With National Literacy Month upon us, I find myself reflecting on the unique role parents can play to inspire a lifelong love for reading in their children. As a career educator with 14 years of high school teaching experience, I have facilitated more than 1,000 parent-teacher conferences. At these conferences, the single most common question I received: “What can we be doing at home to best support what’s happening in the classroom?”
My response has remained the same since 2006: “Have your child read regularly.” Unsurprisingly, the response from parents has not changed either: “That sounds great, but how are we supposed to do that?”
My answer to that question is rooted in what I know as a best practice of quality teaching and learning. That is: Meet students where they are and then take them where we want them to be. It’s a simple concept, but it demands a multi-faceted approach that requires persistent and expert planning to achieve.
So how do we meet our children where they are in their reading journey?
In the information age, we have at our fingertips, an endless scroll of sound bites and entertaining video content. It is a challenging environment in which to instill a lifelong love for reading. But with the right text and the right approach, we can turn up the volume on what your child is reading and launch a virtuous cycle of rewarding experiences that reinforce the value of reading. Your child will become more confident, more knowledgeable, more empathetic, and a deeper thinker. So where do we begin?
First, we need to meet them where they are:
Find texts that match your child’s reading level. Like the development of any skill, fluent reading rests upon a foundation of building blocks. It's not just about being able to read words on a page; it's about comprehending and analyzing what is read, connecting with the content on an emotional and intellectual level, making connections across content areas, and turning reading into a lifelong habit. For that reason, the first thing we must do for developing readers is provide them with reading material they can access. If a text is written in such a way that is insulting to their intelligence, it will turn them off. Likewise, if it is so complex it is barely comprehensible, it will erode confidence.
Find texts that interest your child. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Of course, finding reading materials that developing readers are enthusiastic about is no easy task. To do so, I believe in exposing readers to the widest possible variety of topics to see what resonates. Young people often surprise themselves with what they ultimately find interesting. Present your child with a wide range of content that is matched to their reading ability and watch what they explore.
Next, we need to take them where we want them to be:
Invite them into the conversation. Too often, we assume young people are
uninterested in what’s happening in the world outside of their immediate circle of friends. But, when invited properly into the conversation that adults and world leaders are having, young people are extremely invested in current events. The trouble is, the news is almost exclusively written for adults. With proper scaffolding, however, I’ve found that adolescents are not only willing to engage in the conversation, they are eager. What they lack is the appropriate vocabulary and historical context, delivered by text that’s written with them in mind as the audience.
Prioritize discussions of reading. A shared text can be a tremendous resource for families hoping to turn reading into a habit. For some families, dinner is the perfect time to engage in a conversation focused on a common text. For others, it’s better done while driving to or from school, or over a bowl of cereal. No matter when it happens, the most important thing is that a conversation takes place. When a young person feels as though adults are genuinely interested in what they have to say about a topic, they are far more likely to see value in the time spent reading.
Be patient. Turning reading into a habit is a process. Seeing your child turn into an avid reader overnight would be a welcome sight. It’s also not likely. Instead, trust that the process gains momentum when it's fed by a cycle of positive reinforcement. As your child engages with reading new material, they will likely struggle. That is part of the process. Inevitably, there will be texts that resonate with your child, and it will appear easy for them to read and comprehend. There will also be texts about topics that are entirely new to them, and it’s likely that they will find the reading considerably more difficult. This is all completely normal and part of the process. In due time, they will learn to love the process of continuous learning, personal growth, and staying informed in an ever-evolving world.
About the author
Brendan Kells is the Vice President of Education at The Juice Learning, an interactive learning platform that helps instill a life-long love of reading in kids. Their team of award-winning educators and journalists produce daily professional-grade content, overlaid on a technology platform designed to enhance reading development and engagement. Each article is written at different reading levels so that content can be tailored to meet students where they are, regardless of ability – and as your reading skills progress, it adjusts your reading level and grows with you. The Juice allows every family member to read the same story at their respective reading level, and then come together to have one conversation.