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Empowering parents to help children read like rock stars

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

You don't have to be a certified educator to help your child read like a rock star. In fact, it might even be easier to pull it off if you aren't an educator. Why? Because the classroom can be a stressful, evaluative reading environment for children, and struggling readers can feel even more pressure when they know they will be tested.

There is, however, a way to help your child relax, read, and actually comprehend what is being read at home.

Parents who come to me feeling intimidated and daunted by the task of helping their children with reading comprehension often walk away feeling a great sense of relief by the time I'm done talking. Why? Because I suggest a shockingly simple initial starting point for parents:

DON'T WORRY ABOUT TEACHING READING. JUST READ

If you just read with your child and have normal conversations from time to time, without ever interrupting or interfering with the natural reading process, and without asking question after question, both you and your child will realize how easy, rewarding, and beneficial this process actually is.

Here are some basic steps to make that happen:

EMPATHIZE WITH YOUR CHILD'S STRUGGLE WHILE PROVIDING SOME BASIC GUIDANCE BEFORE OPENING THE BOOK

Reading isn't easy. Even adults find themselves "reading," with eyes following along the lines of text, flipping page after page while the minutes pass, only to realize they have no idea what happened on the pages they were supposedly reading. I call this the passive eye shift. Our fingers and eyes are moving, but either our brains are off in La La Land or we are too busy visualizing something we read earlier in the book to actually focus on the text we're trying to read. This is completely normal. Everyone experiences it. I want you to talk about these little blips with your children. Let them know that not only do lots of kids experience these struggles when reading, but adults do as well.

Your child doesn't need to feel like a failure, but chances are, if he or she is failing those reading comprehension questions at school, that ship has already sailed. You can reverse course by empathizing with your child's struggle, and providing some guidance before you open the book in the first place.

IMPLEMENT A HANDS-OFF PLAN OF ACTION FOR DEALING WITH CHALLENGING WORDS.

There's no point constantly correcting a child or explaining things while he or she is reading. It is extremely distracting. Adults don't like to be interrupted while reading, so what makes us think kids are cool with it? And we wonder why kids can't answer comprehension questions after we've interrupted them 386 times while reading the passage in the first place.

Start by making sure your child plays a major role in choosing an engaging book to read with you. If your child thinks the book is too challenging or boring, don't argue about it; just let him or her choose a new book. Then, let your child know that when encountering a really tough word, he or she should just say "blank" instead of trying to say the tricky word, and you'll deal with the pronunciation and definition together later. Once the child has finished the chapter or is at a good stopping point in the story, you two can start sounding out the word and using context clues or the dictionary or internet to figure out its meaning.

LET YOUR CHILD KNOW THAT IT IMPRESSES YOU WHEN HE OR SHE VOLUNTARILY REREADS A PARTICULAR SECTION.

There are plenty of times when kids (and adults) need to reread a sentence, paragraph, or in my case, an entire chapter, if we engage in the passive eye shift or the section is boring or challenging. A tremendous amount of our comprehension comes not from our initial reading of a passage, but from the times we have to reread sections that we believed were important but that we didn't quite focus on hard enough.

Teachers often have to force kids to reread; kids tend not to do it voluntarily. If you let your child know that voluntary rereading impresses you and you express joy when they do so, you'll see wild growth in their comprehension skills. The fact is that kids want to impress the adults in their lives. It is just downright unfair that the primary way kids think they can impress adults is through great performance on tests. Make it easier for your child to impress you. Show your excitement during little victories (like small improvements, a smoothly-read sentence, or voluntary rereading), but don't go overboard. Compliments should be just enough to reinforce the action to the child, but not so much that the child thinks the only reason to perform the action is for the reward or parental excitement that follows.

Struggling readers need instruction, empathy, and engaging reading materials. You can provide a safe, assessment-free reading environment at home. The laid-back, hands-off, empathetic approach in this article will ensure that your child starts to feel some success with reading, a fundamental step in boosting comprehension and nurturing great readers.

Kumar Sathy is an educator and author of "Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure," winner of the 2010 Moonbeam Children's Book Award. See www.KumarSathy.com.

Local story hours

Fostering a love for reading starts early. Children as young as 6 months can enjoy looking at books and hearing their parents' voices as they read. And story times at your local library are a great way to introduce the concept of listening and paying attention during a group activity, and they make books fun for little ones of all ages (including some for kids who are already reading independently).

Check out these story times at local libraries:

Cabell County

Story time: 6:15 p.m. Mondays and 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays, Cabell County Public Library, 455 9th St., Huntington.

Cow Tales: 10 a.m. Tuesdays at Chick-fil-A, 148 Melody Farms Road, Barboursville. Join Wild Willa for stories, games, crafts, music and dancing.

Mother Goose on the Loose, 10 a.m. Tuesdays at the Milton Branch of the Cabell County Public Library, 1140 Smith St., Milton. For babies and toddlers birth to 3 years old. The Milton Branch also offers story time for ages 3-5 at 10 a.m. Wednesdays.

Tales for Tots, 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays at Salt Rock Public Library, 5575 Madison Creek Road, Salt Rock. Join Miss Bev for an exciting time of stories, crafts, games and snacks.

Terrific Tuesdays, 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Gallaher Village Branch Library, 368 Norway Ave., Huntington. Book discussions, activities, crafting, and more, grades 4-8. Also, Preschool Story Hour with stories, songs, crafts and more for ages 1-4 at 10 a.m. Thursdays.

Story Hour with Willa, 10:30 a.m. at the Barboursville Branch Library, 728 Main St., Barboursville.

Boyd County, Ky.

Toddler Time, 10:30 a.m. Mondays at the Catlettsburg Branch of Boyd County Public Library, 2704 Louisa St., Catlettsburg, Ky

Preschool Story Time, 11 a.m. Wednesdays, Main Branch of Boyd County Public Library, 1740 Central Ave., Ashland, Ky. Features stories, crafts and songs. For children 3-5.

Toddler Time, 1 p.m. Fridays at the Kyova Branch of the Boyd County Public Library, Kyova Mall.

Toddler Time, 11:30 a.m. Fridays at the Main Branch of Boyd County Public Library, 1740 Central Ave. It is designed for children just beginning to walk through age 3, and includes two to three short books, singing and dancing.

Lawrence County, Ohio

Briggs Lawrence County Public Library has story time for ages 3-5 at the following times and locations:

11 a.m. Mondays at the Ironton Branch

4:30 p.m. Mondays at the Symmes Valley Branch

11 a.m. Tuesdays at the Proctorville Branch

11 a.m. Wednesdays at the South Point Branch

11 a.m. Thursdays at the Chesapeake Branch

Toddler Time for up to age 3, 11 a.m. Tuesdays at the Ironton Branch.

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