Tips for reading with your child

In my previous post, I discussed Why we need to read to our children. Here, I will give some pointers on how to go about it. First, you need to find an appropriate book, both in terms of reading level and emotional readiness. Then you talk to them about the story so that they can find meaning and pleasure in their reading. This will go a long way in enabling them to be lifelong lovers of reading.

By encouraging your child to talk about the story, she will learn to think about what is being read, to process it, and to come to her own conclusions. For my first 4 kids, I didn’t know just how important it was to read to them and it was one of those things I would do when I ‘find the time’ (which as you know, never happens). When #5 was about 3, things were less chaotic and I had time to read to him every morning while the others were at school. I didn’t know there was an art to reading so I just picked up a book and read it straight through. Subsequently, when I learnt about conversational reading, I tried to draw him into a discussion. However, because he was not used to that way of reading, he kept asking me to stop talking and carry on reading. Occasionally I would try it again, but to no avail. I have decided that with Kate, I will start this once she is able to have a conversation with me, which should be about the age of 2 (but in an age-appropriate way, keeping it short and simple).

How to go about it?

  • Ask specific questions: Why did the boy look for the toy?
  • Ask general questions, to encourage your child to think: What do you think? What do you notice? 
  • Help your child see beyond the plot, that the story is not just about school, but that it is about friendship, loyalty and kindness.
  • Try to connect the story to something personal: Has it ever happened to you? What would you do in this situation? This can help the child to learn and to think through issues in a safe environment. You can also weave in some values, in a very subtle way.
  • Rephrase questions if the child does not respond, to make it easier for the child to understand.
  • Don’t over-do it. Don’t take the opportunity to launch into morales and turn it into a monologue.
Before you even open the book, talk about the cover, and predict what the story is about.
    Some good questions to ask:
    • What do you think this story is about just by looking at the cover?
    • Which character do you like/dislike?
    • Who is the most important character in the story?
    • Which character would you want to be your friend?
    • How do the characters change from the beginning of the story to the end?
    • Tell me the story in your own words.
    • How would the story be different if… ?
    • What would you do in this situation?
    • Do you like the ending of the story? If not, how would you end the story?
    As an added benefit, by guiding your child to read in this way, she will find it much easier for some components in English next time. In some schools, from the P1 level, their oral includes talking about the cover of a book. Your child would have had lots of practice in this area. 

    Besides reading together, continue to let your child read on her own as well. Make books accessible in your house. Don’t have them displayed high up on a shelf where it can’t be easily reached. Encourage your child to read a book more than once. The first time the book is read, the child is just grasping the plot. A subsequent reading will offer the opportunity for the child to pick up the subtleties of the story that may be missed on the first reading.

    How to choose an appropriate book for the child to read alone?

    Use the 5 finger rule. Get the child to read a page of the book. Every time she comes across an unfamiliar word, raise up 1 finger. If she raises more than 5 fingers in a page, that book is too difficult for her. Some of you may ask, what is wrong in letting her read difficult books? Wouldn’t it help her to improve faster? Yes, but when they are working too hard on the mechanics of reading, it becomes difficult for them to enjoy the story. You can read that aloud to her but get her an easier book for her own reading.
    Not all books are good books. Do be wary of language and content.

    Also be mindful of content and emotional readiness. I used to give free reign to my girls to choose their own books. After all, reading is good so the more they read the better, right? However, when I flipped through their books, especially the pink and glittery ones that my girls used to love, I realised that sometimes the subject matter is too advanced for them. For example, this girlish looking book might attract a 7 or 8 year old. However just by quickly flipping through the pages, I realised that the language is rather flippant, and it was all about boy-girl-relationships, crushes and flirting. The values raised in some other books for children may also not sit well with your own, such as letting divorce come across as normal or even cool, or that being the most popular girl in school at any expense is the right thing to do. Just when I started to wonder where to find good books, a friend recommended me an online site where a homeschooling mom ran a bookshop with good books. However, she has since shut it down as she had more kids and became too busy (which I can totally understand!).

    This book was written 85 years ago! I love letting my kids read such books.

    Sane tip: You don’t have to do this every single time you read to your child. It is better to leave this for the weekends when you are all more relaxed than to rush through this just for the sake of checking it off mentally in your head.

    Save tip: These techniques will go a long way in helping your child in her PSLE English oral next time, saving you money on tuition! There is also an increasing push towards speaking and communication vis-a-vis the written paper, so it is good to encourage your child to speak up more. It will also help in the comprehension component, whereby questions are asked on ‘Why do you think…?’ as your child is used to thinking about what she is reading.

    Related posts:

    6 tips to Really prepare your child for P1

    6 tips to get the most out of Parent-Teacher-Meetings

    ~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~