Children struggling to read during the pandemic might be receiving extra assistance through their school, or, perhaps they might not qualify. For kids learning virtually or those who are on a hybrid schedule, the extra ‘push-in’ for reading instruction may be via meeting platforms (like Zoom).
Whether kids are in the classroom or in a virtual environment, parents may need to implement their own reading programs at home to help their children boost their reading skills. For those who need help in establishing an at-home curriculum, use this Parents’ Guide to Creating a home reading program.
A Reading Instruction Primer
Parents know their child best, and it’s important to understand that what works for one child won’t work for every child. Children may struggle to read for many reasons. Some may simply have fallen behind peers—maybe they don’t enjoy reading. Other children may have medical-related diagnoses that make learning to read more difficult.
Parents can choose multiple pieces of the guide to use for their home instruction. Create a program that works for a child’s individual needs, and, of course, for the parent’s schedule. Most parents also don’t have a background in elementary education or reading instruction, so many of the ideas for at-home instruction can be implemented by anyone…no education degree required!
Ideas for Reading Fun
Embracing the joy of reading may go a long way to encouraging children to read more or to even just pick up a book. So how do parents implement a program at home that focuses on the joy of literacy? Games, special reading environments, and other out-of-the-box ideas can help children discover and uncover the reading adventure.
Reading is a form of entertainment but some children might not perceive reading to be any form of entertainment. Parents, however, can help make reading a bit more of an adventure by playing reading games with kids.
Kids may be able to pick up on when games are really lessons in disguise, so parents shouldn’t make games boring! Not sure what games to play? Try these:
Sight Word Scavenger Hunt
Younger children may still be learning sight words. These are words that they need to identify on sight. Often, teachers will provide a list of sight words that each child needs to memorize.
Parents can help children practice identifying these words by encouraging them to find sight words out in the wild. Going to the grocery store? Have children find words on boxes, signs or even clothes (think novelty t-shirts and sweaters). Even street signs can be a great location for sight words. Parents can have children check off each word as they are discovered. Maybe there is a prize for finding all the sight words!
Catch & Tell
Blow up a beach ball and write questions for kids related to story/book comprehension. These balls also can be purchased online and are printed with standard prompts. If parents choose to DIY, opt for prompts related to a child’s reading level or comprehension goals. Questions related to the ‘wh’ questions work well for this game. Who is the main character? What are they doing? When/Where does the story take place? Or maybe parents write prompts related to more detailed inquiries; perhaps the sections of the ball could ask children to talk about the differences between characters or the significance of an event.
How do kids play Catch & Tell? Parents toss the ball, and the child has to answer the prompt that lands face up. This game can have multiple players—get siblings involved! And, of course, parents also can and should play, too, by talking about the book they are reading.
Board Games…with Words!
There are many games that focus on words; Scrabble and Bananagrams are just two popular options. Creating words can help kids recognize phonetic patterns and may help them expand their vocabulary. Parents can find other types of word or reading board games online. Even board games that encourage kids to read clues or cards related to the game may help them practice reading.
Word Game Competitions
Parents can also host their own word game competition. Using a dry erase board, choose a word or a phrase and use dashes to represent each letter of the word or phrase. Kids need to take turns guessing letters, and the person who solves the puzzle wins. Parents can draw a flower or other picture to show when a guessed letter isn’t in the puzzle; for every missed letter, a new piece of the picture is added. When the picture is completed without the puzzling being solved, the player or players lose the round.
Online Word Games
There are many games that can be downloaded via Google Play or the App Store that focus on reading or words. Not sure what games are a good fit? Just do a quick search on a phone or device for reading games or word games. Just make sure the game is appropriate for a child’s age/maturity!
Reading Field Trips: Let’s Go!
Stories can make awesome field trips! While parents might not be able to replicate a favorite event or scene in a book, they can take children to places that their favorite character visited in the story. Or maybe even a place somehow related to the story. Reading field trips can include trips to museums, parks or maybe even a historic landmark (if it’s close). Parents should ask children about the book or story and get details on places and events featured in the book. This is also a great way to help kids retell parts of the story. If a book focuses on outer space, a visit to a planetarium would be a great field trip. Visit a history museum for a book that focuses on a historical figure. Or think of a trip that’s related in another way.
These trips also could be virtual, and, during Covid, this may be the only option! Virtual field trips, however, offer almost unlimited options for children to explore their curiosity. While a trip to a museum in France might have once required a large budget for those living in the U.S., a virtual visit is accessible to almost anyone with access to the internet. Sites like YouTube also can include lots of video tours of historic locales or even documentaries about famous people.
If parents are unsure about where to go, just do a quick online search. Every book offers possibilities for a field trip! So get traveling with kids. And, of course, be sure to talk about the book after or even during that excursion.
Build a Reading Habitat
Reading together or even encouraging a child to read solo might be more enticing with a unique reading environment. Build a reading fort with blankets and chairs! Or create a pillow nest using all the pillows in the house and let kids get cozy. Books also can be read outdoors under a tree or even with a flashlight in a tent under the stars!
Cook Up Book Recipes
Sometimes books include details about foods that characters enjoy. These scenes may have us craving a particular food or restaurant. Or maybe the food explored in the story is new or unusual. Use food descriptions in stories to cook up some reading adventures!
Enjoying foods or entrees from stories may help kids immerse in the story…with their senses. Cooking new recipes also could be a great way to help them practice reading, too. And measuring ingredients adds a math lesson! Win-win!
Parents might not know what foods their kids are learning about in those books and stories, and this is where reading conversations become an important part of the lesson. For each book a child reads, make a habit of enjoying a ‘story food.’ Ask kids what their favorite characters are eating, and then hunt together for a recipe for the meal.
Maybe the character is enjoying something simple—like a crumpet. If a child has never tried a crumpet or even knows what a crumpet is, this is a great excuse to find them at the store. They can enjoy tea and crumpets! Or maybe orange marmalade (like a favorite fictional bear). Foods pop up throughout stories, and kids may enjoy trying out all these new tastes. Even if they don’t like new food, the experience helps broaden their taste buds!
Pop some Popcorn and Watch the Movie
When a child is finished reading their book, research if there is a movie adaptation! Watching the big-screen adaptation of a book can be a great way to talk about plots and characters. Ask children if they liked the book or the movie better. Have them describe how the character in the movie was different from the book. Did the character in the movie look like the writer described them in the book? Sometimes the movie is nothing like the book, and this can be an interesting topic to discuss.
Not sure what books were made into a movie? Imagination Soup offers an extensive list of kids’ books that were interpreted for the screen.
While field trips, new foods, and even games can help make reading more fun and more of an immersive experience, reading every day should be on the list as a ‘must’ for an at-home reading program. These activities are supplements to highlight how reading can reach into all aspects of daily life—from foods characters eat to the places they visit. The gateway to learning about these experiences, though, is through the pages of the books.
Most schools encourage children to read nightly—20 minutes. Parents whose children struggle to read at grade-level, though, may feel these minutes are a battle. So should parents leave kids to tick off these minutes? For kids who need extra support, parents may decide to read with kids…or to them. A great way to encourage kids to read while offering support is to alternate pages; a parent reads one page, the child reads the next page.
During reading sessions, parents should ask questions about the story or book. This helps gauge a child’s understanding of what they read. For children reading chapter books, parents may ask questions at the end of each chapter or maybe after several pages (in case children really struggle with reading comprehension).
Some kids may enjoy hearing a book read to them. Parents may use audiobooks so that kids can listen to the story. This may help them understand inflection of emotion during scenes from a book or story and may help them gauge a character’s intent (from the voice inflection). Parents may want to encourage kids to follow along in a book as the story is read.
After listening to the story, parents may have kids read the same chapter silently or maybe parents could help children read it aloud. Audiobooks can be a great option for children who really like the auditory component. And parents can often find audiobooks at a local library.
Reading at the Right Level
Reading the right level books may help ensure that kids aren’t challenged by vocabulary that is too difficult or by plots that are too complex. And parents probably also don’t want to choose books that are too easy, as easy books might not challenge children to progress to a higher reading level.
Finding that ideal balance may be difficult. Parents who are unsure about their child’s reading level can reach out to the child’s teacher for guidance. They can provide a range of reading levels that are appropriate and ensure that the books aren’t too complicated. Struggling readers could be discouraged, too, if a book is too long. They may lose focus or lose track of the plot.
Children who read at a level below their peers, however, may be frustrated that they can’t read the same books or stories. Parents can read higher-level books to their kids to ensure that they don’t miss out on popular characters and books. Parents may wish to talk to kids about the book as they read and ask questions related to the story to help children better understand the plot.
Use a Reading App or Online Reading Program
Some parents don’t have the time to sit and read with their kids or help them with their reading. Others aren’t sure how to properly help their child with reading so that they can meet grade-level expectations. For children who need extra enrichment and additional support, parents may explore reading apps or online reading programs that were developed to help children gain proficiency.
Parents should look for programs that offer engaging content to ensure that lessons don’t become boring. Stories should include colorful illustrations to break up chunks of texts and interactive features to keep kids immersed in the stories. Content also should be leveled for a child’s specific needs; stories shouldn’t be too easy or difficult.
Parents also shouldn’t be left in the dark about their child’s progress. Look for programs like Readability that offer a space for parents to check how long a child engaged in lessons as well as their reading progress. Readability also provides engaging and immersive content, and, yes, lots of great illustrations to help children visualize the story as they read.
Not every program is a fit for every child. Readability offers a free seven-day trial for kids (and parents) to check out the features and benefits of the program. Ready to try Readability? Start a free trial today!