“How can I write better?”
“I don’t understand what I read.”
“I don’t like to read.”
“I hate writing essays.”
I’ve heard all these and many more. Parents and students both know that reading and writing are important. So why do so many students struggle with these tasks?
Parents, you are your student’s first and greatest example of how important reading and writing are. If you don’t enjoy reading, it’s likely that those in your care won’t enjoy reading either. Whether your child is still a baby, or ready for college, it’s never too early or too late to develop a love for reading. Start them on the path with these ten helpful tips for both parent and student!
1) Read aloud. Take time to read to your student. If she is an older student, have her read to you. Not only will this improve reading skills but it will also bring you closer together. Reading aloud helps both the reader and the listener focus on the words.
2) Read everything. Yes, everything! From books to magazines to internet articles to the sides of cereal boxes, read as much as you can. This creates a habit of paying attention. The more a person reads, the more attention he will start paying to the item being read. This will improve comprehension AND retention!
3) Make a special place in your home for the books and magazines, etc. Just as you probably have shelves for your movies, you should have a special place for your books. Having a designated (and accessible!) spot for books and magazines makes it easier for the student in your life to grab a book when she is looking for something to do.
4) Now fill that book space! Buying book after book might get expensive (although well worth it for some books), so what can you do to have books? Check them out from the local library! Los Angeles County and every city in the area have excellent library resources. Have your student apply for a library card as soon as possible, even before he can read. Let him choose his own books, and he will always be excited to read with you. Just make sure to return the library books when they’re due!
5) Have a good “reading space.” This could be a desk in the student’s bedroom or a comfy chair in the family room. Have a good reading light so the eyes won’t tire too quickly. Keep pencils, pens, and paper nearby also, so if the reading inspires some writing or drawing, the student doesn’t have to leave the space. Reserving a space for reading gives the student the sign that this activity is important. Having a reading space also teaches concentration, and this also leads to better comprehension.
6) Read actively. This means you need to interact with the material. If you own the book, have a pencil or highlighter ready to underline important passages or words. If you don’t own the book (or don’t want to mark in it even if you do own it), have a notebook ready also. This way, you can take notes on (annotate) any passages or words that strike you. Encourage your student to ask questions as she reads, such as, “what is the author trying to tell me?” or “how does this passage make me feel?” Writing these down as she reads will improve her essay-writing too.
7)Use the television. This may sound contrary to reading, but the television can be a good reading and thinking source. Simply reading the television guide before choosing a channel may be enough. Or you can take it further by discussing the different programs or commercials. What information was being presented? How does this affect you? Could the things that happened on the program happen in real life? This will focus attention and develop critical thinking skills.
8) Help in the kitchen. For younger students, reading recipes or having your student write them down is a good way to see reading come to life. If the food is something the student likes, writing it down also encourages him to go back to the recipes and read them again later. For older students, being creative with recipes builds analytical skills. As a bonus, recipes also help develop math skills!
9) Build stories. This can be something done on a long car trip or just sitting around a campfire. One person begins the story, telling a part of it. When that person stops (perhaps after a pre-determined length or just after an important story point), the next person continues building the story however she wants. Once again, creativity engages the brain and focuses the attention on the story. To improve writing (and retention) skills, have your student write down your story-builds the next time she gets back to some paper. Alternatively, you can build stories via e-mail too: reading AND writing at the same time!
10) Lastly, talk to each other! Discussing what you and your student have read focuses on the material and improves critical thinking. Even if you don’t talk about reading, asking your student specific questions about his day can do this also. What happened in Math class today? What did you learn in History? Discuss current events. Conversation focuses the attention on the details of a story, which aids retention and memory.
When a student enjoys reading, he will also enjoy writing. Writing is an extension of reading. So when you read more, you will have a tendency to write more. An extra bonus is that reading will naturally produce a better vocabulary, so the writing (and even speaking!) will be better! Now, who doesn’t want that?