If you want to improve a skill (playing a musical instrument, learning another language, hitting a golf or tennis ball, riding a bike, the list is endless), then you need sustained accurate practice.
Not surprisingly, the same is true for reading and yet the time we spend reading for pleasure (both adults and children) is steadily declining. From 2019 to 2020, the time people 15 years and older spent reading each day for leisure was 20 minutes (NCES, 2020). In the 15-19 year old age group it was only 8.5 minutes each day. 9 years olds had the most dramatic decline in reading with only 42% indicating that they read for fun every day compared to 53% in 2012.
It is known that there is a positive correlation between quantity of reading and reading proficiency, comprehension and vocabulary. Yet for sustained reading for leisure to occur, children need to enjoy reading. For children to enjoy reading they need to find it achievable. So, how do we get children started and engaged in this spiral?
Explicit teaching of reading skills
To improve in any endeavour (sport, music, mechanics), you need a good grasp of the underlying skills. Children who don’t have these skills need to be systematically and explicitly taught the written language code.
They then need structured, relevant practice so that the skills become automatic so they can automatically and accurately draw on them on demand, without conscious thought.
Once the basic skills have been mastered, they need to be applied in real life context. In sport, this would be playing an actual game. In music, it would be performing a tune. In cooking, it would be preparing a meal. In reading, it would be reading books for leisure.
To build stamina, to reduce fatigue and to ensure skill levels are maintained over a period of time requires significant quantities of quality practice over a sustained period of time. Initially, high levels of support are required to ensure skills are being executed correctly and a level of success is experienced. In reading this scaffolding could consist of:
- A parent reading the first chapter of a book to get the child ‘hooked’ into the story.
- From then on, each day:
- The child reads a page or so out loud to the parent.
- The child continues reading silently (begin with 5 minutes and gradually build to 15 minutes).
- The parent reads to the end of the chapter, plus one more chapter.
If the book is too difficult for the child to read independently, just leave out the silent reading component until the child’s reading improves.
As the child’s reading becomes more competent, reduce the amount of parent reading and increase the silent reading component.
Take opportunities at any time of the day, to pick up the book your child is reading and read some of it to them with no expectation that they will read any themselves. Try to stop at an exciting place so your child is left wanting to know what will happen and therefore be more likely to continue reading without prompting.
Take every opportunity to encourage your child to read at other times – when they complain of being bored, on rainy days, while waiting for appointments, while travelling…..For younger children, make it fun by using the Where Will I Read Tonight Activity.
Regularly take your child to the library, so they can select their own books.
Give your child books as presents and rewards. As an extra special treat, take your child to a book shop and allow them to choose their own book.
National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES). (2020). 2020 Long-term trend reading and mathematical assessment, National Assessment of Educational Progress.