Teaching reading was my greatest fear as I contemplated homeschooling. Could I do it? What if I messed it up? What if I turned my kids off of reading forever?
Of course, teaching a child to read is not nearly as difficult as you may expect. And all of my children are proficient readers! What I've found over my years of interacting with my readers is that there is really only one element that is key to helping someone find success in reading—quality time with a mentor.
I grew up in the DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) era. We dropped everything and read all the way through my middle school days. This practice seemed effective for me, but I was already an avid reader. DEAR time merely fed that existing passion.
Now that I'm helping cultivate young readers of my own, I question the principle of DEAR. It's not that I don't love to read or that I don't encourage my kids to read. Far from it! But unsupported independent reading is not something I find valuable.
Resisting the Temptation to DEAR
Let's be honest. DEAR time is a wonderful thing for a mom who needs to prep dinner, to start the laundry, or to get the next kid moving along in their math. It can be a quick go-to activity that can make you as a teacher feel like you're doing something great for your budding readers. Doesn't mastery come from lots of practice?
The reality is that I can practice playing baseball for hours and hours, but if I don't really know how to play, I'll never improve. The same goes for reading. If I only leave my new reader or my veteran reader to practice good reading habits on their own, they will never be able to get beyond their own limitations. They need a mentor to support them in their independent reading.
The good news is that doesn't mean you have to give up that valuable quiet reading time. With a few simple support techniques, you can take your independent reader to the next level.
Supporting Your Readers
Young readers need support from a mentor that can help them find success in their lifelong pursuit. Selecting appropriate books and understanding the author's intent are not intuitive tasks. They need to be modeled, assessed, and cultivated. Here are some excellent ways to support your readers:
Curate a Home Library
It stands to reason that a home library will offer greater opportunities for reading. Leslie Morrow conducted a study indicating that children read 50 to 60 percent more in classrooms with libraries than without. You don't have to own all of the books in your home library. Visit your local library frequently and always have a selection of quality books available for your budding reader.
Ensure that you have a variety of types books to choose from. You want your students to be reading realistic fiction, informational books, fantasy, instructional books, biographies, poetry, graphic novels, online articles, and journals. If you have a variety of books in your home library to offer your readers, you'll have more opportunities to mentor your readers.
Model Book Selection
Reading success does not come from just having countless volumes to choose from. This can be overwhelming to a new reader. Show them how to select a book that is just right for their reading level. Encourage them to read in a variety of different genres. This will help those readers who always choose comic books learn to appreciate and enjoy different types of books.
How do you know if a book is worth reading?
Can they read it? Have them read aloud for a couple of minutes to see if the vocabulary is too challenging. If they seem to understand what they're reading, you're good to go.
Is it a topic that interests them? If it is, their interest might push them through a book that contains more complex language usage.
Does it offer something to think or talk about? We read to discuss ideas with one another. If a book doesn't offer much to discuss, model how to be selective in what you choose to read.
Does it help in practicing what they're learning? If you're working on a specific reading technique, there are some books that are better than others to draw out that understanding.
Discuss Their Reading
When you ask them to read, a simple way to follow up on their reading is discussing what they read. You can model what this looks like when you read books aloud together. This doesn't have to be another line item in the planner. It can be incorporated into your life in simple ways:
Ask them about their reading while you're in the car.
Share about what they're reading at the dinner table.
Use narration to have them relate what they just read.
It's so easy to let instruction slip away in favor of independence. While it is important to allow time for your students to practice their reading, they still need you to check in on them.
About the Author
Betsy Strauss is a wife to a deep thinker and a homeschooling mom of three kids. When she stumbled into homeschooling, she thought it would just look like public school at home. Thankfully, she quickly learned that using a one-room schoolhouse model of teaching was a great way to unify the family, and enrich family life without going crazy! She shares her encouragement on Family Style Schooling Blog.