My experiences as a creative person, tutor of children, and teacher of creative writing

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Choosing Books for Your Child

After raising four children and being a professional tutor for 40 years, I've learned that if a child is forced to read books he doesn't like, then he will hate reading and do as little of it as possible. So how do you help your child find the right book for him and become a lover of reading?

In school, most children are placed in reading groups with other children at their reading instructional level.

Instructional reading level is the highest level at which a reader is not independent, but has adequate background knowledge for a topic, and can access text quickly and with no or few errors. Think of independent level as the highest level you would ask a child to read with only a small amount of assistance.

The teacher usually chooses the book for each group to read, and then all the children in that group read and discuss the choosen book together. As a teacher, I can appreciate the practically of such an approach.  Here are some Reading Charts:

Some children do not do well with this standardized orderly approach. Some children test ok, but hate reading. What went wrong? I think a problem is that reading is not a task to practice, but a love to develop. You simply cannot force a child to read and enjoy it.  The more reading is broken down into tiny pieces, with sentences endlessly reread and letters laboriously sounded out, the more reading will be viewed as a distasteful chore.

Just as a love of playing baseball cannot be taught by merely practicing holding the bat, putting on your mitt, and throwing the ball, neither can a love of reading be taught just by endless skill practicing. Sure, some instruction and practice can help the child, but they have to be allowed to play the game to truly learn to love playing.

My point is that you can't endlessly drill a child on reading, making them read books they don't like, then expect them to enjoy reading. It just doesn't work.  I know.  I was the person who had to help get the child reading again. Here are some of the things I think of in choosing books for a child.

  1. What are the child's interests? Does she like baseball, horses, insects, dancing, history, space, cars, learning about other countries, or what?
  2. Does he like stories that are real, or made up? (fiction or non fiction) Some realistic children will view a creative fantasy story as dumb. Generally, very creative children will find realistic stories tedious. 
  3. What type of reading do they like? (genres) Biographies, Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Non Fiction (pure science etc), Humorous, Serious, Legends, Myths, Folklore, Mystery, Historical Fiction, Fairy Tales, Science Fiction, Westerns etc. 
  4. Is the book worthy of being shared with a child? Many authors do their best writing for children, because they know they have the power to deeply affect the next generation. I try to steer children away from tragedies, horror, and romance. Anything that is read will become a part of us. If the story is degrading, crude, hopeless, explicit, violent, or discouraging, it should not be shared with children (or any one else). Children will need all the courage and faith they have to face a challenging world. 
  5. How sensitive is the child? I'm one of those sensitive ones. Though many children loved Black Beauty, I felt traumatized by the story. I saw and suffered each cruelty along with Black Beauty. Yes, it ended happily, but I was emotionally exhausted and had nightmares for ages. If you have a child like this, you must be exceptionally careful about the books they read. 
  6. What is their concentration level? Do they like to flit from thing to thing, or do they spend hours concentrating on something they like. The concentrator may enjoy a two inch thick book with lots of detail and character development, but the flitter wouldn't. The flitter would probably prefer picture books, comic style books, and short series books with lots of pictures such as The Magic Tree House Series.  
  7. How easily does this child become frustrated and discouraged? If the child feels discouraged, choose an easier book, a different type of book, read it together (really can bring up their reading level quickly)*, or just read it to them (helps them learn to love reading). Use picture science or history book to give your child the background they need to understand the story. I remember a girl who was extremely upset because she didn't know one word on the page. I also know of kids that can happily read with comprehension when don't know many of the words on the page. See where you child is comfortable.
  8. Is this the right book for my child? The question is not if the book is popular or a classic, or whether it is on grade level, but will it be a book that your child will love. Will the book build their character and their love of reading?
  9. Try it out.  Read different types of picture books or short stories. See how your child reacts. Stop immediately if they don't like it. This can give you a quick way to test out different types of books and see how they like them. Your child may not be able to verbalize what they like, but their reaction will speak for them. 
  10. Try other books.  Many books are written in series, so they may enjoy reading the whole series. You can also choose similar books by another author, or another series by the same author. Occasionally, try a different type of book, but like introducing a new food, keep it short. Sometimes children read one type of thing such as baseball stories one year, then science fiction another, so change with your changing reader.

Reading Together

  • The child and I sit beside each other, so the child can read along while I read.
  • I choose some part of the story for the child to read. 
  • The child gets to hold the book when they read, if they want. (helps feel more in control)
  • I increase the amount the child reads as they become able to read more without becoming frustrated
  • They might read one character's part, then increase to reading two or three parts, and maybe the narration, so that eventually I'm reading the small part. If there isn't dialog, then I have them read the first paragraph or every third paragraph till they are reading pages. 
  • Having the child read parts helps them focus on the story instead of feeling nervous for reading out loud. Use different voices. Have fun!
  • It also keeps the child's attention focused on the reading.
  • As we read, I rephrase any new work in simple terms. By the time they have finished a good sized book they will have greatly increased their vocabulary by this repetition. 
  • Sometimes I put new vocabulary words on a card and the definition on another card and have the child play matching games