Don’t Let the New School Year Scare You: Read on!

Last weekend, I spent three days in Capitola, California. My mom and her best friend have been renting a house on the beach every summer since I was a kid. All us “kids” have grown up and made our lives in various places in the West and Pacific Northwest and many have raised kids of our own. It is such fun to come together and catch up on each others’ lives.

Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to discover that one family had to head home, instead of staying through Monday like the rest of us, because school had already started in their area, and Sunday was a school night. For another friend, a teacher, this was her last weekend before returning to work. My cousin’s girls start school next week.

One friend confided that her older daughter doesn’t like to read, which concerns her. I could not agree more. Reading is such a key to academic success in nearly every area of study, because nearly every area of study comes with a textbook and assigned readings.

During my years in the classroom, I noticed that the students who did not read recreationally struggled much more with both class readings and writing.

Life can get so busy, especially for middle school and high school students with sports, arts enrichment activities, and the increased homework load, that recreational reading often flies right out the window. However, the more students read (or write) the better reading and writing skills they develop.

In addition, the level of challenge in school textbooks continues to increase in both vocabulary and complexity as students advance from one grade to another, while the amount of textbook reading students do is inadequate to continue building their reading skills at the same rate.

Therefore, it is important to help your student continue to read for pleasure. How do you do this when your child is not interested?

One thing you can try, which is a twist on the reading aloud to your children that I have been promoting all summer, is doing a shared read aloud together. Just as with a regular read aloud, find a book you think your child will enjoy. Get his or her input on the kind of book you read. If she has no idea what she’d like to read, check out some of the books recommended on this site and others, or chat with your child’s teacher or a school or public librarian. Select a few titles to propose, and give your student the choice of which one you’ll read together. Then, take turns reading. If your student is an extremely reluctant or struggling reader, alternate paragraphs. If your student is comfortable reading and just doesn’t make time for it, alternate pages. If you read together for twenty minutes a night, your child will be reading over an hour per week. Increase your minutes together, and your shared one-on-one time can be a powerful tool to increase your child’s success in school.

Also, let your children see you reading. Maybe you can set aside a time in the evening when you all sit down as a family to relax and read quietly together. I know, as a parent, how incredibly busy life can become, and if you are conscientious about your responsibilities, it can be really easy to deny yourself the pleasure of reading until the kids are all in bed and you’re nearly asleep yourself. So let me give you permission. Sitting down and reading that novel, or magazine, or how-to book is NOT a luxury. It is a characteristic of quality parenting. Let your kids see you read and see that you value the time you can read. It will help them to value reading as well.

Finally, write about or discuss what you’re reading as a family. You could keep a family reading journal, where you and your kids take turns writing about what you’re reading and then pass it on for the next family member to read and write in. Or, you can discuss what you’ve read around the dinner table or while you’re riding in the car. Encourage your kids to express their ideas and opinions. It’s a great way to bond as a family and to bond with books. To support you in this, I will begin posting Reading Response prompts Sunday, August 29. Each Sunday I will provide a new prompt focusing on various elements of fiction and active reading skills. I would be thrilled to read your comments about you and your children’s reading.

Also, encourage your children to recommend their favorite books here on “Literate Lives” at the end each month. If your child is too young to do so, please share his favorite title with your fellow readers, and we can build up a great resource for parents seeking good books to read to their children and to encourage their children to read. So don’t let the new school year scare you. Read on!