How To Raise a Reader in a World of Digital Distractions

It’s the second week of spring break and my son actually asked if we could go to the library to get some more Beast Quest books. I never thought this day would come. He’s devoured 3 books in 3 days. Last year at this time my son would groan if I even mentioned an outing to the library. I consider this a huge parenting victory.

Raising a reader is not just the luck of the draw or the result of passing on book-loving genes. I deliberately set out to instill a love of reading in my sons and these techniques have finally paid off.

Digital distractions are everywhere. Apps and games that show videos of newer, more exciting games to download before you can level up, TV shows with amazing special effects that make my 80’s cartoons (Jem and the Holograms, anyone?) look really tired, and phones with beeps, bells, dings and all the other noisy sound effects that have become part of our modern world. So, why is raising a reader still important?

Why Raising A Reader Is Important

“Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures.

In fact, reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.”

So, how do you raise a reader in a world full of digital distractions all vying for our children’s limited attention?

The following techniques are strategies that I have adapted from my time as an elementary school teacher and through trial and error. While you do not have to start your reading routine at birth, the earlier you start, the better. Don’t worry if you are beginning with an older child. These strategies will still work, but they may be met with resistance at first. Stick to your guns and before you know it, you will have an enthusiastic reader in the house.

1. Set Up a Reading Routine With Your Baby/Toddler

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Make reading a routine part of your day. Do not skip it, even if you feel like your baby/toddler is getting nothing out of it. First of all, you are setting the stage for the future. Secondly, babies and toddlers absorb much more than we realize.

I used to read 2-3 books before naptime and then 2-3 more before bedtime. As my children grew, this routine never varied. Now that they have dropped their naps, we still read before bed. My children have never questioned this routine because it has always been a part of their lives.

There has never been a better time to read to babies or toddlers. A dizzying array of board books with sensory and tactile features fill the shelves of all the local libraries and superstores. These days pop-up books are amazingly-crafted paper masterpieces. You will enjoy them, too (or maybe not after reading That’s Not My Pirate for the 176th time).

2. Go to the Library

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Make trips to the library a regular occurrence. We go every two weeks. Attend the singing/story time sessions. You’ll learn some great songs to sing at home and the librarians often choose really good stories for the age group.

I know how difficult it can be to go to the library, especially with an active toddler, but don’t give up. I almost lost my youngest once when an entire preschool class came into the children’s area at once. One moment, my son was at my side looking at books, and the next moment, he was gone. Panicked, I looked for him among all the other children. He wasn’t there. So, I ran for the front door. Sure enough, my 18-month-old was already out the door and headed for the street. I scooped him up just before he stepped into traffic. After that, I went to the library in our neighboring city that had its children section at the very back.

If you make library attendance a priority, one day the library will be a magical place for your child. Keep your eye on the prize. I still remember how excited I was to go to the library to get the next book in the Nancy Drew series. When your children experience this excitement you can pat yourself on the back. They now have access to books that will help them escape exam stress, teach empathy, develop a moral code, and even allow them to experience battling a scary monster or two along the way.

3. Tips for Encouraging Early Readers

When your children transition into reading, make it less of a chore by taking turns reading the pages. I especially love the Usborne My First Reading Library for young children. These books have a child’s part and an adult’s part. The adult reads the small print and the child reads the large print. The stories are more interesting than most early readers because the adults are able to provide additional backstory and the children enjoy the novelty of reading with a parent.

If your child is a reluctant reader, read the story to him/her first. This takes the pressure off. Sometimes, I pretend to really struggle with sounding out a word. I make each sound slowly and then try to blend it a few times. Finally, my son can’t stand it anymore and he tells me the word. I thank him and have him ‘help’ me read more words on the page. This practice gives him confidence and helps break down his resistance to reading.

If your child is learning a certain phonics pattern at school, go on a ‘book hunt’ for words with the same pattern. A book hunt is just opening the book and searching for certain words on the page. Teach your children how to skim the page for these words. Skimming is a really important skill. Good readers do this instinctively while reluctant readers often remain fixated on reading text word for word. Reassure them that they don’t always have to do this. Sometimes we just skim to locate information.

For early readers, make sure the reading session is not too long. Young children have short attention spans. If they stop focusing, end the reading session early. You can complete the book for them and tell them you are sure they will be able to read a few more pages the next evening. Go with your instincts. You don’t want to make the before bed routine painful and frustrating.

Finally, continue to read aloud to your child. After they have read their early reader, go on to read 2 to 3 more books for fun. This ends the reading routine on a positive note and allows your child to just enjoy good stories.

When my husband is away both of my sons climb into my big bed for a joint reading session. They look forward to this and there is usually a lot of laughter. When my husband is home, we split up and read with each child separately because they are at different reading levels and my eldest enjoys stories that are way over my youngest’s head.

4. Comprehension Checks for more Proficient Readers

Reading comprehension is important for understanding the content that is actually being read; otherwise, readers can’t make sense of what they read and will have problems succeeding in academics, notes Penn State. Having strong reading comprehension skills is also necessary for passing academic achievement tests and for being able to read effectively for one’s career.

You must check your proficient reader’s understanding to ensure that he/she comprehends the story’s content. If the story content is too difficult, your child won’t enjoy the book.

When my son became a more proficient reader he was invited to participate in a reading scheme at school. While he was able to decode well, I found him racing through the reading scheme books to try to move up to the next level. Often, he didn’t understand what he was reading. I put my foot down and made him read me the first two pages of the story to make sure it was at an appropriate reading level. Sometimes, it wasn’t so I sent the book back to school. For more help on selecting ‘just right’ books, see this post.

Once my son read me the two pages, I let him finish the chapter on his own. Afterward, I asked questions to make sure he wasn’t just rushing through the book. Since he knew I was going to ask him comprehension questions, he had to read carefully.

Continue to read aloud to your proficient reader! Don’t stop once your child can read.

Each night I read a chapter of a book above my son’s reading level. We both look forward to the story. We are reading the Percy Jackson series now and I often have to make myself stop after a chapter because I want to keep reading. Reading above your child’s reading level will help his/her vocabulary development and allow you to have more sophisticated discussions about the characters and their motivations. My son loves to predict what will happen in the story. Sometimes, I throw out wild predictions myself and my son is able to refute them by using evidence from the story. I know his high school English teachers will appreciate this skill one day.

5. Use Psychology To Motivate Independent Readers

These days my son reads me a couple of pages from his school book so I can check in with his reading. Then, I read a chapter from our shared read aloud. When I finish, I grudgingly allow my son to stay up an extra 15 minutes to read on his own. Because he thinks I am letting him stay up extra late to read, he is really enthusiastic about it. What 8-yearo-old doesn’t want to stay up past his/her bedtime? In reality, I stop our read-aloud 15 minutes before I want him to go to bed, so he just thinks he is staying up extra late.

During this time, I let my son read any book he wants (even if it is not my first choice). Last year, my son loved the Captain Underpants series. So, he read these over and over again each night. This year he has moved onto Beast Quest. Some nights, he just wants to read his Pokemon handbook and that is okay, too. I am just happy I have raised a reader.