“When I say to a parent, “read to a child”, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. ” — Mem Fox
Have you ever had a conversation with a teacher who describes your child as quiet and obedient, and you think “are we talking about the same child?” It seems to be a common theme when I talk to parents: our children act different at school or with a tutor than they do at home with us. And usually, away from us is more positive. So why should we, as parents, put forth the time and effort to learn how to successfully build our students’ reading skills when we know that they would likely listen better to someone else? Although this is a fair question, there are three reasons that we have to consider putting our apprehensions aside to work with our own children, and three ways that we can do so peacefully.
Reason #1: Nobody knows your child like you do. When I take on a new tutoring client, my first step is to send out a parent questionnaire. I want to know as much as possible about the child, and the best source for this is the parent. My second step is to ask if the child has a file of previous tutoring, report cards, teacher conference forms, etc. that I could look over. As a tutor, I am gathering as much information as I can to make sure that after I assess the child, I can put together a comprehensive plan for him or her. As the parent, you can skip this step because you inherently know far more than anyone else about your child. You know what they respond well to and what pushes them to respond negatively. You know what skills they had to work really hard on and what skills they learned quickly. You know their interests, sense of humor, and emotions better than anyone. And these elements are extremely vital in connecting with the child’s heart to develop the love of reading along with building the skills of reading. You, as the parent, have a special connection to your child that nobody else has, and this connection can be used to make a very successful reading intervention opportunity.
Reason #2: Flexibility and long term consistency. Although I suggest that when parents create a tutoring program for their child, they set a routine of specific days and times to work on reading, I also recognize that life is busy. Summers are filled with vacations and visitors, the fall calendar may contain swim lessons and soccer practice, while the spring calendar is overloaded with t-ball and piano lessons. Being your child’s teacher enables you to make a schedule that works for you. If you decide to go on vacation for a week, you can take your tutoring on vacation with you instead of missing a week with a tutor. In the same way, most tutors are hired for a short season, such as summer, or even one school year. While the child may make great progress in that period of time, your child may regress when tutoring sessions are suspended, and if he or she starts with a new tutor, they may have to backtrack a little before getting started and making progress again.
Reason #3: Hiring a tutor and working with your own child in reading are not mutually exclusive. You may decide that your child ultimately responds best to someone other than yourself, or that you already have a tutor who you trust with your child. As a tutor myself, I believe in the benefits of hiring a tutor. However, the most important priority is that you are working with your child in reading weather you also have a tutor working with him or her or not. In my tutoring experience, children of parents who were willing to learn intervention methods and work with their child at home made the fastest, most sustainable progress. The bottom line is, don’t rely solely on a tutor or teacher to be the only one working with your child in reading. You should be the primary reading teacher, and the tutors and teachers supplement that. (If you feel like you want this to be you but don’t know where to start or what to do, check out my e-courses and coaching options! I would be happy to point you in the right direction and give you confidence to work with your child.)
Okay, so you know the three reasons why it is important for you to “push through” your child’s difficult attitude to work with him or her in reading… let’s talk about three ways that you can do so the most peacefully.
No Tears Reading at Home Method #1: Give your child options. As adults, we wouldn’t be happy if someone gave us a specific book to read, took us away from whatever we enjoy doing at home, and made us sit down and read it. Our children feel the same way. We’ve discussed the power of allowing your child to choose their own books, and this is one of the reasons having a “treasure bag” is so important in convincing your child to read with you (and to enjoy it in the process! If there is one specific book you want your child to read for some reason, give the child the choice of reading that first or another book first. That way, they still have an option. Having choices is a teacher trick to help engage students, and you can use it too!
No Tears Reading at Home Method #2: Find a special spot. When I was in elementary school, I found out that one of my friends had gotten to “camp out” under her dad’s desk one night and I thought that sounded like the coolest idea in the world. Think like your child… where are some “cool spots” in your home that they may not typically spend time so that when they go to that place, they are automatically thinking about reading? The living room couch may not be the best place because it may make them think about the television. In the same way, the kitchen table may make them think more about eating. Maybe you have a hammock in the back yard, or a porch swing, an overstuffed chair that he or she never sits in, or a cozy cubby under your desk. Be creative because not only will that signal to your child’s brain that something new is happening, it will also engage them and make them more likely to want to participate. If you can’t find anywhere in the house, consider the possibility of having a standing date with your child at Starbucks or somewhere similar where he or she can look around and see others reading as well.
No Tears Reading at Home Method #3: Turn it into a game. As with most things, when something becomes fun, we want to do it more. Keep in mind that books need to be read at every reading session, but you can also include a game in each session. Make the game skill based for something your child is learning. For example, when your child has the wiggles but you need to work on sight words, take a piece of chalk outside and have them write the sight words on your sidewalk while jumping from word to word, calling them out.
Your willingness to work with your child is the first step, which you’ve already taken by reading this post! So pat yourself on the back for being an incredible parent, get yourself a little coffee or your drink of choice, and sit down to plan how you can use these tips to engage your child in some special reading time. If you accept this challenge, leave me a note about it! I can’t wait to hear!