How to Grow a Reader

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Blog, She Wrote How to Grow a Reader

My guess is that as homeschooling parents, we all want to have great readers. Isn’t it the first milestone a homeschooling parent needs to meet? The inevitable, “Is she reading yet?”. We have four excellent readers in our house and while the jury is out on a great many things about our kids, reading is mission accomplished! Today’s post is all about How to Grow a Reader.

Babies, Toddlers, & Books

Books have been a large part of our family culture since our first son was a newborn. Spending time with your babies and toddlers with books gives them the best start possible to becoming readers themselves. It’s one of the most important things we can do as new parents, but it is often overlooked until kids are older.

  • Read aloud to your babies– Since Ethan (who is now 16) was a brand new baby, we’ve been reading to him. Listening to the sound of your voice and snuggling or even during the dreaded “belly time”, is an all time favorite of babies. Stories are wonderful when you’ve run out of things to say!
  • Be friends with books and teach babies how to be kind to books– We talked a lot about how to treat books when our kids were babies and though we have many books with worn covers due to being read a lot, our babies didn’t mistreat books. It might seem silly, but from the start we spent time teaching our babies and toddlers how to treat books. You could often find them flipping through a story and showing off pictures.
  • Have fun with books– We were always playing, singing, and inventing activities to go with books. When our 16yo was 2, I would make felt activity sets for his favorite books and I made sure to include the thing about a book he loved the most.

Preschoolers and Books

As your toddlers grow into preschoolers, keep playing with books. Making stories come alive is fun and it helps kids to enjoy books and the stories within them.

  • Play Out Stories– Do you remember the Playhouse Disney Show, Out of the Box? In it, the hosts would bring children into the story by playing games, listening to the story, building craft props, and acting out the story. It was a whole show about a story world and it engaged kids. We did this all the time on our own with our children’s favorite stories.
  • How to Spend Time with Preschoolers– Activities for preschoolers including a large section on books. You’ll find some fun book specific activities to make and enjoy. This is an older post which could stand an update.
  • Enjoy playing with books– Use books such as Before Five in a Row, Five in a Row, and Picture Book Activities have wonderful ideas for enjoying books with children whether it’s crafts or snacks or fun games and songs.

Blog, She Wrote Growing a Reader

Elementary Age Children & Books

This is the age where children will begin to read on their own (some preschoolers do begin to read as well) and it’s a time for continuing to enjoy stories while reading instruction is taking place. How do you enjoy books with students from ages 6-10?

  • Require kids to read– Why are we so afraid of this? Practice gets us closer to perfect and reading is a skill that must be practiced, whether our children enjoy it or not.
  • Improve fluency– Once students have mastered phonics, the goal is increased fluency. The mechanics of reading have been figured out and it’s time to practice and get better. How to Turn Emergent Readers into Super Readers gives perspective and lots of ideas on how to do this.
  • Read aloud– Honestly, this is the single best thing that you can do for students of any age. Even when they are working on their own reading skills, they can listen to elaborate stories in fun settings with great adventure. It raises vocabulary levels and keeps kids interested in the goal of reading on their own. Don’t feel like you have to stick with one story. Have several going at once. It’s an investment of time that pays back big dividends.
  • Immerse kids in the story world– Find ways to brings stories to life. Make crafts, play pretend, try out something from a book like cooking a meal in the story or building a secret hideout.
  • Talk about stories– This is a great way to bring dad in on the fun. Tell updates at the dinner table and find out what everyone thinks will happen next.
  • The Role of Non-fiction– Teach your kids to use non-fiction reference books. Start with topics they love and expand to help them discover new things. Google is great for a reference sometimes, but having a whole book devoted to a topic is worth the cost both in dollars and in space.

 Middle Grade Students & Books

Blog, She Wrote How to Grow a Reader

By the time children are in middle school, they likely have been reading on their own for some time. It’s important at this stage to up the ante on difficulty. Seek out books which challenge your kids on several levels such as readability and topic.

  • Assign more difficult books– This is a great time to begin introducing more classic literature if you haven’t already.
  • Start a book club– Book clubs give kids incentive to try books outside of their comfort zone. We’ve been hosting a girl’s book club for almost two years and they’ve read a lot of books they might not read on their own.
  • Try book projects– Our 14yo daughter has been doing historical fashion projects and one of her first was with a steampunk gown made while she was reading Around the World in 80 Days and learning about Jules Verne. The Jules Verne study of literature, fashion, and history was a fun way to introduce lots of Verne which she did read beyond the required books. It also produced some wonderful results in the steampunk gown.
  • Find out more about an author & the book’s context– This is a great idea for tougher books. Right now our daughter, who is ninth grade, is reading Wuthering Heights for the book club. One of our other member moms is a great cheerleader and often brings resources to give the girls new insights to difficult books.
  • Keep talking about books! We talk about the books our kids are reading all the time. Ages 11-13 is a great time to extend the conversation beyond simple narration. You can talk to your kids about ideas and intentions and what they think about a character’s behavior.

High Schoolers & Books

As our young children become high school students, we still play with books. It looks different than it did when they played out stories, but we still spend time in story worlds.

  • Story analysis– One of the most important skills we can give our homeschool graduates is the ability to analyze text and write about books. Comparing two and synthesizing an opinion is probably the thing I did most in graduate school and if you are studying anything but science in an undergraduate program, your college students need to be able to do this well.
  • Book discussions– By high school, you can have long conversations on books and for parents it’s a great way to communicate with your teen about all sorts of things in those final years at home. I’m preparing a post on discussions because I think it’s important and not all parents feel equipped to take advantage of these moments.
  • Introduce Controversial Books– No, I’m not talking about explicit content, but I am saying try not to avoid anything questionable such as Dracula or Frankenstein. Classic literature isn’t always in line with our values, but it does give us excellent talking points with our high schoolers.
  • Book Clubs– Again, these provide prescribed books and discussions which can open up new worlds to more reserved readers and gives them a chance to talk about books with peers.
  • Literature Studies– High school offers the opportunity to take on studies of literature in a more formal way. We use Excellence in Literature and our 11th grader is taking a Potter School class on Fantasy & Science Fiction literature. He adores this class.
  • Writing their own stories & Creating their own other worlds– This is a fun idea whether you have a natural writer or not. Extending story ideas or writing fan fiction is one way to enjoy a story world. Do you have a writer?

Measuring Success as a Reader

So, how do you know if your kid is a big reader? I bet many of you with older kids might say, “But my kid doesn’t like to read”. We think of readers as book worms with their noses in a book all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t look like that. You have a reader if:

  • Assigned reading is completed– and can be narrated successfully
  • There is reading for information– this is my own “go to” for reading. I rarely read just for pleasure. I read for information and to be able to communicate with my kids on books. If your child reads to complete a task or investigates on his own by reading, this is being a reader!
  • Reading for book club– or another outside motivator (but not always for tangible rewards)

Not everyone who can read well enjoys reading all the time. And that’s ok! Recognize that success is being able to read when it’s time and doing so when he or she finds it necessary to work on what he or she does love.

It’s never too late to start if you feel like your child is not a successful reader. At any age, you can work in the books and I would argue that it’s worth the time it will take to make a new effort.

More Posts about Reading on Blog, She Wrote

Blog, She Wrote The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home

Focusing on the power of reading for long term value in a child’s life, is a great priority for homeschoolers and traditional schoolers alike.

Why a Good Book is Like a Secret Door

A great way to approach growing a reader is to figure out how to make books real to kids. As our young kids grow older, the way to make them real changes but it’s always about how to help students engage with a book and to help them take something away from it. We have daily spirited conversations about the contents of books whether it’s an assigned reading, something our kids are reading on their own, or something they’ve been digging into for class or book club.

I came across this TED Talk on Why a Good Book is Like a Secret Door and I thought it summed up our experiences with books pretty well. It’s worth the 15 minutes to add a little whimsy and imagination to your day.

Will you be intentional about opening the door to reading for your students? How will you help your students to find the secret doors? Once you find them, will you invite the story world into your own, so that the book discussions can continue?

Make books an integral part of your family culture and watch your kids bloom into readers. Academically, it’s the biggest investment you can make.

Today other bloggers at the iHN are writing about Growing Successes. You’ll find encouragement in every post!



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  1. I am particularly interested in your ideas for middle schoolers as I have a current 5th grader and am planning for homeschooling in the fall – great ideas!

  2. Great post! I started off well but then totally failed at this, but God still blessed me with ferocious readers. I guess partly because I love to read and keep a lit of books at and above their reading levels. I have even grounded them from reading as discipline because that’s what gets their attention.

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