A Parent’s Guide to Develop Young Readers

By: Caitlin Glassey, Molly Streicher & Laura Troyer-Joy, the NNM Learning Support Team 

“If writing serves to correct, or rather, to direct and perfect the mechanism of speech in the child, reading assists in the development of ideas and language. In brief, writing helps a child physiologically and reading helps [them] socially.” 

—Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p. 231

The Importance of Reading

It's no secret that reading can transport us from our own world to another. Reading allows children to become immersed in the lives of others. It opens their minds to different cultures, identities, and individuals and parallels and relationships between their own lives and the world surrounding them.

As such, the effects of reading on child development are monumental, and supporting your child to read at home can have critical, lasting effects. Reading to and with your child helps them to develop language, value books and storytelling, be imaginative, and develop focus, communication, and socialization skills. As parents, you are in a great position to ensure reading is a foundational part of your child’s daily routine by supporting the work they do each day at school in the home.  

Tips and Tricks To Develop a Love of Reading

Make it a part of your routine: Reading together should be comforting, spark curiosity, and strengthen your bond with your child. And so, first and foremost, it is critical that reading together is modeled as a special time to be together rather than work to accomplish.

For many families, reading, even just for a few minutes (5-10 minutes), occurs every evening just before bedtime. Sometimes the text is a picture book or a chapter of a book, and other times you may explore a nonfiction article or works of poetry. As your child becomes more independent in their reading, maintaining the opportunity for this routine is important. In addition, reading together is enormously comforting for many children, and independence in reading should not put this time to bond with you at risk. 

Reading together each day provides consistency, and there are more ways to spend this time than reading aloud to your child. Other ways of reading with your child may include offering your child an opportunity to read aloud to you. You may also try alternating reading aloud sentences, pages, chapters, or even short stories or poems with your child. Whatever way you and your child read together, make sure to be consistent and encourage questions — both from your child and by asking your own - about what you are reading, even if it interrupts the page or sentence you’re currently on. Asking questions — before, during, and after reading — is an engaging way to make reading together more interactive and enjoyable.

[Bonus Tip: For high-energy readers, offer your child the opportunity to turn the pages. This allows them to control the pace, and it will keep your child following along.]

Five Finger Rule

Encourage variation: It is not uncommon for children to gravitate towards the same one or two books day after day. Try not to discourage interest in the book(s) they have chosen. Instead, offer new options — perhaps something that interests you as well. Aside from reading formally together, your child, particularly young children, can develop their reading through audiobooks, signs and labels around the home, or captions during the shows or movies they enjoy.

Exposure to text throughout their environment greatly supports the young child’s development of foundational decoding skills. So, varying the opportunities for reading — both in how and when reading occurs and what type of text is being read or listened to — opens your child’s eyes to a wider range of vocabulary, themes, and uses for language.

[Bonus Tip: If your child is closed off to new books or styles of writing, connect with other parents and ask what their children are reading. You can even offer to swap books!]

Balance of Books & “Just Right” Books: Balance in your child’s library means that there are different genres, themes, page lengths, and topics for reading as well as various levels of texts to read. Some of these options will be too easy for your child. Others your child may not yet be ready to read independently. It is okay to have this variation of text levels, and even the more advanced texts can be enjoyed by your child during your read-aloud time. Some books, though, will fit what is referred to as “Just Right,” which are texts that your child is able to read independently without it being too easy or too difficult. One method frequently used to determine if a book is at a child’s independent reading level is the Five Finger Rule. 

Tips and Tricks To Support Developing Readers

Value Conversation: Conversation is an enjoyable and easy way to support your developing reader. Specifically, “thick conversation,” as it is sometimes referred to, provides the child opportunities to practice communication exchanges, asking and answering open-ended questions, and developing their imaginative and creative thinking. Initial “thick conversations” will often sound like you asking your child lots of ‘WH questions’ — who, what, where, when, and why — and then engaging your child to share more of their thinking or by sharing more information with them. These conversations can occur anywhere and about nearly anything. And of course, “thick conversations” about books are particularly beneficial as they promote comprehension, empathy, and vocabulary development. 

Print Hunt: Give your child a list of letters (or simple words) and have them search for them in magazines, around the house, at the store, etc. 

Find Time to Rhyme: Research has found that children who are familiar with rhyming have an easier time learning to read. Rhyming helps children discover many common word patterns. The more familiar these patterns become in oral language, the more easily children will recognize them when they encounter them in print. Here are a few ways to have fun with rhymes at home:

  • Songs/Nursery Rhymes

  • Rhyme Challenge: One person chooses a word and challenges the other to think of as many rhymes as they can (i.e., I challenge you to think of as many rhymes as you can for ‘cat’). Players can keep track of how many words they come up with or play just for fun!

  • Rhyming Memory: Create flashcards with pairs of rhymes and lay the cards face down in an array. Each player gets to choose two cards at random. If their words rhyme, they get to keep the pair. If not, they replace the cards, and the next person gets a turn. 

Model Reading: Children who are frequent readers are more likely to have parents who are also frequent readers. Developing a love and proficiency of reading requires more than building foundational skills of phonological awareness or understanding parts of a book. A love of reading is developed by the child through the world and people around them. Children look to the adults and older children in their life as models, and they mirror these behaviors and activities. When you read for pleasure, when you visit the library or local bookshops, or when you talk about books, magazines, or articles you’ve read, you are modeling for your child a value of reading and learning through reading as a lifelong pastime.

[Bonus Tip: Make a conscious effort to ask the question, “what are you reading?” a big part of your family’s life. When you’re with your child and their friend, ask your child’s friend what they are reading or enjoy reading to start a conversation. If your child’s friend has a book they are excited about., there is a good chance your child might be interested as well.]

Near North @ Home Connection

Though reading books at home is the number one way you can support your child’s reading, we are also fortunate here at Near North to have access to an online reading program called Lexia. Each child has their own login information to access a personalized adaptive blended learning program that accelerates the development of literacy skills for students of all abilities. Students should spend no more than 60 minutes a week engaging with Lexia. Although Lexia does require the use of screens for much of its functions, there are non-screen supplemental activities that can be printed and used at home, as well. If you have any questions about your child’s Lexia account, please reach out to their teacher or our Learning Support Program Coordinator, Caitlin Glassey.

Additional Book Selection Resources:

  • How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Your Child, Posted on March 19, 2019 by Teach A Child To Read

  • Choosing a Book With Your Child - video

  • NPR’s 100 Favorite Books for Young Readers: This list is organized by categories to narrow down the list for your child’s specific needs and/or interests. Categories include Picture Perfect, Baby's Bookshelf, Conversation Starters, Family Life, Animal (and Monster) Friends, Folktales and Fairy Tales, Fun to Read Out Loud, Nonfiction, Early Chapter Books, and Older Readers. 

  • Books for Kids: Master List of Lists: This blog post is an organized selection of many, many lists. This post is sorted by genre, topic of interest, themes, reading level, age/maturity, time of year, and a variety of other options, too. We suggest a few minutes with your child to browse the many lists, select one or two that seem most interesting to your child. Then try to select a book that your child would like to read together. Keep in mind that the book they choose can be any level — older, more advanced readers may still want to read picture books with you, and younger children may be interested in a book that they are not yet able to read independently. After all, the most important part of reading together is the positive association with reading that you help create for your child.