Why does reading to your child make a difference in his own reading success?

Next time you settle down to read with your child (of any age), feel good about the fact that there are lots of things that you’re doing to help him/her become a strong reader. Here are 10 specific things you are doing – or could be doing – that make a difference!

When reading to your child. you’re…

  • Showing your child that you think reading and books are important, which affects his interest in wanting to be a good reader
    • If you regularly read to him as part of your busy days together, he knows you put a priority on reading books.
  • Building a connection with your child, which helps develop a positive association with reading and reading motivation.
    • Those cozy moments on the couch reading books together help your child associate reading with warm and happy times with you/other people she cares about, and make her more interested in learning to read and reading independently.
  • Teaching print awareness from the earliest days, which is an emergent literacy skill, and calling attention to print and spelling patterns through the years
    • She begins to learn, over time, that the black marks on the page are the words you’re reading, that the print is read from left to right, etc. This knowledge of the way print works helps her understand what reading is all about. And then, as time goes on, reading together creates opportunities to look at and talk about  letter/sound associations and spelling patterns.
  • Exposing your child to the language of text, giving him experiences hearing and thinking about language that is different from everyday language and that he needs to be comfortable with in the years ahead
    • As the years go by, the language in books gets more complex. A book for a first grader is written using conversational language, but in upper elementary school and beyond, the texts your child will read will have much more complex language and ideas. That means he needs to have practice hearing and talking about that kind of language all through the years so he will be able to access the ideas in more sophisticated texts.
  • Exposing your child to ideas and language that would not be part of his everyday, to help him build up his knowledge of the world
    • Most of our days are filled with the language of living — talk of what has to be done, what was done, or what’s on tomorrow’s schedule. When you read with him, you have the chance to think and talk about subjects and ideas that otherwise wouldn’t be part of your day together, and those exposures help build language and knowledge and allow for him to practice his critical thinking skills.
  • Digging deep on an idea with your child (taking the conversation beyond the here-and-now, expanding her thinking), and building her critical thinking skills
    • When you read a book about ducks, for example, you have the chance to talk about how the ducks in the book are different than the ducks you see when you go to a local pond. You have an opportunity to ask her what she thinks is different about the pond ducks and the book ducks, and you can talk together about how although they look different, they have similarities, too (they swim, lay eggs, etc.). That means that the book about ducks could get her thinking and curious about animal characteristics and behaviors, ideas she will read and learn about in the years ahead. And if you never read the book about ducks, you might have instead talked about something less brain-building like cleaning up the toys!
  • Providing things to talk about when you AREN’T reading together, which means more language-rich opportunities for your child
    • After reading the duck book, you might take a walk in a park where you come upon some ducks. Now suddenly you aren’t just strolling along with her and thinking about what to talk about, instead you have a chance to remember together what you and she learned from the book and have a conversation about, for example, why these ducks live at the park, where they go in the winter, whether they are the same type of ducks you read about, etc.
  • Developing your child’s attention and regulation, which are skills that are needed for reading and school success
    • Sitting and listening to books isn’t always easy for children. Over time, they start to be able to sit and listen to longer and longer books, but they need practice to do so. When children are able to attend to a read aloud and engage with the ideas in the book rather than jump up or get distracted, then there are more opportunities for learning and talking together. (Of course it takes some time – most toddlers will struggle more than preschoolers, and some preschoolers will have more trouble than kindergarteners, etc.)
  • Motivating your child as a reader, which will help him persevere when he’s reading challenging texts or texts that aren’t particularly high interest for him
    • Reading motivation comes from feeling like a competent reader, from being inspired by people he cares about, and from being curious to read and learn more.
  • Helping your child realize what a good reader does when reading, when you model strategies that she can use when she reads
    • You might, for example, stop in the middle of a sentence because you don’t understand something, and say, “Wait a minute. I don’t get what is happening here. Do you?”  Then you might go back and reread the sentence again or look back at earlier sections if necessary and then determine how it all makes sense. When you do that and your child sees what you’re doing (and you talk about what you are doing, too), you are teaching her that good readers are active — they are aware when they aren’t making sense of what they read and they have strategies they use to figure things out.

When you read with your child regularly, when you spend time together talking and enjoying the ideas in books, you are setting him up for long-term reading and personal success – enhancing your child’s life, and yours, too.

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