Your Child and Reading: What You Need to Know

Your child will (or has) master many major accomplishments in his early life. Learning to sit, stand, walk, run, and jump. Learning to feed herself, dress, and brush her teeth. Most parents don’t worry too much about these extraordinary feats. But when it comes to your child and reading, worry comes easily.

And I understand that. Learning to read is so important. This one skill can set your child up for success. And failing to master this one skill can mean a lifetime of struggle.

You know that already. Which is why you worry.

Sometimes, just understanding something better helps. Here are 5 big ideas about your child and reading to understand. Then you can worry less and help your child more.

Why Listen to Me?

To be honest, I know a lot about reading! I’m passionate about reading, teaching reading, and building a love for reading in others. Plus, I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember, own more books than I should, and take at least one book with me everywhere!

My experience as a teacher of reading is varied.

kids reading
  • I homeschooled my two sons from birth until the youngest was in middle school – 9 years of ‘schooling,’ and 15 years at home with them. That included teaching them both to read. They both went on to earn Master’s degrees – so I guess it worked!
  • I taught reading as an elementary teacher when our boys went to public school. I taught for 16 years, in every elementary grade except fifth.
  • I taught struggling readers in special programs for 2 years.
  • I have a state endorsement for reading education (which requires extra education on teaching reading).
  • I have both an Ed.S and an Ed.D in education. An Ed.S. is midway between a master’s degree and a doctorate.
  • My Ed.S. is in Teaching and Learning with an emphasis in Literacy.
  • My Ed.D is in Curriculum with an emphasis in Literacy.
  • I spent 2 years training teachers in my district on strategies for helping struggling readers.
  • I have also taught graduate students (as an adjunct professor) who were earning a master’s degree in reading education for 2 years.

I share my experience with you not to brag, but so you can have confidence in what I tell you about your child and reading. With that confidence, you can help your child master reading.

Because the truth is – what you do matters a lot! Teachers make a difference in a child’s life, of course. But parents usually have much more influence than teachers. This is especially true in the elementary years when reading skills are being mastered.

5 Facts About Your Child and Reading

The 5 facts I discuss in this post are listed below. But these are not all that you need to know. Look for a second post soon on 5 more facts you need to know.

  1. Reading is not natural.  
  2. Learning to read is hard work
  3. Reading aloud to your child prepares him/her for learning to read.
  4. Your child will struggle in reading if you never read to him or her.
  5. The best time to start reading to your child is when they are born. The second-best time is now.

Now, let’s dig into what these 5 facts mean to you and your child.

your child and reading

Reading is Not Natural

Natural skills are those amazing feats I mentioned at the beginning. The physical accomplishments babies quickly learn such as walking, talking, and feeding themselves. These skills are natural. They don’t have to be taught (except in rare cases). They are simply ‘picked-up’ by watching others.

This is not true of reading. To understand what this means, think about life before technology. Before electricity. Before cities.

What were the essential skills people needed to survive? Hunting, gathering wild food, farming. Taking raw food – whether meats or plants – and creating edible food with it. Building shelter. Providing clothing to protect from heat, rain, and snow.

All those skills can be – and often were – learned without having to read. Reading was not necessary for survival.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Reading is a necessary skill for survival in most of the world. But just because it is necessary doesn’t mean it’s natural.

And because reading isn’t natural, it must be taught. Of course, there are always those children who seem to pick up reading as if by magic. But they are rare.

Reading aloud daily – from a variety of books – is one of the most important things you can do for your child. It is never too early to start. It is never too late. Click To Tweet

Most children learn to read by being taught to read. Most children will never learn to read if they aren’t explicitly and systematically taught to read. Because reading isn’t natural.

Learning to Reading is Hard Work

This second fact about reading – that learning to read is hard work – follows the first fact.

Learning to read is hard work because it is not natural.

Learning to walk or talk is natural. Yes, those skills take time and effort. But how many children become so frustrated with those efforts that they quit trying? Almost none.

On the other hand, how many children become so frustrated with the effort required in learning to read that they quit trying? Too many.

father and daughters reading

Your child will most likely have days that they want to quit. If you never struggle with your child and reading, count your blessings.

But if your child does want to give up, at least you understand why. Becoming a proficient reader will most likely be your child’s greatest achievement in the first decade (or two) of his life. Yes, it truly is that hard.

We adults tend to forget that learning to read is hard because we’ve known how for so long. So when your child struggles, go easy on him. Let her read easy books. Read to him and let his brain rest and play catch-up. That’s not quitting. That’s just smart.

Reading Aloud if Critically Important

Reading aloud to your child is the single best thing you can do for her if you want her to succeed in school, in reading, and in life. Well, feeding her is pretty important too – but you know what I mean!

Years of research studies are come to the same conclusion: reading aloud to your child is important. And not just important, it is a critically necessary part of building a strong foundation for reading success.

Read that again: Reading aloud to your child is a critically necessary part of building a strong foundation for reading success.

The how and why of reading aloud will be covered in another post. But don’t wait for that. Grab a book and start today. Even if your child is only 3 days old. Even if your child is already a teenager. The only difference is which book you grab.

You Child Will Struggle If…

Learning to read

Yes, I know it’s hard to hear this, especially if you are a weak reader yourself. But you need to know anyway.

Your child will almost certainly struggle with reading if you do not read to him regularly. One reason for this has less to do with reading skills than with emotions.

When children are babies and toddlers, reading to them almost always involves physical touch. They sit on your lap or beside you on the couch, cuddling close. You lay in the bed together as you read a goodnight book. You ruffle his hair when something funny happens or kiss her cheek when the word ‘love’ is used.

All these expressions of love build an emotionally positive feeling towards reading for your child. He learns to associate feeling good with reading. Reading is a positive experience long before she ever knows a single letter of the alphabet.

And all that emotional goodness? That is the ‘juice’ that keeps your child motivated when the challenges of learning to read seem too big.

If you want your child to be a successful reader – and I know you do – then start reading to them now.

When is the Best Time to Start Reading to Your Children?

I just answered this question, didn’t I?  Now. But let’s look at that answer a little closer.

Maybe you’ve heard this proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time in now.”

None of us can turn the clock backwards. You cannot recapture the time lost or go back and make better choices.

But you can start making better choices today, right now. Choices about reading to your child. Choices about becoming a reader and lifelong learner yourself. Choices about being a positive reading role-model for your child.

The best time to start reading to your child is when they are born. The second-best time is now. It doesn’t matter if your child is 2 weeks old, almost 10, or already a teenager.

Whatever age your child is right now is the age you should start reading to him. Don’t wait another year and then look back, thinking, “I wish I had…”

Don’t fuss about what books to start with. Anything is better than nothing. Books from yard sales and thrift stores are cheap. The library is free. Just pick a book – or several – and start. If you’re confused, ask the children’s librarian!

The best time to start reading to your child is when they are born. The second-best time is now. It doesn't matter if your child is 2 weeks old, almost 10, or already a teenager. Click To Tweet

What Now?

You’re convinced. You know one part of your parenting mission is to be a reading model, cheerleader, encourager, and safe place to land when reading is hard. So, what should you do now?

First – grab a book, get your child, and read aloud today. Don’t wait.

Second – do the same thing every day for one month. Put it on your calendar now. By the end of the month, I’m betting it will be a highlight of the day for both you and your child.

Third – signup for my emails to get all the reading goodness you and your child needs.

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