Private reading tutors can be expensive, especially if a family is on a tight budget. While many parents aren’t experts in reading instruction or might not have degrees in education, they can still provide guidance and basic reading instruction at home.
If a child only needs a little extra guidance to meet benchmarks or to advance their reading skills, parents may be able to provide enrichment activities in addition to in-school instruction. Here’s how parents can be their child’s reading tutor at home to help them with basic reading struggles.
Keep in mind, though, that children who have more profound reading struggles may need additional support or interventions. Parents who feel that their child needs more instruction or who are concerned about a child’s reading level or perhaps lack of reading mastery may wish to reach out to both their child’s pediatrician and the school.
Start the Reading Habit…and Create a Reading Habitat
Kids should be reading daily, because the more they read the better readers they may become! Typically, schools assign nightly reading minutes—15+ minutes or more. Reading everyday is a great habit to ensure that children make reading a part of each day. However, some children might not be too excited to grab a book.
One of the first steps that parents can take to help their child with reading is to ensure that kids adopt a reading habit. Parents can get creative to make reading time enjoyable by establishing a reading routine for kids that may even include a reading habitat. So what is a reading habitat? This is a special area designated for reading, like a pillow mountain, a beanbag chair, a homemade fort or just a quiet area.
Every family may establish its own reading routine and reading habitat. When creating a reading routine, parents may consider:
- A specific time. Maybe daily reading takes place during bedtime.
- Reading aloud. Parents can mix up the reading routine by reading aloud to kids and then encouraging the child to read aloud. Maybe parents and kids alternate who reads a page or a chapter.
- Book choice. Reading may be more fun when kids can choose their own books.
- Ditching the timer. Sometimes a reading timer is more of a distraction. When kids really become engrossed in a book, the timer might not be necessary.
When creating a reading habitat, parents should ask kids about where they like to read. Some kids like to curl up on a bed or the couch. But others may be excited to build a reading habitat like a fort or a mountain of pillows. Ask kids about their ideal reading sanctuary and help them create it.
Tutoring at Home: Talk While You Read
For children who might have difficulty retelling a story, describing what they have read or other comprehension challenges, parents may provide guidance during reading time by discussing the story. This doesn’t necessarily mean quizzing a child. Reading avoidance may be related to feeling as though story time or reading time is a homework assignment, so parents may want to find ways to make the discussion engaging.
Instead of asking a barrage of questions after a child has read a story or book, use these strategies to engage:
- Discuss the story’s action as it is ongoing. When a major event takes place, ask a child how the character might feel or ask them to predict what might happen next.
- After each chapter, help children summarize what happened in the story. Use that discussion to also see if children can recall past chapters and how they relate.
- For younger children, read stories in chunks of texts and discuss the story after each chunk.
- If parents are reading to children, switch voices for each character and emote during the conversation. See if children can pick up on the inflection of emotion.
Tutoring at Home: Play Reading Games for Fun
Reading doesn’t have to just involve books, comics, magazines or other written material. Games focused on reading or on reading strategies also may help kids. Reading games can be board games, DIY games or apps.
While games aren’t necessarily reading tools, they may help kids view reading and words in general as fun. Some classic board games like Scrabble or Bananagrams help children form words, and this may help them with spelling or vocabulary. When playing word games, parents may want to keep a dictionary on hand for kids to find the definition of each word.
Reading app games can focus on all types of reading strategies. Some app-based games are geared towards sight words, others may focus on other skills.
Parents also can create their own reading games at home. Reading games can be completely unique, and parents should feel inclined to get imaginative to design games that their child will like to play.
Go on a sight word scavenger hunt at the store, and encourage kids to find all the words on their sight word list. Maybe they receive a small prize if they find every word.
Comprehension skills also can be developed via a game using a simple beach ball. Write comprehension prompts on each section of the ball; toss the ball, and have the child answer the prompt that faces upwards. Comprehension beach balls also are available pre-made online. Not sure what to write on the ball? Parents may focus on the ‘wh’ questions of comprehension: who, what, where, when and how. Prompts also can focus on character traits or even ask about specific events.
Tutoring at Home: Use Worksheets
A child’s teacher may be one of the best resources for determining the best ways to help a child with reading at home. Reading worksheets may be used in school to work on spelling patterns, comprehension or other literacy skills. Teachers may be able to send extra worksheets home that parents can use to practice with children.
Worksheets also may be available online. Some are organized by grade level, which may help parents figure out what lessons are best for their child. Teachers also can advise parents on sites that offer these worksheets.
Tutoring at Home: Activities to Complement the Book
Supplementary or complementary activities can help boost a child’s enjoyment of reading. These activities, however, are simply entertainment activities that may help a child think about the book using other media.
Listening to the Book
Some children like having parents or a teacher read to them. Hearing the story may help a child pick up on emotions or social clues related to the plot. Parents can use audiobooks for children who enjoy listening to the story. Children can read the chapter and then listen to it, or, perhaps the child listens and follows along in the book.
Parents should still ask children questions related to the plot or characters to help gauge comprehension.
Watching the Movie
Lots of children’s books have been adapted to the big screen. After a child finishes reading a book, parents can find the movie. Watch the movie as a family and talk about how the book and movie were different. Were the characters portrayed like the child pictured them? Were any major plot details missing from the movie? Ask children if they liked the book or movie better.
Cooking a Book Recipe
Many adults and children have read a book only to become hungry, craving something the character is enjoying in the book. Or maybe the character is eating something new and exciting? Ask kids about the foods their favorite characters are enjoying, and then cook up something similar. Reading and following recipes may help children with math skills, too!
Foods from the books might not be a child’s favorite, but trying that food can help them experience part of the story. Foods can be immersive, too!
Book Field Trips
Taking a book field trip is another way to immerse in the story. Eating foods the character eats, and visiting places the character visits help children step into the book. While parents might not live close to a New York museum, visit a similar museum near home. Or take a virtual tour online! Many museums offer virtual experiences during Covid.
Reading about the planets? Visit a planetarium or a science center. Stories set in the past may lead to a field trip to a historical site nearby. Ask a child about major activities and plot points in the book, then plan a book field trip.
The Cost of Tutoring
While there are many ways that parents can help guide kids on a reading journey at home and serve as at-home tutors, some parents might still want more enrichment for their child that can better help them hit reading benchmarks. Private tutoring can be expensive, although rates vary. Some companies offer tutoring services, and parents can find a tutor near them. Schools also may have recommendations.
Parents may feel that there is only so much help they can provide at home using basic tools like games, worksheets and reading guidance. If a child is still struggling, what other tools can parents use at home?
Free Tutoring Services
Depending on a child’s age or grade, there may be options or programs related to no-cost tutoring. For example, some high school students tutor other high school or middle school students for free as part of school programs.
If there are free programs in the area, a child’s teacher or school may be the best resource.
Reading Apps or Programs
If parents are interested in private tutoring but perhaps cost is an issue, they can utilize online reading programs like Readability. When researching online apps and programs, parents should look for options that are research-based. Programs—like tutors—vary in cost. Parents should make sure that the app or reading program is a good fit for their child’s needs and struggles.
Content also should be engaging and appropriately leveled. Readability, for example, features stories that are engaging and interactive. Story content is leveled based on a child’s ability to ensure that lessons aren’t too difficult…or too easy.
Parents may be concerned about older children who struggle with reading. Older children don’t always want to read stories that are focused on a younger age group. While they may struggle to read grade-level text, stories for these children should still focus on topics that interest them. A 9-year-old shouldn’t be forced to read about Fluffy the bunny. Unless, of course, the child really wants to read about that bunny! Readability keeps lessons appropriate for age and ability.
What about results? Parents of children who struggle to read want to know that the money they invest on an app or reading program will be beneficial. Reading programs should offer parent a portal that shows the child’s progress with the program. Readability offers the Parent Dashboard, which gives parents details on a child’s reading level and progress and also provides data related to how long the child engaged with the program.
So what program or app is best? This really depends on a child’s needs. Some apps or programs—including Readability—offer a free trial period for parents and kids to explore the features. Trial periods can help parents determine if the program is a good fit.
From Parent to Tutor
While parents may act as a sort of at-home tutor for children, taking on the role of teacher may take some adjustment. However, during Covid, many parents already had to take on the role of both teacher and parent, so tutoring might feel like a breeze!
Parents shouldn’t stress out trying to make a perfect reading plan at home. Instead, sit down and focus on how to best help kids while making reading time enjoyable. Figure out a reading schedule and then talk to kids about the best reading habitat. Build a fort, pile up some pillows or get comfortable on the couch. Help kids during reading, and, if they prefer, maybe take turns reading pages or a chapter.
Parents can utilize enrichment activities like games, field trips, and even cooking to help children immerse in the reading adventure. Children who need more guidance and help beyond what parents may offer at home could benefit from a reading app or program. Parents can ask teachers for recommendations or research programs on their own. However, free trial offers make take the guesswork out of the investment!