Build a strong reading foundation
By Nancy I. Sanders
During the important elementary years, your children are developing the ability to read well and learning to form a positive attitude toward reading. You have the amazing privilege of shaping their hearts to embrace reading as a natural and desirable part of their world. Building a strong reading foundation gives them the wings they need to fly successfully into the world of writing.
Some parents mistakenly think that when children become old enough to acquire basic reading skills, it’s time to pack them off and send them away into the land of independent reading. Yes, it’s time for them to build strong reading skills by reading on their own, but these pre-teen years are also the perfect time for them to build reading fluency and grow as readers (and writers) by hearing stories read aloud to them.
Read aloud daily to your children.
We read aloud to our two sons from their earliest years on up through junior high. Even though they were avid independent readers at a young age, they still cherished these daily reading sessions as they grew older. Our selection of books grew as they matured, and we exposed them to books they probably wouldn’t have tackled alone at this age.
You’ll find many book recommendations in this article. These are affiliate links because we’re confident these personal favorites will enhance your family bookshelf for years to come.
Choose full-length books and read them aloud to your preteens from beginning to end, day after glorious day. Pick humorous books, adventure stories, and popular titles your kids want to hear. Devour classics together such as Farmer Boy, The Hobbit, Treasure Island, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Make reading books a good place to be.
Create an engaging and enchanting environment for reading aloud to your children.
- Snuggle together on the couch if your children like to snuggle.
- Go to unexpected or exotic places and let your children experience the sounds and smells around them as you read.
- Visit a farm, climb a hayloft, settle down in a comfy pile of hay, and read Charlotte’s Web aloud to them.
- Go on a picnic to an outdoor spot with a beautiful view and read from Anne of Green Gables.
- Carry a backpack with portable painting supplies. While your kids paint the scenery, read aloud from a collection of poems such as Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost.
Of course, elementary-age kids also benefit from independent reading. You can help make this experience a highlight of their childhood memories!
Decorate your home to be a nest for books.
- Start by giving beautiful hardback children’s classics and boxed sets as birthday and Christmas gifts.
- Install bookshelves for rows of family favorites.
- Scatter square baskets or crates around different rooms to hold short stacks of books handy for small hands to reach in and grab.
- Provide reading spots with good lighting and comfortable chairs, beanbags, or couches.
Turn off the TV.
Unplug the video games. Turn off the radios and CDs. Invite everyone to grab books and settle in for some down time with a good read. If reading isn’t an everyday part of your normal routine, schedule it in. Show your kids reading is a priority in a world jam-packed with the stresses of organized sports, loud TV shows, and time-consuming responsibilities. Stop what you’re doing and read when they read, too.
Take frequent trips to your library.
Get children their own library cards. Give them their own book bags to lug their selections home and to provide a place to gather books together again when the due date looms near.
While they’re exploring and selecting their own titles from the library shelves, look for books geared for their level of independent reading. Most libraries offer countless titles of beginning readers and first chapter books for both struggling and advanced readers. Some titles are known as hi-lo books, which present themes and topics of interest for kids in upper elementary but use vocabulary words and sentence structure for lower reading levels.
Select a wide variety of books geared specifically for your child’s independent reading level that will help her gain confidence and strengthen her reading skills. If you’re not sure where to look, try these ideas:
- Ask your librarian for help.
- Using the library’s (or your home) computer, visit a webpage such as Leveled Book Lists to find lists of books for different reading levels.
- To find out the reading or interest level of a particular book, try Scholastic’s Teacher Book Wizard.
Of course, always use discretion to ensure each book meets with your family’s standards and values.
While at the library, be sure to choose titles for your own enjoyment as well. Show your children that reading is important by modeling reading yourself. While you’re at it, visit the library’s used bookstore and purchase titles to build your own family’s personal library at home.
Look for reading enrichment activities.
These don’t take the place of reading, but work to enhance the environment you’re creating in your home.
- Give your children magazine subscriptions for their birthday.
- Listen to audio books in the car while on a family road trip. There are a variety of options such as The Word of Promise: Complete Audio Bible
and Tyndale’s Radio Theater’s audio version of The Chronicles of Narnia
- Many popular children’s classics are also available on CD. Dive into the world of books so your child’s reading and writing skills can blossom during these crucial formative years.
Copyright 2010 © Nancy I. Sanders. All rights reserved.
Family table photo by Pierre Vignau, courtesy of Creative Commons.
Library bookshelf photo by Brandi Jordan. Used by permission.
Nancy I. Sanders, author of the WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior series, is a frequent contributor to Focus on the Family newsletters and magazines. She is the author of over 75 books. Her picture book, D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, won the 2007 NAPPA Honors Award and the 2008 IRA Teachers’ Choice Award. www.nancyisanders.com
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