School’s Out! (Tips to Get ‘Em Reading)

We’re challenging all NWSMA students to read for 20 minutes (or more) every day this summer!

In the sage words of Kid President, “If you wanna change the world, you gotta know something about it. So read a book!”

My class seemed a little surprised the other day when I told them that comic books, newspapers, and magazines all would count for summer reading.

Book Selfie

Book selfie!

Time to share some information about reading! How do we get those darn kids to read more books?

Here’s what we know about reading.

1. Volume matters. A lot.

Hence the 20 minutes a night. More reading leads to better skills in reading. Better skills in reading leads to more reading. A delightful cycle.

Substantial amounts of research on reading say, ditch the worksheets and vocab lists. For most kids, increase the time spent actually reading, and everything else will fall into place. Vocabulary is best learned in-context and in-text.

(Just like karate) Reading is practice for more reading. The more you do, the easier it gets.

Here are a few less conventional ways to get your children exposed to more words:

  • Turn on those subtitles! Closed captioning and subtitles can help kids connect what they hear to what they see, and can help them up reading speed.
  • Write a grocery list! For extra fun, your child could alphabetize the list, categorize the list, or read the list in the store.
  • Read comics together! Learning to understand a joke can help your child with comprehension skills.
  • Print a wordsearch! Free wordsearches are all over the internet, just google “wordsearches for kids.” As a bonus, pick searches that contain good academic content words–science, history, social studies, holidays.
  • Play with sounds and spelling! For example, ask your child, “If you take out the “c” sound in “cat,” what is left over? Oral processing tasks like this make a big difference, especially for younger kiddos.

2. Choice *really* matters.

Remember the last time you were asked to read something you didn’t like? Yuck-a-mondo!

Yeah. Kids feel that way too. Disaffected. Bored. Annoyed. If they don’t like it, let ’em ditch it. Remember: our tastes (as adults) are very DIFFERENT from kids’ tastes!

On the research side, it’s been well documented that kids who read about things they are interested in can actually read above whatever their standardized-test-diagnosed “reading level” is.

Let them choose their books, easy OR difficult.

3. “Light” reading paves the way for “heavy” reading.

Many parents and educators worry about kids reading “light” books. Comic books, Goosebumps, and other “trashy” series books often are met with disapproval. (I’m actually a huge fan of comics, and they truly work as “gateway” literature and for working on comprehension skills by adding pictures and requiring some ability to infer what’s going on from the pictures).

So here’s the deal. If volume and choice are important, if you want your kid to read, you have to LET them read. Because if they’re reading, no matter WHAT they’re reading, they’re becoming better at reading.

Easy reading (and repetition of sight words and sentence structures) will equip them to better handle the tough books they’ll encounter in school. Tough books that matter for things like making them a better person and understanding the nuances of history or science or math.

Repeat after me: Volume and choice. Volume and choice.

Here’s the other reality: They’ll get plenty of opportunities in school to read “heavy,” books. Teachers choose these books because they’re classics and have deep meaning–and they’ll probably need the teacher’s help to make sense of it anyway.

For now, let ’em read.

4. Read-aloud helps kids of ANY age develop language.

The research on this is pretty clear. When kids don’t get read to, they miss out on valuable opportunities to have language modeled for them as a part of their developing literacy. It also helps them see reading as a pleasurable activity.

Sure, you can read picture books. But you can also read chapter books, even to kids who aren’t quite ready to read them on their own.

Some of my favorite memories of read-aloud are of my dad, who read to us out loud, over several weeks: Harry Potter books, Little House on the Prairie books, the Hobbit. Even up until I was in high school, I loved it! My teachers read me books I never would’ve chosen on my own and ended up enjoying the heck out of, like Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Ghost Canoe, and the BFG.

Good choices for read alouds include classics like Harry Potter or the Hobbit, but I’d also recommend funny stories or scary stories. Kids love those!

**P.S. If you don’t want to read aloud, an audiobook is a fantastic alternative–could even be used in the car!!

5. Good readers are better thinkers and writers.

My dad always says that readers are better problem-solvers and have better people skills, because the books they read give them volumes of “experience” to draw on. I say that books, especially non-fiction, biography, and historical fiction, greatly enhance kids’ knowledge of topics like science and history.

And, again, research shows links between good readers and writers. Obviously reading alone does not a writer make. But reading does model tone and voice, style and word choice, subtleties that non-readers often do not display in their writing.

In the end, words on a page are words on a page. They can take you far and wide, from magical worlds to practical knowledge.

That’s why comic books count as reading.

Some things I’ve read on this subject, in no particular order:

  • The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, 2nd ed., Stephen D. Krashen
  • 7 Keys to Comprehension, Susan Zimmermann
  • Connecting Boys to Books 2, Michael Sullivan
  • The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller
  • To Be a Boy, to Be a Reader, William G. Brozo

About Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Sensei Yudanjanim Caitlin is a 2nd degree black belt, senior instructor, administrative assistant, and student of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Arnis at Northwest School of Martial Arts.
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