Reading With Elementary-Age Children

After twenty years of teaching first grade, Mrs. Walker shares what she has learned about the importance of children reading at home. "The top three things to get a child ready for school are (1) Read. (2) Read. (3) Read."

Simply knowing how important reading is for our children doesn't always make it more doable. It can be hard to fit reading into busy schedules, find motivating material, and help a child with reading after a long day.

Here's some advice that we can live with: "Professional suggestions about what to do when listening to a child read sometimes contradict each other. I think the best thing is to make it a happy time: Do it however you find most fun" (Walker). Great ways to make it work for both of you follow.

Helping your child choose a book that interests him can be a lot of fun. Educators recommend the simple "five finger" method when deciding whether a book is"just right" for the child's reading level.
Finding "Just Right" books: Flip to the middle of the book and have the child read a page. If there are five or more words (use your fingers to count) your child doesn't know, it's a book to read with someone else or to save for later. If there are no new words, and if your child can read the book at talking speed and with expression, the book will make for fun reading but won't challenge your child. The ideal is not too hard and not too easy: somewhere between one and four new words per page.

Reading is the foundation for much of our knowledge. Pushing "skills" associated with reading is not as important as helping a child learn to love reading.
Children learn their attitudes about reading from their parents: positive parental involvement is one of the key factors to children's reading success. If reading feels like a chore, it can actually lower your child's motivation to read. Reading time should be a happy together time.

There's no need for a child to struggle for a long time on a word, or sound out every single word laboriously. Stepping in after a moment can sometimes mean the difference between fun and frustration.

Say It Again, Sam

Research claims it is important to let your learning reader read out loud. "So insistent is the need for outer speech, to hear one's own voice and thoughts, that silent reading is ineffective before the age of seven" (Hannaford 92). So take a load off: maybe there are times in your day when listening to your child read you a story would be just the thing.

Got "Goodnight Moon" Memorized?

Repetition can be valuable and fun for kids, but if you're tired of reading the same book over and over, feel free to tell your child it's Daddy's turn to pick out the book. This can be a great way to help kids find new favorites.


Making use of the library can be a great way to get children enthused about reading (and hey, it's free!). Having a scheduled time every week, when kids can plan on getting new books gives them something to look forward to. Libraries typically have great book lists of fun, just-right reading material. Asking for help might uncover a treasure trove of resources.

Library Bag

Having a "library bag" where you keep the books and the card is a good idea: keep books in the bag before you read them, and put them back in the bag after you read them. Searching for library books among your own stacks is a frustrating experience, and not finding them can mean a frustrating expense!

Rewarding Read-Alouds

Your reading out loud to your children is the "frosting" of reading (Walker), rather than having the child do all of the work. Part of the fun is that you can read material to the child that she can't read on her own. Enjoy reading rich stories and the chance to discuss them.

Schedule It

While some families make spontaneous reading time work, scheduling reading time into your day at the beginning of the week can give reading time a boost. Not only will your child start to look forward to it, it will help you make it happen at a time that works well for you.

Mrs. Walker writes, "At the beginning of each first grade school year I have each child and parent make a goal to have the child read to the parent each school day for fifteen minutes. I promise parents if they do this, their child will be a proficient reader by spring. It never fails."

Making reading a happy time can be a key to helping your child succeed as a reader. Find ways to make reading time feel good to you and your child. If you raise a self-motivated reader, you are likely to have raised an intelligent child.


Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean Publishers, 1995.
Walker, Ardith. "What First Grade Teachers Wish Parents Would Teach Their Children." Unpublished article.

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