Improve Kids' Reading -- Even Without Books
By Fran Santoro Hamilton

Parents want their children to be strong readers. They see reading ability as the ticket to a good college and a successful life. The first problem, however, may be getting children to read at all.

The best way to encourage reading is to make it enjoyable. Like the rest of us, children are likely to spend more time at activities they enjoy. Then they excel in those areas that command their time.

Some children, however, have such a strong aversion to reading that they can't start the upward spiral. Many of the following suggestions for parents will help these children improve vital comprehension skills -- even without a book in their hands.

  • Emphasize the importance of communication by modeling and expecting good listening. Be sure you have your child's attention before giving important information.
  • Encourage your child to talk with you -- to share ideas, to ask questions. Prompt your child in order to probe more deeply or to clarify thinking.
  • Help your child to recognize that things are not equally important. Help him identify relationships -- similarities, opposites, sequence, cause, examples, etc.
  • Make vocabulary study a family activity.
  • Do not push young children to read. They may learn to read using a part of the brain that will stunt reading ability forever.
  • Read. Read to your child, with your child, in front of your child. Show that you value reading for both information and enjoyment.
  • Read some of the books or topics your child is reading so you can share ideas.
  • If you are reading to or with your child, pause occasionally to ask questions about the story. Include questions that don't have right and wrong answers.
  • Help your child compare what is read with his own experience. Look for both differences and similarities.
  • If your child enjoys being read to but doesn't like to read, have him evaluated by a developmental optometrist. A physical problem may be making reading uncomfortable.
  • Lead your reluctant reader to books on topics of interest to him.
  • Ignore oral errors if meaning is correct.
  • If your child seems unaware of an error that changes or destroys meaning, ask at the end of the sentence, "Did that make sense?"
  • Provide a variety of experiences for your child (these do not all need to cost money). Many comprehension problems arise because a child lacks background information.
  • Do not force your child to read a particular book.
  • Do not require that your child read every word of a book.
  • Encourage your child to have a question in mind when reading for information.
  • Provide practical reading experiences, such as reading directions or a recipe. Ask your child whether the writing could have been improved.
  • If your child tends to ramble, occasionally have him stop, identify his main point, and deliver it concisely.

For recommended reading lists and suggestions of things parents can do to help their children succeed in school, visit Fran Hamilton's book Hands-On English offers additional tips for efficient reading and studying.

Fran Hamilton's expertise is grounded in three decades as a parent and two as a classroom teacher certified in English, Reading, and Learning Disabilities. She is also the author of Hands-On English, "the concrete student handbook that parents will borrow." In addition, Fran publishes LinguaPhile, a free monthly e-mail newsletter that nurtures the development and enjoyment of English at home and at school. Previous issues of LinguaPhile, as well as other resources, are available at To subscribe, e-mail:




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