I may be preaching to the choir if you are reading this, but nothing can take the place of reading to your kids. I see kids who are in remedial reading classes at the schools where I am student teaching, and I don’t understand why they can’t be with their peers. The other day, I sat in a class of seventh graders, and watched them work on a suffix worksheet. What goes on the end of quick: y or ly? I saw several kids who may or may not have been able to keep up with the international baccalaureate program where I am doing my student teaching, but on the other hand, there are kids in the advanced program who aren’t keeping up, or could not care less about their work. Why not replace them with one of the other kids, don’t tell the teacher, and see how well they do? Betcha they’d do fine.
Creating a community of learners is something I learned in my master’s program as part of classroom management and creating good classroom climate. This ‘community of learners’ can easily be duplicated at home, and you will see how much better your child will do in schoolwork. If there is no feeling of community in their classes at school, at least they can get it at home. They will know what it is supposed to feel like, and they will know some of the comprehension strategies that should be taught to them from kindergarten.
If you are not sure exactly what these strategies are, go get some books from the library. There are dozens of books written by teachers that can explain reading comprehension strategies to the layperson. Don’t worry if you don’t understand advanced math, or even enough math to balance your checking account; you can help your kids in this and other subjects as you are able, but if they can read and comprehend their textbooks across genres, they will have a huge advantage. Your kids will someday grow up, need jobs, or want to go on to college, and they will most likely be asked to not just read something, but comprehend it. There’s a good chance you can read every word of an article in Scientific American, or a computer manual, but whether or not you really know what it is saying, is another matter. No one has to be able to read and comprehend everything, but to be even moderately successful in life, you are most likely going to have to know how to read at an eleventh-grade level at least, if not higher.
One good way to start is reading to your babies every night. When I say babies, it includes all ages. You may be sixty, and have hair growing from your ears, but you are still your mama’s baby. The more a child is read to, and then eventually starts reading on their own, the better. When you pick up a book, before you begin, look at the pictures on the cover, or inside; look at the table of ‘continents’ as my son used to call them, and make predictions with your child. What do they think this book is about?
As you begin to read, stop frequently to check for understanding. Ask your child to recap what was just read. Begin getting them used to summarizing; good summaries are very difficult to write, but are invaluable in school and life. A good summary gets to the meat of a subject or a paragraph, and relates the salient details. It may only be one sentence for a child’s book, but at least they are learning the gist of the mechanics. Don’t endlessly correct; let your child construct meaning of their own. Each person, when reading a text, hears and understands from their own perspective. Unless it is a how-to manual, there is very little that is right or wrong.
If the book is a little above their level, but you both want to read it, that’s ok. Chunk some of the bigger passages, and use all your strategies to understand the text. Are there words you don’t understand? What is the context? Learning how to use context clues to understand vocabulary is another invaluable skill your child will need. Context clues can even include pictures-what are the characters doing in the picture? What was the author just talking about?
Don’t forget to predict while you are reading. Predicting what may happen keeps the reader engaged and helps with the summarizing, also. Above all, encourage reading. Set up a comfortable spot near books in your home, or in the child’s room. A book and my room, even if I had to share my room, was my haven. Reading and writing opened up new worlds of thought for me, and avenues of exploration.
You never know where you may end up when you begin reading a book, or writing a paper.