• Maggie Hills

Tips for Getting Your Kids to Read Like You Know They Should

Mario was finally getting to the end of high school. He had done well, kept his grades up, finished his extracurricular commitments, and was ready for summer. His parents were proud of him.

One day, they made a plan to go as a family to the bay. His dad joked that they could build a raft and paddle around like Huck Finn, and his mom rolled her eyes saying that the ocean was a little different from the Mississippi River. They both laughed heartily, and looked at Mario, expecting him to join in.

Mario looked back with a blank face. He didn’t get it. "Who's Huck Finn?"

There's a lot going on in school, and it may be surprising to discover what your child has and has not read. Literature opens up new worlds, lets us explore different ideas, and puts us in the place of others. It is a wonderful thing. But what do you do when you child is out the door every time you mention summer reading? And when he does read, it's that same graphic novel he's already read 20 times?

Here are some ways you can help your child read like you know they should.

Read Together

Many students begin books. Then later, when they run across a difficult section or an event which confuses them—sometimes even a sentence which they don’t understand—they put the book down for a “break” and never pick it back up again. Students may even wonder how this book got to be famous.

This is partially due to lack of guidance in their reading. Students may not have the life experiences to understand why this was so shocking or how this is so funny. This is where you can help as a parent. Read the same book as your child and help him or her through the tougher parts. Explain what is going on and why the author felt it was important enough to include. If it appears to be a boring description, consider why the author felt the reader needed a glimpse into the inner workings of this time or place. If it is an event or a comment that doesn’t quite make sense, look for sarcasm or undercut societal expectations and how the author might be exposing a weakness in the culture in the book.

The other part might be because some children haven’t been taught how to connect with a writer. We expect short, clear communication that is to the point and we want it now. Sometimes even looking at a whole paragraph feels daunting. If you saw that same paragraph on Facebook, you would quickly scroll down.

Long-form writing becomes less frightening when you pick up on the author’s line of thought and immerse yourself in what he or she is trying to say. Longer paragraphs mean more explanation, mean a deeper insight into a complex and interesting character, mean a more detailed description of a setting or scene. All of these elements are valuable to a reader, but not if you are only looking for action, action, action!

You are more capable than your child of picking up on between-the-lines subtext and realizing why specific parts are important and worth reading. Your engagement and insight also teach your child how to slow down and look beyond the obvious. Participate with your child and share what you know!

Read Something Interesting

Let's be honest, some of the books on that required reading list aren't exactly page turners. We get it. But there are great works in every genre and at every reading level. Find something that you will be eager to read; a book you will close regretfully when it gets too late at night.

When choosing your book, consider your enthusiasm for the content. If you are bored with reading, it would be unsurprising that your child would feel the same way. On the other hand, if you are excited about a selection, there is a good chance your child will follow your example. What book will make you lose track of time? Will make you think in new ways? Will introduce you to something you are curious about? Has an inspiring story? A book may not be so perfectly gripping all the way through, but it should draw you in and make you want to continue.

You can also use strategies to make reading a little more engaging.

- Read aloud to each other – This age-old technique gives you the opportunity to breathe life into the characters and drama into the events. This works especially well for books you are somewhat familiar with since you can use your voice to communicate the feelings and the irony and emphasize what you know is important. It is an easy way to make a book clearer for your child.

- Talk about it – Another way to engage your child is to talk about the book. One of the best ways to do this is to ask questions. What did your child find funny? What was interesting? What did your child notice? Why, do you think, the character did/said this or that? Where is the author going with all of this? Why do you think this or that? Remember, this is not a literature examination. These are questions of genuine reader curiosity and are truly meant to engage you both deeper in the work to find the answers.

- Do the same things – This works best for adventure stories, but see if you and your child can participate in some version of what is happening in the book. Even if it is pretend, it can be fun. Are the characters traveling on a ship? Take a ferry or ride a sailboat! Is the book set in a jungle? Go on a local hike or take a drive through a national park! Are the characters royalty or nobility? Look up etiquette and have a formal dinner one night, or draw a coat of arms for your family! This is a great way to connect you and your child more deeply with the book.

- Watch it – There are many works which are really plays that you can take your child to see. Other works have been made into movies or shows that you can watch together. Of these, the plays are the most exciting since, like the reading aloud, you can get a sense of the feelings throughout the book. Shows, particularly those that are true to the book, are also good because they help you break a longer book down into “episodes” and encourage you to read along as the show progresses.

Read Short Stories

Short stories are usually small snippets an author has compiled that are, you guessed it, short! If you aren’t sure where to begin, short stories can be an excellent starting point for literature exposure and appreciation. They tend to be attention-grabbing and action-oriented, which is exactly where our culture is at the moment.

Along a similar vein, not all books of literature are long and arduous. Some are quite short while still communicating something worthwhile to read. If the short stories are going well, consider moving on to certain famous essays, speeches, or poems which also tend to be shorter and move quickly. Then look for the shorter books out there. If everything feels too complicated, start with children’s classics. Many are excellent books with clear lines of thought that can train your child in the art of reading. As your child gets more familiar with how to follow an author’s line of thought and discovers why different elements are important, the longer books become something to look forward to.

Read Excerpts

If you want some longer books in your child’s life, but aren’t sure how to get them in, consider introducing them to your child via excerpts. Excerpts are shorter portions of books that can introduce children to works of great literature without having to make an intimidating three-hundred-page commitment. In the beginning, there is typically a summary of what has occurred so far so the reader can get a sense of the storyline, then it hops right into the action.

Many excerpts are the famous parts of these great books. They also aren’t usually the ending of a book, but some event or occurrence in the middle. This could potentially ignite an interest in your child to read further to discover what happens next. It’s a good way to become familiar with the writings of the Great Masters without being frightened away by the immensity of some of the old works. Additionally, if you have multiple excerpts from the same book, or if you know the book and choose the excerpts yourself, your child can end up reading almost the entire book without knowing it. Sneaky!

Read on a Schedule

If you are busy and your child is also active in school and extracurricular activities, you don’t have time to spend reading, let alone reading literature. You both are doing all you can just to make it through your week.

That is understandable. The good news is, summer is almost here! Summer is a time to rest from all the hard work of the year and poke about in new directions to see what might be fun for next year. Let reading be one of the avenues you pursue.

It’s actually very easy to pick up. You just need a library card, so you don’t need expensive equipment, and it doesn’t have to be every day. Choose a time that works for you both and make a weekly or twice-a-week commitment for a half hour or an hour. Maybe, as the book starts to engage your interest, the time will lengthen on its own. If reading is part of your summer schedule, then it will get done. And you can avoid summer learning loss while you are at it.

If you need help with literature interpretation or need something a little more concrete on your calendar, using a tutor can help you move forward with your summer reading. Spark Tutors places a high value on literature, where it can take us, and what it can show us. If enthusiasm is lacking, we can bring a lot of that to the table too! Let us know how we can best support you and your child this summer.


We hope this article has reignited your passion for learning and sparked some new thoughts about how you can communicate that to your child this summer. Remember, even a single book is a step forward into a new world. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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