Regular reading is vital for your child’s educational and emotional development. It helps them understand the world around them, they find themselves reflected in stories and their imaginations grow to incorporate new ideas. Reading can help students to understand changes, such as the birth of a new sibling or the death of a loved one. Reading books with characters different to them helps children to build empathy and understanding. For all of this to happen, children need to find the ‘just right’ book.
‘Just right’ books are context dependent, and we need to consider a few things in order to help children find these. In English, these can be usefully listed as a mnemonic: PICK.
Why is the child reading the book? Do they need to research a topic or are they reading for pleasure? Are they reading the book in order to understand an event? All reasons to read are valid purposes but knowing the purpose each time will help children to get the right book for that moment.
Life is too short to read uninteresting books. Thankfully, we all have different interests. While sometimes we need to read specific books for class, when it comes to reading solely for pleasure, we can choose according our own interests. Children are great at knowing if they like a book or not, so allow them to make these choices. Encouraging them to try new books is productive; forcing them to read particular books can be counterproductive.
Comprehension is key to enjoying a book. Through reading, children can meet new situations and characters, but they must be able to understand the story. Comprehension is very different from decoding and relies on children applying their schema (what they already know and understand about the world around them) to their reading. Understanding the meaning of words helps with comprehension, and it also falls under our fourth point: K.
Knowing the words on the page sounds like an obvious step, but the ability to read the words can be misleading. Decoding is the ability to read the words, but that does not always correlate with understanding their meaning. Both decoding and understanding can be combined as ‘knowing’ the word. Can they read it? Do they know what it means? A good guide when checking if a book can be read by the child is the ‘five-finger rule’. The child opens the book to a random page in the middle, and they spread out five fingers. As they read the page, they fold down a finger each time there is a word they cannot read or understand. If they get to their fifth finger, they are not ready for the book – yet. Encourage them to return to the book in a few months or so and try again.
Sometimes children still want to read a book that is too tricky for them to read alone. This doesn’t mean that they can’t try it, just that they may need some help. There are three types of reading situations to consider, and some of these help children to experience books that are too tricky to read alone.
Books that children can read, understand and enjoy independently.
Children might not be able to read these books entirely independently but can take it in turn to read sections with an adult so that they are furthering their reading skills and can still enjoying the book.
These books are ones that children cannot yet read independently and are especially relevant in the primary years. Children can enjoy listening to a parent read sections aloud each evening before bed, or at other times.
Picking the ‘just right’ book for both the child and the situation is key to enjoyment in reading. If a child cannot read or understand most of a book independently, they are unlikely to enjoy the experience and it is likely to put them off reading in the long term. If children learn to love reading at a young age, a lifetime of knowledge and adventure await.