My Child Can Read - But Hates to Do It.

Published: 27th June 2010
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Maybe you're the parent of a child who can read. It's just that he or she doesn't want to!

Sometimes a child who could be a really good reader resists reading and shows no interest in reading for pleasure. Marilyn Kay, M. Ed., director of The Reading Group, a tutoring and remediation center in Urbana, IL, is helps foster a lifelong love of reading and books in her students, many of whom are reluctant readers. Here are Kay's suggestions:

1. Select a topic your child your child is really interested in.

All kids are passionate about something: the White Sox, Barbie Dolls, Pokemon cards. As you know, there are books about everything. Make a point of looking in the public library or local bookstore for books on your child's favorite topic at all reading levels. You can even include oversized picture books from the adult shelves (say, on maps or doll houses or airplanes). A boy I know who was preoccupied with knights and armor was so fascinated by large illustrated books on medieval warfare he started reading those books all by himself.

2. Strategically scatter the books around the house.

Once you've gotten a few of those "irresistible" books, casually scatter them around the house. One mother recently reported that her daughter picked up several books from the coffee table to "try out" and has already finished one of them. "If I'd handed it to her and asked her to read it, she would have resisted," said the mother.

3. Make library or bookstore trips a regular activity.

Begin taking your child to the bookstore or library to make his or her own choices. Make it a regular outing. It's fun to cultivate the friendship of the children's librarian or the bookstore owner, who can set aside special. Or you can surf the net together and buy books on-line through amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, which some kids will especially enjoy.

4. Make a chapter book exciting by reading the first few chapters aloud.

If your child is old enough to enjoy chapter books, try reading the first two or three chapters aloud. If you stop at the exciting parts, the child may get impatient and start reading ahead! The Box Car Children by Gertrude Warner is full of adventures and highlights qualities such as cooperation and initiative in children. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, The Hobbit by Tolkien, and the Harry Potter books are excellent for reading aloud. Of course, your child's responses can help you choose the books he or she will like the most.

5. Use a video to introduce a story.

Trying choosing a video and two or three different versions of a favorite children's classic, like The Wizard of Oz or Tom Sawyer. After watching the video, compare the different versions of the book with your child. How is the language the same and different? What about the illustrations? Which version does he or she like best, and why? How well did the movie-makers do in capturing the essence of the book? Read one of the books out loud to or with your child. Encourage conversations about how he or she pictures the characters and setting.

6. Set up an after-hours reading lamp in your child's bedroom.

Explain that the bedtime hour will stay the same, but reading in bed after the bedtime hour is fine. One mother reported that she gave her eight-year-old a flashlight for bedtime reading, and this semi-clandestine after-hours activity prompted a nightly ritual of reading for pleasure.

7. Help your child find ways to identify with story characters.

It's fun to act out scenes from stories or discussing how the character feels or looks. This Halloween you might want to encourage your child to dress up as a favorite storybook character. Learning to love a book comes naturally when a child can identify with a character.

8. Restrict TV watching.

The American Medical Association has warned parents of the negative effects of too much TV. They recommend that you reduce the amount of TV children watch and take control of the selection of programs. When our son Gordon was in middle school he started to watch TV three or four hours a night. The TV broke down, so we put it in the closet instead of taking it to the repair shop. Gordon was upset at first, but soon he started spending more time on his schoolwork and he began reading for pleasure. When we finally got the TV fixed, he was already in the habit of reading!

9. Be patient.

Keep in mind that some children have specific problems that make reading difficult. Be sure to continue reading to your child and giving pleasure through the ears! A tape player can help children enjoy books through listening.

When Is a Child Ready to Read?

When is a child ready to read? This question is too easily answered by saying, "Around the age of five or six." But brain development varies. Some children are ready earlier than others. "We researchers say that the brain needs to be able to hold a symbol in one position for reading," notes Edith Grotberg, Ph.D., developmental psychologist and former director of the Research and Evaluation Division, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, Washington, D.C.

What does "hold a symbol in one position" mean? Well, let's say a word starts with the letter 'b.' The child sees a straight line and a circle. To a child whose brain is not quite ready to hold the symbol in position, that letter could also be a 'p,' 'd,' 'q,' '6,' or '9.'

Think about this: Every object the child has already learned is the same object no matter what position it is in. A bottle is a bottle whether it's in the child's mouth or hand, in the refrigerator, or on the floor. A crayon is a crayon no matter what position it is in. Mom is Mom whether her back is turned or she's upside down doing a yoga pose. An alphabet letter is a new kind of object. The letters of the alphabet are the first things the child learns that change meaning when their components are in a different position!

Left-right and up-down are abstract concepts, too.

In order to read, the child has to know the difference between left and right, up and down. Thus, to differentiate between 'b,' 'p,' 'd,' 'q,' '6,' and '9,' his or her brain must be ready to grasp these abstract concepts.

You can help develop the understanding of these concepts by pointing out things on the left and right, such as: "Cars drive on the right side of the street." "At this corner we're turning left." "You just waved bye-bye with your left hand." "We read from left to right." Then it's a short step to saying (and having the child understand and internalize), "The 'b' has the circle on the right of the line." "The circle is on the left in the 'd.'

Over the last ten years, The Decade of the Brain, as it's been called, we have learned more about how the brain functions than in all the previous years put together. We have learned that the brain: is flexible and dynamic; changes constantly in response to experience and learning; grows in complexity and power as part of the developmental stages all humans go through.

The brain matures in developmental stages.The learning that takes place is determined by the child's developmental stage. Children let you know by their reactions if you are pushing beyond the limits of the developmental stage. And they will lead you.

Emotional Connectedness Is Part of Learning to Read.

Hand in hand with brain development is emotional connectedness. Many experts, including Edith Grotberg, Ph.D., developmental psychologist and former director of the Research and Evaluation Division, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, Washington, D.C., are big believers in this. In order to read, they assert, a child needs to feel the love and approval of an emotionally connected person -- usually a parent or teacher -- who shows joy and pride as the child masters letter position. This brain-emotional connectedness is also needed for mastering letter sequence: Is the word 'was' or 'saw'? Is it 'stop' or 'pots'? The same linkage is necessary with phrases and sentences.

The brain needs to recognize letters and words as symbols of things, actions, or emotions- and to connect with them. Emotionally, the young reader feels joy by identifying with the story's characters. He or she develops a flow with the story that integrates both thinking and feeling. Even when a child pretends to read a story that's been read out loud to him, that flow is developing. And this is the ultimate pleasure of reading - the flow of thoughts and feelings in the reader. But this does not usually happen until the ages or seven or eight.

It is almost impossible for a child to learn to differentiate letters, to hold them in position for reading, and to develop the flow of reading without a sense of pleasure. When a parent communicates a sense of urgency, a sense of anxiety for success, the child feels no joy; reading is a chore; it's no fun.

You can help make the learning-to-read experience a pleasure, part of play. With ample approval for success, you have the setting for learning. But be sure to respect the child's developmental stage, and let the child lead you.

In short, reading develops over time. There is no clear timetable; there does not need to be one. The brain and the emotions determine that. And emotionally connected people - like you - encourage the process.

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