’s work focuses on classroom activity, the concepts and methods it has developed, which go beyond the “interactive read alouds” it recommends, can provide useful insights to anyone about reading skills. Learn more about the project at readingandwritingproject.org.
Out of practice and not sure what to read? Revisiting your childhood favorites and re-reading your child’s is a great place to start. Going over familiar material reinforces vocabulary and sentence structures your child already understands and allows him or her to pick up on nuances previously missed. To change things up and provide more of a challenge, read something slightly above your child’s fluency level to enlarge vocabulary and broaden comprehension. Verbal and non-verbal cues, which naturally occur when you read out loud, help your child understand vocabulary and meaning he or she might not get when reading the same text independently. Moreover, you are there to answer any questions that arise in a more relaxed setting than likely exists in the classroom.
To help narrow down good reading choices, ask your child’s teacher for information about his or her fluency level and for suggestions on books that are at, below or above that level. Book clubs and discussion groups give older kids (tweens and teens) great selections they may not have thought about and a forum to verbalize thoughts and analysis as well as listen to what others think about stories, books, poems or other material.
Local public libraries are a terrific resource to support these activities, offering story times for youngsters and book clubs for older kids and adults. Check your library’s event calendar for story times and book club meetings. Youth librarians can also provide suggestions that may give you and your child fresh ideas about what to read.
September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, a nation-wide initiative supported by the American Library Association and local public libraries. If you and your children don’t already have a card, now is a great time to get one. Need more ideas for book titles for yourself or your kids but don’t have time to talk to a librarian? Check out the “We Recommend” page at
library.austintexas.gov, where you will find local picks for a variety of ages, genres and tastes.
Margaret Nicklas is an Austin-based freelance journalist, writer and mom.