One major and important skill that children need for a happy and healthy life is the ability to become a fluent reader.  Reading isn't a skill that develops naturally  – it is a learned ability.  Even though reading may not occur naturally, there are certain conditions that do and that make learning to read much more difficult for kids. Learning disabilities (such as dyslexia or dysgraphia) and developmental disabilities (such as autism) require individualized, explicit reading methods and systematic phonics instruction (for research to back this statement, click here).

So what is a parent to do?  Homeschool parents especially must consider the best ways to help their children learn to read since they are solely responsible for providing instruction.  There are a lot of ways that any parent (homeschool or not) can give their children the opportunity to become successful readers.

Here are few tips you can implement in your home:

1) Do not use force.  If you turn reading into a chore, just like cleaning that messy bedroom, it isn’t going to happen.  If you force a child to read, even if they comply, they are certainly not going to enjoy it.  Specifically something to avoid is punishment for not reading or – even worse – using reading as a punishment.

2) Mix it up.  If you find that it’s hard to keep your child’s attention when you are reading with them, try exposing them to different subject matter or perhaps even different languages (yes, music counts here).  Some children find factual and informative books about animals, geography, and engineering (think airplanes and trucks) interesting.  Add a few of those to your library.  Enrolling your child in an immersion program or tutoring lessons where they learn to read in another language has many other benefits aside from reading.  Learning to play an instrument is also a valuable use of time and music even offers some benefits in the way of reading skills.

3) Cut screen time.  Likely one of the best changes a parent can make when it comes to encouraging their child to choose to read in their spare time is to reduce the amount of television they watch or the time they spend online.  This idea is a bit of a double-edged sword though.  If you take away TV, Computer, and phone time completely (especially in the summer months) your kids will probably resent you.  Try setting up reasonable limitations and reduce the number of televisions you have in your home (Hey, you’ll save on electricity too!).  The first place to eliminate TV sets should be in your child’s bedroom.  Televisions in your child’s bedroom can be harmful to their development for many reasons.

4) Give up the guilt trips.  Making someone feel bad for not doing something is a surefire way to help them connect that activity with negative feelings and thus not EVER want to do it.  Guilt-tripping is never a good way to get someone to do what you want them to do.  In fact, it can be quite damaging to a relationship.  There are much better ways to motivate your children to read, so just throw away the guilt tactic for good.  Bottom line, don’t try and guilt your child into reading by complaining about how much money you have spent on unread books.

5) Get the right books.  Making sure your children understand the content that they are reading is more important than reading big, complicated novels.  Help your kids pick the right books by using The ABCs of Improved Reading.  If your child wants to tackle a larger book that is a bit out of their realm of comprehension, opt to read it with them so that you can answer any questions they might have.  An ambitious nature is definitely a trait worth encouraging!  By reading it together they will get to read what they want, you will get to bond with them, and their vocabulary and comprehension will benefit greatly from your guidance.

6) Offer opportunities.  As a parent, you really have to encourage your child to read.  There are a lot of positive ways to do this, such as by showing interest in what they’re reading by asking questions about the plot and characters, giving them lots of compliments on how much they have read and learned, and by providing them with lots of interesting books to read.  If you give your child a new and exciting book that you think they would enjoy each month, not only do they have access to fresh and appealing material, they also know that you care about them and are always thinking of them.

7) Practice engaged reading.  This tip is especially applicable to parents with children who have not yet learned to read or who are in the process of learning.  When you read with your child, talk and point to the words as you read them.  This draws your child’s attention to the word, helping to solidify their word recognition and spelling abilities.  Your children will always get more out of reading if you successfully engage their mind.  Another fun activity is to have kids pick out the letters on a page that are also in their name.  Older kids can pick out words that make the same sounds as the letters in their name.  Children also enjoy books that use lots of alliteration and rhymes (think Dr. Seuss).

8) Read between the lines too.  Be sure to discuss the story as you read it.  Ask your child what they would do if they were a character in a book.  Really go beyond the printed text by asking your children what they think a character is feeling or what they think will happen next. Also, a great way to help children understand the meaning of new words and ideas is by helping them connect the concept to an experience they have had.  For example, you could explain the meaning of "sadness" by using the way your child felt when the beloved family pet died or when they scraped their knee on the sidewalk as a reference.

9) Don’t forget the small stuff.  It may seem silly, but make sure your younger children know about the flow of a book.  Explain to them that we start books at the beginning and read to the end,  that we read text from left to right, and then from the top of the page to the bottom of the page.

Get a little silly.  Another detail that can make a big difference is to make reading fun by using different voices and tones for different characters, to make faces, to laugh, and to tickle.  Help your kids associate fond memories and positive feelings with reading.

It is important to keep in mind that no amount of tips will cure a learning or developmental disability.  In those cases, it is important to seek help.  A reading software program, such as those provided by Reading Horizons, might be something worth looking into.

“I am the mother of a nine-year-old third-grade boy. He attended regular public school through the end of second grade. He showed signs of dyslexia during that time, but the school did not recognize it or have any special program to teach reading to this type of child…We started this program with a first-grade reading level of 17 WPM on November 3. By December, he was reading at 50 WPM and changed to the second-grade level. On January 23, he read at 62 WPM on the second-grade level. Truly amazing!”

--Tracy Keith, Martinsburg, PA