10 Ideas To Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills
Insights provided by Jessica Mangelson, Ph.D. Dr. Mangelson has 20+ years of experience teaching, training teachers, and working with struggling and at-risk readers. She has published research in reading, fluency, children’s literature, new literacies, learning environments, and action research.
Your child’s ability to read and comprehend texts will profoundly impact their life. Children who read widely have strong vocabularies and comprehension, exhibit strong writing skills, and are attributed to having more creativity and open-mindedness.
As you think about your child's unique and individual needs associated with literacy, consider the following ideas to build strong reading habits and strengthen your child’s literacy skills.
Related: A Guide to Help Children Learn About Reading
1. Phonics Instruction
If you feel like your child is struggling to read or experiencing reading problems associated with decoding, you may want to focus on strengthening phonics skills. Contacting your child’s elementary school teacher is a great place to start as you compile information about your child’s reading level and literacy needs.
This information may help give you ideas as you design reading activities and phonics lessons that will best support your child’s progress at home. Studies on The Science of Teaching Reading indicate that prioritizing phonics instruction for young readers is crucial for establishing a solid reading foundation.
2. Make Time For Reading
Make a conscious effort to allocate dedicated time for reading with your child and for them to read independently. Reading is not meant to be a “chore” or something for children to check off a daily to-do list.
The intentionality of planning time daily for reading creates a habit and allows school-age children the time needed to fully explore, comprehend, and connect with literature and text. Setting aside reading time each day helps to create strong reading habits from a young age.
Consider the various kinds of focus and cognition involved in reading written material instead of quickly browsing social media or text messages. Developing the abilities and understanding required to comprehend written information in books is a gradual process that demands practice. However, the outcome is worthwhile.
During at-home independent reading, try to minimize interruptions and work to maintain consistency so your child can build the habit and grow to enjoy focused reading time.
3. Choices! Choices! Choices!
Providing choice and variety in reading materials is a significant way to engage children in reading activities. Choice can be a powerful motivator as you work to build healthy reading habits.
Help your child choose reading material that is appropriate for your child's interests, age, and reading level. A 2015 study by Ivey and Johnson, showed that when students moved from assigned books to texts of their choosing, there was “increased reading volume, a reduction in students failing the state test, and changes in peer relationships, self-regulation, and conceptions of self.”
Visiting a library can also provide a multitude of options for your child. You can help them access everything from graphic novels to cookbooks. This may engage your child with reading in new ways.
In addition, young children and preschoolers may enjoy weekly story time or read-aloud opportunities available through library programs. These programs present reading materials in different formats and genres that may spark interest for your emergent or young readers.
4. Read Aloud
There are many benefits to reading aloud to your child. Reading aloud can introduce students to exciting books they may not be able to read independently. It builds a routine and shared love of reading, creates memorable moments away from technology and interruption, and strengthens reading and listening skills.
Ohio State Researchers recently reported, “Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to.” Students who hear and understand more vocabulary are often better situated for success when they see those words in print and hear them in conversations.
Reading aloud is not just for preschoolers. Librarian Donna Jeansonne suggests that you shouldn’t stop reading to your child once they become proficient readers. Children need to read independently, but reading aloud is beneficial for children as old as 14 academically and emotionally. Reading to your child regularly can help build their love of reading and encourage them to become avid readers.
5. Make a Home Reading Space
Setting aside a corner or space in your home for your child to read can be an easy way to build a routine and lifestyle that welcomes reading. Ensure there are plenty of reading materials for them to choose from.
Create an environment that allows for quiet contemplation and concentration while reading books. Just as setting aside time for reading is important, setting aside a quiet space can be a meaningful consideration as children build literacy routines and habits.
6. Use Technology To Your Advantage
Download reading apps or e-books that your child can read on a tablet or smartphone. Digital books on apps like Epic can provide access to hundreds of book selections on one device. Audiobooks and digital texts can be checked out from your local library with programs like Libby or Sora. These books are often free and provide increased access for students at all levels.
7. Find Summer Reading Programs
Check out summer reading programs for new ways to provide reading incentives and encouragement for young readers. Many libraries and schools offer summer reading programs where students can work towards goals or achieve prizes.
These programs offer encouragement, motivation, and rewards for your child’s reading efforts. If summer reading programs are unavailable in your area, consider book clubs (joining one or starting your own) to build community and shared interest around topics and literature.
If your child is a reluctant reader or struggling reader, you may want to research local colleges and universities to see if they run summer reading programs. University reading programs provide teachers-in-training and graduate students in education programs the chance to enhance their proficiency by working with struggling readers. Struggling readers, in turn, receive targeted and focused instruction to address their literacy needs.
8. Expand Reading Experiences
If your child is interested in a topic or theme, consider expanding their comprehension through language-rich experiences. For example, in the children’s novel, “Lunch Money” by Andrew Clements, a boy capitalizes on his classmate's leftover lunch money by becoming an entrepreneur.
After reading this chapter book, you could expand your child’s experience by learning how money is made and distributed. If you live near the United States Mint in Denver, Philadelphia, or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Currency Facilities in Fort Worth, or Washington DC, this would be a perfect time to take the free tour with your child.
Learn how money is made and see the process in action. If you do not live in one of these facilities, consider taking a virtual tour (U.S. Mint Virtual Tours App). The virtual tour allows viewers to learn more about currency from anywhere in the world. This is just one example of how a parent might take a topic that piques their child’s interest and find ways to expand their learning and help them become better readers.
As students make connections between the texts they are reading and their world, understanding, vocabulary, and comprehension of a topic increase. Focusing on extending opportunities that broaden access, reinforce comprehension skills, encourage reading, and motivate readers is a powerful way to strengthen reading comprehension and engage young readers.
9. Talk About Books with Your Kids!
Don’t underestimate the power of conversation as you work to strengthen your child’s reading skills. Talk to your children about what they are reading and share your ideas. Provide time and space for your child to share their perspectives about what they are reading.
Ask them to clarify their ideas and summarize their thoughts. Consider what may happen next in the story and build on predictions and inferences. These are easy and powerful ways to strengthen comprehension skills to help your child discuss their reading in a meaningful way.
10. Be An Example
If you wish that your child had better reading habits and stronger reading skills, one thing you can do today is to make a goal to read more yourself. Laura Bardwell suggests, “Adults’ attitudes toward reading and writing influence children’s perception of the value of these skills.”
Parents who read in front of their children set a positive example. As a role model, they show through their actions the value of lifelong learning and personal growth through literacy experiences. Studies have shown that when children see their parents read, they are more likely to develop a love of reading themselves.
Strengthening your child’s reading skills and creating good habits around literacy should be a priority for all families. As parents work to make reading a habit at home, they help children become stronger and more confident readers.
A focus on reading can help to improve children's language skills, cognitive development, and academic performance. As you work to create goals and support your learner, these new reading habits can help your child’s literacy skills grow and make literacy experiences positive and engaging.
Get ideas for children’s books kids will love by checking out our Ultimate of Books to Read for Kids!
Grabmeier, J., & Gonser, S. (2019, April 9). The Importance of Reading to Kids Daily. College of Education and Human Ecology. Retrieved April 6, 2023, from https://ehe.osu.edu/news/listing/importance-reading-kids-daily-0
Maja Djikic, Keith Oatley & Mihnea C. Moldoveanu (2013) Opening the Closed Mind: The Effect of Exposure to Literature on the Need for Closure, Creativity Research Journal, 25:2, 149-154, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2013.783735
Ivey, G., & Johnston, P. H. (2015). Engaged Reading as a Collaborative Transformative Practice. Journal of Literacy Research, 47(3), 297–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086296X15619731
Bardwell, L. (2022, March 22). Parent Strategies for Improving Their Child’s Reading and Writing. Teach. Learn. Grow. https://www.nwea.org/blog/2022/parent-strategies-for-improving-their-childs-reading-and-writing/
Parents & Families | National Center on Improving Literacy. (2019). National Center on Improving Literacy. https://improvingliteracy.org/family
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Jessica received her Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from The Ohio State University. She has spent her career as a professor, researcher, & advanced reading specialist. Dr.