Christmas Reading Advent

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Celebrate Reading with your children this Holiday Season!

Raise your hand if you are like me and believe that this truly is the most wonderful time of the year!  I can’t get enough of the Christmas traditions that my parents raised me on, along with creating new traditions for my own little family.  I wanted to share one simple way to bring the love of reading into your pre-Christmas or Holiday festivities!

If you’ve ever had an advent calendar you know how exciting it is to see what each day holds as you count down to Christmas.  When I was little, this was a calendar with a chocolate candy on each day and I couldn’t wait to open it!  As parents, we can grow our child’s excitement for reading by creating a Christmas advent.  Here’s how simple it is:

Wrap up ten Christmas books.  They don’t have to be new books, and they can even be library books if you don’t have enough Christmas books at home.  Each day, have your child unwrap a book, snuggle down and read it with you.  Chances are, your child will grow to LOVE this tradition and the books that you are reading together, and will eagerly anticipate reading the same books next year.

If you decide this is something you really want to do next year, make sure to look for sales on Christmas books after the season this year!  To celebrate, I’m going to share a few of my favorite Christmas books below.  If you have any other Christmas books you or your children love, make sure to comment on our facebook page so I can add them to the list!

And a tip for older children:  Find a Christmas chapter book (like this one), count the number of chapters, and make the advent reading one chapter a night until Christmas day.

If you decide to accept this challenge, make sure to tell me about it in the comments below!  Have a wonderful Holiday Season and happy reading!

 

My top 10 favorite Christmas books:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree

Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present

Polar Express

The Wild Christmas Reindeer

Gingerbread Baby

The Biggest Snowman Ever

The Christmas Wish

Bear Stays up for Christmas

The Mitten

Special thanks to @babyatplay on Instagram for the idea!

The BEST Books

This week, the world of children’s literature celebrated two beloved authors.

Anna Dewdney, author of the Llama Llama books passed away at the age of 50 from brain cancer.  Her simple request- instead of a funeral, celebrate her life by reading to a child. You can read more here.

Roald Dahl, author of classics such as Matilda and James and the Giant Peach would have been 100 years old this week.  You can read more about him here.

In honor of these two beloved authors, let’s start a conversation about the BEST books to read.  I find that parents are often looking for new books to introduce to their kids, so as a community of parents who want to help their children love reading, let’s join together to create a list of the best books for every age!  Leave a comment on our facebook page and I will compile the list in a future blog post!

Happy Reading!

 

Could My Child Have Dyslexia?

Could My Child Have Dyslexia blog graphic

When I’m asked to tutor a child, it’s extremely common for a parent to ask me if I think the child could have dyslexia.  Having worked with many children with dyslexia in my intervention experience, I do have an understanding of some common characteristics and some common myths that I am able to share with the parent.  I try to keep my blog posts from sounding like research papers, but this one may be slightly more technical as I explain in the most understandable terms what the Texas Dyslexia Handbook says about the reading disability.  Let’s pretend you are my neighbor, and you see me going for a walk with my family and pull me aside to ask if your child could be dyslexic.  Here is the information I would explain to you:

First, I would ask you why you think your child may be dyslexic.  If it’s because he/she reverses letters or writes as if he/she is looking into a mirror, I would tell you that this is a common dyslexia myth…

Mirror writing and letter reversing are not necessarily characteristics of dyslexia.  When parents see that a child struggles with writing letters correctly, or is reversing a letter such as b and d, it is common for them to think it could be a characteristic of dyslexia.  This is not necessarily the case.  In many cases, this may be developmental.  It is very normal for a child as young as kindergarten or first grade to reverse letters or get them confused during reading.

If you mention that your child seems to be struggling in all subjects in school, I would tell you that this is another common dyslexia myth.  In fact, schools use the term “unexpectedness” to explain that a child with dyslexia will likely be really good in subjects unrelated to reading or writing, such as math.  Students with dyslexia are generally very intelligent, so one would expect the student to also be a good reader and writer.  When they struggle with these two subjects, the school would say that the reading and writing difficulty is “unexpected” and they would consider this a characteristic that may indicate dyslexia (if it occurs along with other factors.)

What other factors could indicate dyslexia? When your child is being evaluated for dyslexia, you would likely be asked if your child:

  • Struggles with spelling
  • Reads slowly
  • Has difficulty understanding what they read, but understands books that are read to them
  • Avoids writing
  • Has family members who have been identified as dyslexic (that’s right, it can be genetic!)
  • Was a delayed speaker
  • Has difficulty “sounding out” words, hearing all of the sounds in words, and being able to put sounds together to make words
  • Struggles to remember the names of letters and their sounds
  • Has difficulty rhyming (for young children)
  • Has difficulty recognizing common sight words

 Dyslexia is identified using a series of formal assessments.  In the state of Texas, these assessments look at spelling and a child’s ability to sound out words and hear the different sounds in each word (for example, if I say the sounds for the letters “d o g” slowly, the child is able to recognize those sounds together as the word “dog.”)  As a public school reading specialist, I could generally administer these assessments in a few hours, but it may take several days or weeks to get the school committee to decide whether the student should receive dyslexia services.

  • If this sounds like your child, have a conversation with his/her teacher and request dyslexia testing. 
  • As the parent, you have the right to request testing from the school district. 
  • The earlier a student can be identified for dyslexia, the earlier they can receive interventions and begin to improve their reading. 
  • Make sure that you are using the resources of this website to work on reading with your child at home in addition to the work that a dyslexia interventionist may do. 

Most importantly, if your child does seem to match these characteristics, I want to reassure you that he or she is going to be okay.  I have seen dyslexia intervention programs make HUGE progress with students, and students with dyslexia often go on to being very successful in life.  

Feel like you need more information?  Check out my article “My Child Has Dyslexia- What Does That Mean?” for information on what to do if your child does have dyslexia.

It should also be noted that the criteria to qualify for dyslexia varies depending on what state you live in.  The information on qualifying factors is for the state of Texas specifically.

Resource: The Dyslexia Handbook, Texas Education Agency (2014)

How to Help Children Understand What They Read

 

How to help children understand what they read

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” — Paul Sweeney

This is probably the top complaint I hear from parents and children, and arguably, understanding what you read is the most important part of reading.  Who would want to sit and stare at meaningless words for hours?  In order to grow to love reading and to get good at it, we have to understand what we read.  It can be a complex issue because it could be caused by a number of factors.  However, with just a little “detective work,” you can easily discover why your child is struggling and unlock the love of reading for them by helping them understand what they read.

Note: I will use the term “reading comprehension” in this article to explain the idea of understanding what one reads.

Young Children (before mid-year first grade)

When a child is very young and still developing the ability to “sound out words” to read, their focus is on figuring out what the word says.  This makes it very difficult to spend any mental energy on thinking about what the words mean.  This is totally normal for this age.  As a matter of fact, experts call this the “learning to read” stage, indicating that comprehension is not of utmost importance when they are reading words themselves at this point.  This is another reason it is so important for your child to have the opportunity to hear you read to him/her too.  At this age, listening comprehension is extremely important.  (This is the ability for someone to understand what is read to them.)

When you’re reading to your children, your instinct may be to ask them questions that can be answered by paying attention to the book.  For example, if the book says “Kitty went to school” your question may be “Where did Kitty go?”  Although these are questions you can ask to make sure your child is paying attention and listening, much more valuable questions are those in which your child has to think about the book and apply it to his/her own life.  Using the above example again, a quality question may be “How do you think Kitty felt when she went to school?”  These questions give your child the opportunity to think about how they felt when they first went to school, and apply that understanding to how Kitty may feel.  Practicing these types of questions will help build networks of reading comprehension in their sweet little brains that will pay off forever!

Mid-Elementary Children (end of first grade through third grade)

This is the age that students are transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”  Depending on the book they are reading, they may fall in one camp or the other.  Because reading skills are still rapidly developing at this age, it is very important to have children practice reading books they are interested in.  If they are reading a book of interest, they already have some background knowledge on the topic which will help them understand the book.  If they spend a heavy amount of time (at least 20 minutes daily) reading a book of interest, it will help them to develop pathways in their brains to understand other books that they read that may not be of interest.

When your child is reading a book on a topic that may be too complicated for them, take a second to talk about some of the words and concepts before reading.  This helps them to develop an understanding of the topic before trying to read it, which leads to better comprehension and memory of what has been read.  Again, a key at this age is to practice reading and having discussions about books.  As mentioned above, make sure that when you are reading with your child, you are asking questions that allow them to apply the book to their own lives or to something they have seen or heard before.  Another example is if you are reading a book in which a character wins a race, but you have recently seen a movie where the main character loses a race, you could say “How is this book different than the movie we saw?” and have a discussion about how the characters felt in each situation and how the different endings affected the story.

Upper Elementary (third-fifth grade)

This is the period of time in which reading comprehension really matures.  Students may be asked in school to read passages or textbooks and recall or study information for tests or class projects.  This is the age that I first introduce taking notes in the margins of reading for this purpose.  (If it is a book that you cannot write in, sticky notes are perfect.)  I tell students at this age that when they are reading something very carefully, they stop every 3-5 sentences, ask themselves “What was this part about?” and write a few words in the margin (or on a sticky note) and put it next to those sentences.  This is valuable for a few reasons.  1) when they have finished reading, they can review all of their notes and have a pretty well written summary of the text, which can help if they are asked to summarize the text.  2) If they need to locate something that happened in the story, they can look back through their notes instead of having to re-read the entire passage.  And most importantly 3) if they are unable to write a few words about what the sentences they read were about, they likely didn’t understand it, and this signals to them that they need to re-read.  The beauty of number 3 is that often, children grow up being very comfortable with reading words that they don’t understand, finishing the passage or story, and having no idea at all what they just read.  If we don’t correct this bad habit at this age, it will continue to be an issue all the way through college, and it will cause deeper and deeper problems with reading.  It is so important for children to recognize when they are confused during reading and practice fixing it. If you tell a child at this age that if they are not able to write a few words about the sentences that they read, they need to re-read it more slowly and make sense of it, or ask for help, they will learn to read more carefully and their overall understanding of what they read will improve.

Middle School/High School

In most cases, reading becomes much more functional and less of a hobby at the middle school and high school ages.  Students are asked to read in order to gain information, and when they read fiction it is for the purpose of analyzing it for deeper understanding.  The latter is where those conversations you had with your children when they are young about how their reading applies to themselves or something they have heard of or read before really help.  Whether they are reading fiction or non-fiction, for the purpose of analyzing or learning new information, it is very important that students are comfortable with taking notes as they read.  If you haven’t already, read the section above about writing in the margins or on sticky notes every few sentences.  As students get older and more skilled, they can expand this to taking notes every paragraph or at every section header.  Again, if they are unable to think of what to write, they need to stop and re-read it more slowly to make sense of it, or ask for help. Kids at this age do not naturally enjoy this note taking because it feels like more work, so you have to be the best salesman you can be to convince them that it’s actually less work in the long run, and more efficient.

College

Many times, students do not realize that they struggle with reading until they are in college.  I fell into this category my freshman year when I was given loads of reading assignments, and no matter how much time I spent reading, I wasn’t able to answer questions about it later.  Everything in high school had come so easily to me, I never had to put forth the effort to take the steps outlined above for note taking during reading.  I had to learn these systems and once I did, I became a much more efficient reader and better student. So again, the answer here is in the bold letters above.  And again, as a student becomes more comfortable with this process, they can begin to take notes on entire paragraphs or sections as they go.  I recommend this far above highlighting.  Students at this age are tempted to mindlessly highlight as they read because it makes them feel like they have some type of documentation of reading, but because highlighting simply brings out the words already written in the text, it doesn’t simplify it for the reader like taking notes on the reading does.

Important side note

The age groupings above are generalities. Unfortunately, I have known several college students who needed guidance in comprehension on the upper elementary level, and even some elementary students who were ready for instruction on the high school level.  I recommend reading the entire article to determine where your child fits best, even if it isn’t in their “age” category.  If you are a parent of a young child, I recommend reading the entire article with this in mind: Helping your children now by having book discussions and asking abstract questions will help them later on when they are trying to understand more complicated texts as older readers.  What you do now makes an impact on tomorrow!

I would love to know if any of you try these ideas! Please leave a comment if you accept this challenge and let me know how your child has grown as a result!

 

Happy Reading!

My College Textbooks Don’t Make Sense and I Can’t Remember What I’ve Read! Easy Tips for a frustrated student and concerned parents.

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This is a topic that isn’t discussed enough among the general public, in my opinion.  We assume that because a child has been accepted to college and has done well in high school, they should be fine with the academic load, aside from the natural transitional time.  However, the first semester in college particularly can be extremely difficult for even the brightest students.  In addition, many students are unable to pass the required state reading exams, which require them to attend a developmental reading course each semester until the test is passed.  Both situations can pose a problem for college retention, but the good news is, both situations can be fixed if the student receives quality reading instruction.

When we think of reading instruction, we often think of small children, but older children need it just as much, and can often times make progress even more quickly.  Several years ago, I took a job working with student-athletes at Texas A&M who came to college without being fully ready for the reading requirements.  By meeting with these students on-on-one, two to three times each week, I was able to see these students go from significantly behind college level to functioning very well in college and even graduating.  In fact, our data showed that they were able to improve by 2.5 grade levels every semester.  The unfortunate news is that there are few programs like this that exist in college.  The majority of colleges and universities groups students into lecture halls in which general reading skills are taught, which can be beneficial, but the power behind the progress my students made came from an assessment-driven program, where I knew the strengths and weaknesses of every student and was able to spend time teaching based on exactly what I found as their reading deficits.

So how do we apply this idea to your son or daughter who is struggling with reading in college?  I’m going to give you a few of my secrets to college reading success that I discovered as I worked with my students.  A word of warning, these tips will make the reading process take a little longer if they are done correctly, but because they will be understanding what they read, it will be a far better use of time than racing through words without understanding.

  1. All college students can benefit from a “read and note” method. The majority of college textbook reading is “non-fiction” or informational.  The other category would be if a student is taking an English literature class and has an assigned fiction text.  Either way, it is very important that students are comfortable with taking notes as they read.  Here’s the read and note method: When they are reading something very carefully, they stop every 3-5 sentences, ask themselves “What was this part about?” and write a few words in the margin (or on a sticky note) and put it next to those sentences.  This is valuable for a few reasons.  1) when they have finished reading, they can review all of their notes and have a pretty well written summary of the text 2) If they need to locate something that happened in the story, they can look back through their notes instead of having to re-read the entire passage.  And most importantly 3) if they are unable to write a few words about what the sentences they read were about, they likely didn’t understand it, and this signals to them that they need to re-read just those few sentences.  The beauty of number 3 is that oftentimes, children grow up being very comfortable with reading words that they don’t understand, finishing the passage or story, and having no idea at all what they just read.  This is a habit that has to be broken in order to be a successful college reader.  As students get more comfortable with this method, they can instead take notes every paragraph or at every section header.  If they are unable to think of what to write, they need to stop and re-read it more slowly to make sense of it, go back in class lecture notes to read the section on the same topic, or ask for help.  Another advantage of “read and note” is that in taking the time to stop and consider what he/she has read and write it down, it improves memory retention of the information, which will contribute to easier studying later.
  2. All college students can benefit from comparing reading to class notes. Instead of reading before lecture, if the student reads after the lecture, he or she already has some background knowledge on the topic from the class discussion. This is helpful in those cases where the subject is completely unknown information to the student. Another method that can boost comprehension significantly is if the student opens his/her notes from class, reads a portion, then finds in the textbook where it talks about that information.  After reading that, the student can do the “read and note” method above.
  3. All college students can benefit from reading for enjoyment. If someone would have told me this in college, I would have laughed and said “when would I have time for that?” Now, as a mom, I look back on that time and laugh thinking about how much free time I actually had compared to what I have now.  Regardless, the more you read, the better you get at it.  It’s as simple as that.  College is a time that you really want all your reading muscles strengthened, and that can be done in really fun ways.  It can be a Sports Illustrated or Vogue magazine, Bible study, book for enjoyment, anything.  Just make sure that you read every day to build those reading muscles.  You can also practice the “read and note” method above  with your fun reading so that it comes easier when you are reading assigned texts.
  4. Some college students need remedial reading instruction at much lower levels. The above three steps will help ALL students, and will be all that most students will need. However, students who have been struggling readers their entire lives (whether they realize it or not), will need to receive reading instruction on their level.  This requires an assessment of needs to determine where the student’s weaknesses are and interventions accordingly.  If this is you or your child, please look into my coaching options so that I can develop a plan to help you or your child catch up to college level.  As I mentioned above, it is entirely possible!

Any college reading success stories!  I would love to hear them in the comment section below!

Happy Reading!

My Middle School/High School Child Struggles with Reading for School

older children reading struggle blog graphic

We often think of reading as a child issue, but realistically, many students leave elementary school as struggling readers.  This can happen for many reasons.  Maybe your child has a reading disability such as dyslexia, or maybe they moved from one school to another and during that time, they missed some information that hadn’t been taught at their previous school and had already been taught at their new school.  (This is especially true if a child moves from one state to another or out of the country.)  Maybe he/she had a year in which his/her teacher didn’t know the best methods to help them catch up, leaving them even further behind.  Regardless of the reason, it is most important that you intervene now.  The earlier you start to help your child catch up, the better chance they have to succeed in school and in reading beyond this point.  The worst thing you can do is ignore it, or leave it to the school alone to deal with.  Even if your child’s school has an incredible intervention plan in place, your struggling reader still needs practice at home.  I’ve also found that reading intervention opportunities decrease significantly once a child leaves elementary school, so if your child is older than sixth grade, you may have to shoulder the responsibility for their reading intervention. Don’t be intimidated by this, I can help you create a plan to guide them to success.  Here are a few general tips to help you get started!

  1. Have your child read for fun. This may be a significant challenge at this age because reading sometimes has a reputation for being “uncool,” and this is the age in which “cool” is so very important. You just have to be sneaky about how you get them to read by helping them find something they love.  Maybe it’s a Sports Illustrated magazine or celebrity gossip magazine.  There are also so many series for teenagers, and if you can get your child hooked into a series, that will provide motivation for an extended period of time.  Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, The Selection are some of the most popular.  If these books are too hard for your child to read alone, it is still okay for you to read to them or with them.  That may be really sweet time for you to spend with your child.  Another option is audio books.  Thankfully, technology today allows us to have access to audio files on our mobile devices or electronic notebooks so that your child can listen to a book anywhere he/she is.  This has two valuable implications if done correctly.  1)  It brings them into the conversation that other students are having about books and 2)  It improves their word recognition, reading speed ( called fluency) and comprehension.  The important thing here is that the student has a copy of the book in front of him/her as he/she is listening to the audio book.  There is some audiobook software that puts the text on the screen as it is spoken (learningally.com is the one I am most familiar with), but it is easy to just download the book and buy a hard copy of it as well.
  2. Teach them to use the “read and note” method when reading for school. This may be a struggle to convince them to do now, but if they learn it now, they will be much more successful readers in the future. (Arguably, even more successful than their peers with whom reading has always come naturally.) Here’s the read and note method: When reading something very carefully for school, they stop every 3-5 sentences, ask themselves “What was this part about?” and write a few words in the margin (or on a sticky note) and put it next to those sentences.  This is valuable for a few reasons.  1) when they have finished reading, they can review all of their notes and have a pretty well written summary of the text 2) If they need to locate something that happened in the story, they can look back through their notes instead of having to re-read the entire passage.  And most importantly 3) if they are unable to write a few words about what the sentences they read were about, they likely didn’t understand it, and this signals to them that they need to re-read just those few sentences.  The beauty of number 3 is that oftentimes, children grow up being very comfortable with reading words that they don’t understand, finishing the passage or story, and having no idea at all what they just read.  This is a habit that has to be broken in order to be a successful college reader.  As students get more comfortable with this method, they can instead take notes every paragraph or at every section header.  If they are unable to think of what to write, they need to stop and re-read it more slowly to make sense of it, go back in class lecture notes to read the section on the same topic, or ask for help.  Another advantage of “read and note” is that in taking the time to stop and consider what has been read and writing it down, it improves memory retention of the information, which will contribute to easier studying later.
  3. Your child may benefit from remedial reading instruction. Oftentimes, if students have “gaps” in reading knowledge, those gaps do not improve until instruction has filled them in. This requires an assessment of needs to determine where the student’s weaknesses are and interventions accordingly.  If this is you or your child, please look into my coaching options so that I can develop a plan to help you or your child catch up to college level.  It is entirely possible to help them to catch up by strengthening their reading skills, and the earlier you start, the better chance your child has at reading improvement!

Leave a comment if you have a child who has benefitted from any of these tips!

Happy Reading!

 

My Child Has Dyslexia- What Does This Mean?

My Child Has Dyslexia-What does that mean blog graphic

In my former position as a dyslexia interventionist, I treasured the responsibility of being able to sit beside parents of children who had been identified as dyslexic and ease their concerns by explaining exactly what dyslexia is and how we could provide interventions to help.  I always felt that at the end of our conversations, parents left with a better understanding of dyslexia, and the peace of knowing that their children were going to be okay.  That’s where I am with this blog post today.  If you know your child has dyslexia (or if you are concerned that he or she may), I want you to pull your seat up next to me and let me teach you about dyslexia and how it affects your child, and give you any reassurance that you need.  My hope is that when you finish reading this post, you will know your child better, and feel confident in being able to help them with reading at home in addition to understanding the dyslexia interventions they should receive at school.

There are three parts to reading: decoding, which is “sounding out” words, comprehension, which is understanding what you read, and fluency, which is how quickly you read.  Although students with dyslexia may struggle in all three areas, the underlying issue is decoding.  Because they are unable to figure out what a word says, it slows down their reading, and causes issues with understanding what they have read.  Simply stated, dyslexia is a reading difficulty in which students struggle to sound out words, spell words, hear similarities in words, and manipulate words.

If you haven’t already, check out my post about what dyslexia is and what it isn’t. To briefly review, if your child has dyslexia, you may notice the following characteristics of their reading:

  • Slow reading speed
  • Difficulty spelling
  • Difficulty understanding books that they read themselves (This is because the child gets so focused on figuring out what the word is, he/she loses the mental focus to think about what the story is about.)
  • Avoids writing
  • Difficulty “sounding out” words
  • Difficulty recognizing common sight words

These are the areas that a dyslexia intervention program typically addresses, but there are things you can do at home as well to support your child’s reading growth. It’s like if your daughter made the basketball team, and you know that when she is at school, she is receiving great instruction in basketball from her coaches.  Still, when she gets home, you likely have the expectation that she should continue to practice.  The same goes for dyslexia, or reading in general.  Your children are likely getting quality instruction at school, but they will improve far more if you work with them at home as well.

Here are a few things you can do at home to help your child with dyslexia improve reading:

  • Read, read, read, and read some more. Read a lot.  If he/she does not enjoy reading, read TO him/her.  Make it a fun, shared experience together.  Just make sure you spend time reading every night. (See my post on Treasure Bags for more ideas on making this fun!)
  • Look closely at words and talk about how they’re put together- As you are reading, notice characteristics about words. For example, for a younger child, you could say “this letter starts with C, just like C in your name, Carter!”  You may also notice patterns in the book such as “look, all of these words end with ing!”
  • Make writing a natural and fun part of your home life- together with your child, create a habit of writing in a journal every night. It can start simple with writing one sentence about your day, or writing one thing you’re thankful for.  You can have your child write your grocery list, write a letter to a relative, or write a joke.  The key is, make sure your child is writing every day.  Resist the urge to focus on spelling.  In fact, I wouldn’t even correct it in this setting.  Write for the sake of writing, and practice spelling when it’s time to practice spelling.
  • Practice sight words frequently in a fun way- one mom I know has a stack of sight words in her car that her child practices every time he is in the car. You can also post 5-10 around the house in places that your child frequently sees, and have him/her call out the words each time he/she walks by one.  You can also have your child write sight words in chalk on the driveway/sidewalk and call them out as they jump around on them.
  • Most importantly, a positive attitude about reading in your home will impact your child. Children who are positively motivated can learn the skills needed to compensate for their dyslexia.  This is another reason it is important to allow your child to choose his/her own books.

Spelling:

A heavy emphasis in a dyslexia program is likely spelling rules.  It would be wonderful if you could also take the time to learn a few common spelling rules so that you can discuss with your child why words are spelled the way they are.  I have an e-course coming soon on spelling rules if you need a refresher.  The reason spelling tends to be so difficult for dyslexic students is because students with dyslexia struggle significantly with what educators call “decoding” skills, which simply means the ability to look at a letter, associate it with the sound it makes, and blend it with the other sounds to make a word.  The opposite is true as well.  It is much harder for students with dyslexia to hear a word and be able to separate it into the sounds it consists of and associate those sounds with letters (what we naturally do when we spell.)  This is why knowing the rules for spelling is a great tool they can keep in their back pockets to help account for this difficulty.  Dyslexia cannot be cured, but children can learn the skills that they need to compensate for it.

Your child may have dyslexia, but he/she can absolutely still become a strong reader.  Reading comes very naturally for many children, and others have to really work at it.  Either way, both children can be equally successful.

 

My Child Works Better With Someone Else

Working with your child in reading blog graphic

“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!

 

Happy Reading!

 

Treasure Bags- Making Reading at Home FUN

Treasure bags Blog Graphic

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” — Walt Disney

We’ve talked about how important it is to model a love of reading for your children, and to show that reading is valued in your home.  One way to do this is through creating treasure bags with your child.

A treasure bag is simply a bag that your child can use to carry his or her “stack” of books. For a younger child who is reading picture books, you would want them to carry anywhere from seven to ten books in the treasure bag at all times. Children who are reading chapter books can have two to three in their bags, and they may also want to mix in a picture book or two as well.  These books can be exchanged from either your home or public library at a set interval of time (for example, every Monday.)  See below for an explanation of the importance of keeping the same books for a set period of time.

Colten Treasure Bag

Creating Your Treasure Bags

This is a cost-effective project that you can make as crafty or as simple as your personality desires!  I started with a blank canvas bag from Hobby Lobby, but you could use something as simple as a reusable shopping bag.  (You do want to make sure your bag is made of a material that can take a little wear and tear, as books can be heavy and your plan is to allow your child to tote these along with them.)  Have a special moment where you celebrate with your child that they are old enough now to get a treasure bag, and make one for yourself if you don’t already have one!

Two important elements on your treasure bag decorations are: 1- Your child’s name and 2- pictures or designs that they love.  For example, if your child loves basketball, let him or her draw pictures of basketballs on the book bag.

You can create a simple design with markers on the canvas bags, or you can get creative and iron or glue on objects.  Just make sure that anything you glue on is large enough that your child, or another child, cannot choke on them if they fall off.

Filling Your Treasure Bags

This is another opportunity to get excited with your child about reading! You may want to say something like “I am SO EXCITED that today we are going to get to fill your book bags with books for you to read all week from the library!”  Give your child a certain number of books to look for (again, I recommend 7-10 for a young child, 2-3 if your child is into chapter books) and allow them to “shop” for books that interest them.

Choosing Books

Allow your children to choose books they are interested in.  Give them the opportunity to explore multiple genres so they can discover what they enjoy reading.  Take them to the non-fiction and the fiction section.  Talk about what the differences are, and suggest they choose books from both parts of the library.  It is okay for children to choose 1-2 books that are too easy or too hard for them, but make sure they have 3-4 books that are on their “just right” level.  An easy way to discover what books are just right for them is to open the book, let them read a page or two, and if they stumble over more than five words, it may be too hard.  Again, that doesn’t mean they can’t choose this book, but make sure they choose a few that are also “just right.”  Teach your kids how to examine the appropriateness of the book by having conversations as you count the words they cannot immediately identify, so that after you have repeated this process for a few weeks, children should be able to determine what books are just right for them without your assistance.  This is a process I used in my first grade classroom, so students as young as six years old are able to do this if they are taught how.

Keeping Books

A child’s first instinct is to read through a book, put it away, and choose a new one.  The problem with this habit is that the child misses many opportunities offered by the book by only reading it once.  If your child has 7-10 picture books as we previously mentioned that they read repeatedly for a week, the benefits are:

  • Opportunities to familiarize themselves with sight words- becoming familiar with the text helps associate a spoken word to the written word, which grows your child’s sight word base
  • Opportunities to build fluency- The more familiar your child is with a text, the more he or she is able to read it at a normal talking speed, which is our goal for reading speed. Repeated readings build fluency.
  • Opportunities for deeper comprehension- Just as watching a movie more than once brings deeper reflection and understanding of the complexities, reading a book multiple times offers the same benefit.  One of our goals of comprehension is to make connections to other texts or to our own lives.  The first time a child reads a text they may be focused on decoding more than comprehending, and so the additional readings open up his or her thought capacities to make these deep connections and applications.

Loving Your Treasure Bags

Find at least 20 minutes a day for your children to spend reading his or her treasure bag.  Allow them to find a cozy place in the house where they love to read, and take the opportunity to model reading yourself during this time if possible.  Make this a special time… read together, sit together and read independently, sit in a hammock or on the porch swing, sit under a dark desk and read with a flashlight, or cuddle down in bed.

The Value of Treasure Bags

I’m going to venture to say that in my opinion, time spent in independent reading may be the most important variable in helping grow your children’s reading skills.  The treasure bag is a method for making it exciting for children, giving the opportunity to choose what they read, and for encouraging repeated reading of texts.  It may seem that this is trivial, but if you are serious about improving your children’s reading skills, I believe this is foundational.  If you choose to use this time to read along with your children, (especially on those books that they choose that are a little too hard for them to read independently) it is a great opportunity to teach decoding and comprehension skills as well.

If you decide to take this step towards building strong reading skills in your child, please send us a picture of your treasure bag or of your children reading from their bag.  We can’t wait to hear about the growth your child is going to make simply from this fun task.

Happy reading and treasure bag decorating!

Choosing What to Read with your Child

Choosing What to Read With Your Child blog graphic

I commonly hear parents ask “How do I know what books my children should read?”  Many are concerned about getting books on the appropriate “reading level.”  While the idea of reading levels should not be entirely dismissed, we also want to make sure that we are not overly concerned about choosing a book for a child based on an arbitrary grade level reference assigned to that book.

I grew up loving to read.  Baby Sitter’s Little Sister, Sweet Valley Twins, and Boxcar Children were as close to me as a sibling, and played almost as significant a role in my upbringing.  My parents did an incredible job of reading to me, modeling the love of reading, providing for my reading needs by taking me to the library once a week and entering me in summer reading contests.  If you would have asked me as a child what my hobbies were, I would have told you reading was number 1, right along with baking in the kitchen with my mom.

This was true until eighth grade when our school introduced a program which involved an assessment to determine each child’s reading level and required that we only get books with the colored dot that corresponded to our reading level.  Suddenly, the world of literacy shrunk down significantly to just a few shelves which may or may not have held books that interested me.  I quickly went from loving to hating reading.  It wasn’t until I became a first grade teacher that I discovered my love for literacy again.  Those colored dots extinguished something beautiful in my mind, and I am passionate about preventing that from happening to our children.

Children should choose books based on their interests.

Does your child love bugs?  Let her or him check out a non-fiction text with pictures and diagrams and facts!  How about solving mysteries?  Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys are still great series to share with children, as well as Cam Jansen and other more modern series.  The bottom line is, find something they love and give them a book about it.  They will naturally transfer their love to that book as well, which begins to instill a love of reading.

What if the book is too difficult for my child to read?

Even if a book is too difficult, children are more likely to work to decode words if the subject holds their interest.  If it’s a subject they are already familiar with, they already have a framework of understanding which aids in comprehension, even if the text is on a higher level than they would be able to comprehend on a different subject.

This is also an opportunity to create a reading memory with your child.  Read the book along with them, be ready to explain concepts that are confusing and help them decode words that they are unfamiliar with.

What if the book is too easy for my child to read?

The summer that I was pregnant, my friend Teress recommended that I read a series called The Selection, which seems to have been written for a teen girl audience.  Far older than their target age group, I found myself finishing one book in the series every day or two, staying up late reading by the light of my cell phone, and ordering each book successively on amazon until I ran out of the entire series.  I would tell my husband stories of the people in the books as if they were real, and receive supportive, but confused faces from him in return.  Were those books below my “reading level?”  Absolutely.  But did they grow my love of reading and improve my reading ability because of the time I spent in them?  Most definitely.

Let your child read the book they choose, even if it is too easy for him or her, because it will grow a love of reading, and there are intangible benefits that should not be underestimated.

I do recommend that children have a “stack” or special reading bag with books on multiple levels.

A final note.  In the reading world, we call it a “self-selected text” when a child is able to choose their own book to read.  This is powerful, regardless of your child’s age.  I spent five years working with adult struggling readers, and the most important element in my intervention was allowing them to choose a book that was interesting to them.  Everything I taught them about reading started within the confines of the book they chose.  Not only did they all make significant reading progress, they also grew to love reading and see the value of it.  Many times the books would have been too difficult for them to read alone, but they had me to play the parent role and walk them through the text to help them to be successful with it.  Had I assigned them a book on their “reading level,” it would have likely been a subject far too immature for their age, and I doubt they would have been motivated to continue working towards improving reading.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to let your kids pick their own books!  Your challenge for today is to take your children to a local library and let them pick what they want!  Then snuggle down and create a reading memory.

 

Happy reading!