Every successful adult can read for meaning. You are reading this article because you are one of these individuals and you are wanting the same for your child.
Learning to read is a huge task involving large amounts of brain power and concentration. Many children struggle and easily lose motivation and confidence. If this is your child, there are many things you can do to help them stay motivated and enjoy reading – even if they struggle.
One simple thing you can do is to encourage your child to read anything they have chosen to read. This is the power of going to the library or bookstore, even the bookshelf at home, and selecting what they want to read. At school the teacher decides what they must read. They have no choice; and so the only motivation to read is driven by consequence – if I don’t read this book I will get into trouble. It therefore encourages and motivates a child if they are given a choice of what to read. I want to read this book. I can read this book.
However, it is equally important that they choose a book that is at the correct reading level for them. There are three basic reading levels – their independent reading level, their instructional reading level, and their frustration level.
What they read should offer a balance between support (to build their confidence) and challenge (that requires them to do some thinking about what it is they are reading).
According to research, the right level is one where the child can read nine out of ten words and understand the text quite easily (Clay, 1991a).
A text at the child’s independent reading level is easy to read
When reading aloud, they should only stumble over roughly one word out of 100 and should be able to answer all comprehension questions about the story. These texts are used for independent reading to build confidence and create a sense of mastery and enjoyment. Allow your child to read these stories as many times as they want as this builds confidence and allows reading to be fun.
A text at the child’s instructional reading level is not easy to read
They will need help from a teacher or skilled reader to read these texts. These texts help children learn new words and practise skills. When reading aloud, they should struggle with two to five words out of 100. They should read with 95% accuracy and should be able to answer 80% of simple recall comprehension questions. If the text used here is too difficult, a child will start to feel frustrated and lose motivation.
A text at the child’s frustration reading level is too difficult to read
A text at the child’s frustration reading level is too difficult to read, even with support. When reading aloud they will struggle with more than five words out of 100. They will be able to answer 70% or less of the comprehension questions. Texts at this level must be avoided because they erode a child’s confidence and sense of reading enjoyment.
Create opportunities for your child to read for the simple pleasure of it. There is researched evidence that children who read for enjoyment every day perform better in reading tests such as PIRLS (The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). These children also develop a stronger vocabulary because they are more motivated to read. This means that they will read more words than a child who is not reading anything beyond their school homework. Anyone needs to come across a word at least sixteen times before they remember it. So, the more you read the more practice you have in reading a word and putting meaning to it – therefore you have a stronger vocabulary. A strong vocabulary means you put meaning to words automatically so you use less brain power to read. This opens up brain power to concentrate on understanding what you are reading which leads to better comprehension skills.
Children who read for pleasure also have a better general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. Most reading assessments make use of non-fiction texts and not texts that tell a story. Having a more developed worldview means your child brings knowledge to what they are reading and so have a better chance of understanding the text. Reading for pleasure also has social benefits and can make people feel more connected to a wider community. Reading increases a person’s understanding of their own identity, improves empathy and gives them an insight into the worldview of others – all desirable attributes for any successful person.
It goes without saying that children who enjoy reading are more motivated to do well at school. This is because everything they do at school involves reading. To give your child the best possible academic advantage, encourage them to read without any pressure of performance. Instead, encourage them to read just for the pleasure of it.