Raising a Reader by Reading Together!
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
Is getting your school-aged child to read a struggle in your house? Is filling out a nightly reading log causing tears? Are you looking to support your young reader but not sure how? One of the easiest ways to engage your child in reading is to read together.
While common with little ones, this practice can get lost as kids get older. Here are some ways parents and children (even teenagers!) can benefit from reading with their family.
Not sure where to start? It’s as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Walk the talk and read
Model reading behaviour
The easiest way to raise a reader, is to be a reader.1 Children love to mimic and imitate adults around them so if you put value on reading and books, they will too. Of course, reading is not limited to books: graphic novels, magazines, audiobooks and eBooks all count! Check out some of my booklists and title suggestions.
Prioritize reading by having books in the home
Research shows that children from households where reading is prioritized have double the vocabulary of children from households where reading isn't a priority by the age of three.2 Having books in the home is key—comparing 27 countries, a research team demonstrated that “[c]hildren growing up in homes with many books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class.”3 4
Homes where books and reading are prioritized offers children the opportunity to explore books at their leisure. Books don’t have to be owned! Check out your local library for children’s items available you to borrow for FREE.
Read with your children
To get your children more interested in reading: read with them and not to them. This takes some of the pressure off you to perform and shifts the dynamic from putting their reading insecurities in the spotlight, to being a fun activity that you are sharing together.
Here's a quick tip to involve your children in the story: ask questions!
There is no shortage of questions you can ask:
What do you see in the pictures?
What do you think is going to happen next?
How is the story making them feel?
Can you help me count the sheep?
Can you turn the page?
2. Select titles they like
Let them choose
Simply put, it’s important your children choose their own reading material. By letting children read what interests them, you're more likely to get better buy in for the activity. Even if they pick something that you think is terribly written (a book of fart jokes?), or is beneath their reading level (‘picture books, but you’re in grade school?!’), research shows it is important to “[b]e the pipeline, not the gatekeeper.”5 If your child loves what they’re reading, they’ll enjoy reading and keep reading (the inverse being true). Taste and refinement in reading will come—the goal is to find reading material they like.
Here’s a quick tip to find their next favourite book: series! When reading is already new, children want something familiar and that’s exactly what they get with a series of books. So yes, that might mean you end up reading the entire Captain Underpants series, but if your child is excited to read it with you, make sure you’re excited too.
Keep picture books in the picture
Despite popular belief, picture books are for children of ALL ages. They're simply a format, and not indicative of reading level or ability. Some picture books tell a story using simple language, while others may use complex language or uncommon words or expressions. The key is reading aloud picture books that engage the listener and continue to develop an appreciation of literature and the value of reading.6 Here are some of my favourites.
3. Have fun!
“Reading at home should be about curiosity, discovery and exploration. It’s great, of course, to support your child while [they’re] learning the mechanics of reading at school, but your most important job is more profound: to foster a love of reading”. 7 Leave teaching to the teachers. While it’s normal to be concerned if your child is reading below reading level, remember if you are reading together, their reading will improve. Why? Listening comprehension feeds reading comprehension.8
Here are a few tips to keep reading fun:
Show your enthusiasm for reading.
Help your child develop an appreciation for books.
Demonstrate good humour when mistakes are made, both yours and theirs.
Foster an enjoyment of reading together.
Respect your child’s reading choices.
A note about reading levels
Reading levels are a common tool used in the classroom. When reading at home, it’s perfectly okay not worry about reading levels. If children are captivated, there is nothing wrong with reading above their level (think novel when they are still on beginner chapter books) or down! Want to dig in to reading levels? Read this great parent’s guide.
Paul, Pamela, and Maria Russo. How to Raise a Reader. Workman Publishing Company, 2019, pp.6.
Mahoney, Ashley Darcy, et al. Talk With Me Baby: Georgia's Language Nutrition Strategy to Bridge the Word Gap. Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, sigma.nursingrepository.org/bitstream/handle/10755/601666/Ashley_Mahoney.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
Evans, M.D.R., et al. “Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success: Books and Schooling in 27 Nations.” Elsevier, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 12 Jan. 2010, www.researchgate.net/publication/222420184.
“Growing up in a House Full of Books Is Major Boost to Literacy and Numeracy, Study Finds.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Oct. 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/10/growing-up-in-a-house-full-of-books-is-major-boost-to-literacy-and-numeracy-study-finds.
Paul, Pamela, and Maria Russo. How to Raise a Reader. Workman Publishing Company, 2019, pp.90-91.
Giorgis, Cyndi, editor. Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Book. 8th ed., Penguin Books, 2017, pp.58.
Paul, Pamela, and Maria Russo. How to Raise a Reader. Workman Publishing Company, 2019, pp.48.
Giorgis, Cyndi, editor. Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Book. 8th ed., Penguin Books, 2017, pp.25.