Reading aloud, interacting with the story, encouraging curiosity, talking games and audio books … there are many easy things you can do these school holidays to help your child read between the lines.
What can you do over the long summer holidays to help your child with reading? Without the routine of the school day, it’s not easy to maintain regular daily reading sessions. So let’s look at ways to make the most of the relaxed atmosphere, while making positive changes in your child’s reading.
Firstly, good readers interact with the text. Model for your children how to be an active reader, rather than a passive one. When you have read something, make a comment about why you enjoyed it, why it was interesting, or what you have learned.
We know that it’s important to understand what you read and we often think of comprehension skills as simply being able to answer questions about the story. But how can you help your child to understand the story more deeply? Good comprehension requires the reader to think about the story from different perspectives and to go further than just recalling information. We want children to not only comprehend the facts, but also to develop the expertise of ‘reading between the lines’.
In fact, there are many opportunities for your child to develop this skill beyond simply reading a book. When you are watching television or a movie, help them to be curious about what they have seen. Don’t just ask them questions about it though – that can make it feel like hard work.
The most powerful way to increase thinking skills in your children is to engage in genuine discussions with them. Incorporate phrases like, “I wonder what/how/why …” into your conversation. Think out loud as you show how you work out a problem. Make your thinking process visible.
Share what you are noticing: “I love the long summer nights – it’s my favourite season. What’s your favourite season? What do you like about it?” Talk about the different people you meet during the holidays. Voice your thoughts about them and encourage them to be curious. You might find a newspaper article to read out loud, bringing in your personal background knowledge about the topic, or your comments.
Turn these thinking exercises into games and make it a family activity while you are travelling. Riddles are great ways to develop inferencing – the skill of understanding information that’s not given directly in the text.
Christmas shopping is the ideal time to find some great books to read aloud to your children – as a family, instead of individually. Don’t worry that you have to be a ‘good reader’. Your children will love the interaction with you rather than whether you can speak in different accents and voices. It’s a good sign if they comment and ask questions as you read, as it shows they’re interested and engaged.
Pamela Jones, our Tots librarian, believes that parents should continue to read aloud to their children right through high school. Research shows that aside from this creating a special time in families, it helps to keep children reading – reluctant readers in particular. She reports that even though she was a librarian, all of her children went through a phase of being reluctant readers. She kept them hooked by choosing to read aloud from an exciting book every night before bed in the living room, until they were about 15. Pamela says that she would pick long books, like Harry Potter, that they couldn’t be bothered reading themselves. They’d get hooked and, often not wanting to wait until the next night, would take it to bed themselves to continue reading. Research also shows it helps with a child’s reading expression to hear it read aloud; they learn about words and language, and their overall literacy development is enriched immensely.
For Christmas presents, think about audio books, or ask your librarian about the CDs and Playaways that you can borrow. A Playaway is an MP3 player with the story already recorded, and it comes with its own headphones.
Try talking games like “Conversation Starters’’ (see below). These games help children build confidence by sharing their thoughts, feelings and knowledge on a given topic such as, “Our best family tradition is …” These games introduce topics that are not part of everyday conversation, and by making a game of it, it requires everyone to take their turn at speaking – and a chance for the more vocal ones to practice listening.
Help your children to explain their opinions. Teach your children how to ask good questions through your example. Make comments that elicit more information such as, “That sounds interesting, I’d love to hear more.” Model how to ask open-ended questions. Ask for deeper explanations so that your children become adept at adding another layer of information.
Your children love nothing better than to have you as a captive audience while they explain things – and holidays are the ideal time for you to have the time to just listen.
Mary Ashby-Green is a reading specialist and trainer of teachers in literacy, and also trained in NLP to work with children with anxiety about learning. She enjoys sharing effective teaching strategies that make learning easy, and she’s trained over 2,500 teachers in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Middle East.
Here’s one idea, called Cucumber Cues:
Each person has to think up a sentence where one word has been replaced by the word ‘cucumber’. For example, I like to eat peanut cucumber. Clean your cucumber with a toothbrush. A dog has four cucumbers. Players have to guess which word ‘cucumber’ is replacing.