Encouraging Your Struggling Reader

by Stacy DeBroff

When you have a reluctant or struggling reader on your hands, it fills you with anxiety and concern about how best to intervene. Studies show that as students move through the grades, voluntary reading decreases and negative attitudes toward reading rise.

Often students' interest in reading begins to taper off around the time they enter middle school. Although your child may have loved reading when he was younger, extracurricular activities and friends often become more appealing than books. Also, as the amount of assigned work increases, he has less time to read for pleasure. If reading is a problem for your child, seek help -- reading problems rarely resolve themselves without extra attention to specific skills.

• Reading to younger children greatly improves their early reading and writing skills. The fact that only half of all parents with children ages 3 to 5 read to them on a daily basis helps explain why 40% of students enter kindergarten behind where they should be.

• Although your child may have built a strong reading foundation in his earlier years, a hiatus from reading can often prove detrimental to his reading skills and overall academic development.

• All kids will go through stages during which they read a lot and others in which they barely touch a book. This happens especially at periods of high stress or change, such as the transition to high school. Let your child move through these phases naturally and without forcing him to read, but allow him to read whatever he wants, including comics and books you think have little redeeming value. The most important thing is that he keeps reading.

• If you spend a lot of time in the car with your child, pick out a book-on-tape to listen to together as you drive. When read aloud, good literature can be a visceral experience.

• While busy kids may not have the time to read a lengthy novel, a brief magazine article may be a more appealing length. Anthologies of short stories and poetry also offer quick reads.

• The end of first grade is a good checkpoint to assess your child's reading capabilities. If your child has difficulty with reading and is lagging behind his peers, talk to the teacher to see if he should go to a reading specialist for help and testing.

• Around third and fourth grade, reading becomes crucial for success in most academic subjects because the emphasis shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. So, if your child has difficulty reading or has low reading comprehension skills, his overall academic achievement will decline. Most importantly, find something your child is interested in reading about and that will help spark his passion for the world of books.

Keeping the Sparked Reading Passion Alive

• Good readers only become so by hours spent reading. From comic books to Thoreau, it doesn't really matter what your child is reading, as long as he sticks with it.

• Instill a passion for reading by making library trips a weekly event about which your child can get excited. To make the most out of these visits, get your child his own library card. Also, ask the librarian to recommend an age-appropriate book series. Kids often fall in love with a series' style and characters, content to read book after book in the series.

• Consider giving your child a monthly book allowance to encourage him to buy new books. Your willingness to spend money on books shows him how much you value reading. Subscribe your child to a children's magazine that will foster his interest in reading.

• Always include a few gift-wrapped books as part of birthday and holiday presents to your child.

• Keep a plethora of reading materials available in your home in easy-to-reach places: the bathroom, the family room, and especially by the TV. They do not have to be expensive: peruse yard sales or secondhand bookstores to find good books for your child.

• Keep a bag of books in the car for an easy and educational way to keep your child entertained. Take the books along on errands to places where you might have to wait, like the doctor's office or bank.

• Help your child create a special reading space where he feels comfortable. Something as simple as a few pillows and a poster can personalize an area of the house and make reading feel like a special activity.

• One night of the weekend, bedtime rules are off! Tell your child he can stay up as long as he wants to enjoy a good book in the comfort of his bed.

• Encourage your child to swap books with friends.

• Be sure your child sees you reading frequently, as this reinforces the message that reading is important and enjoyable, and not something he simply has to do for school. Children who see their parents choose reading over television or other leisure activities are more likely to do so themselves.

• It's impossible to enjoy reading if someone makes you do it, so don't push your child to read more than he wants to, even if you would like to see him reading more. When he does read for pleasure, give him positive feedback.

• Ask your child about what he is reading. Treat him like an expert in the field-everyone enjoys being admired. Ask what he likes and dislikes about a book, and take his opinions seriously.

• Lastly, help your child carve time out from his extracurricular activities for free time to enjoy a book for pleasure. If he doesn't have the time to read what he enjoys and only reads what he is forced to for school, his love of reading will invariably diminish.

• Lastly, help your child carve time out from his extracurricular activities for free time to enjoy a book for pleasure. If he doesn't have the time to read what he enjoys and only reads what he is forced to for school, his love of reading will invariably diminish.

Stacy DeBroff is a dynamic national speaker, consultant, corporate spokesperson, and writer. Stacy is President and founder of Mom Central, Inc. She has written several best-selling books on household and family organization including The Mom Book Goes to School, The Mom Book: 4,278 Tips for Moms, Sign Me Up! The Parent's Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, and Extracurriculars, and Mom Central: The Ultimate Family Organizer.

Stacy has appeared on network television including NBC's Today Show and the CBS Early Show. Stacy holds a B.A. in Psychology and Comparative Literature from Brown University, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa; and a J.D. from Georgetown University, magna cum laude. Prior to launching Mom Central, Inc., Stacy founded Harvard Law School's Office of Public Interest Advising, which still serves as a model for law schools across the nation. Stacy lives with her husband, Ron, and their two children outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

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