How To Help Your Children Read Better

by Gwynne Spencer

Sending your kids off to school this fall? Wondering how to help them with their reading? Here are some useful ideas for every grade.

Choose great ABC books, counting books, concept books like those by Tana Hoban to reinforce basic skills being taught in school. Read each book at least three times before taking it back to the library. Find wordless stories like the John Goodall books and Mercer Mayer ‘Frog’ stories and let your child make up the storyline.

First Grade
Read Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby stories out loud and let your child read them back to you. Choose books with HUGE print (if you can read it at ten feet, it’s about right for a beginning reader) like No! David, No! by David Shannon. Choose picture books with one line per page, read them often and help your child follow the text with a pointy finger.

Second Grade
Shower your child with joke books, funny books with mangled language like Amelia Bedelia, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, Once There Was a Bullfrog and read each title out loud three or four times. Choose some short “chapter books” like Junie B. Jones to read aloud to your tooth-loose kids.

Third Grade
Choose skinny books in a 5”x8” trim size that don’t look like “baby books”: Magic Tree House Series, Captain Underpants series, Junie B. Jones series, Bailey Street Kids, and anything by Dav Pilkey. They love “funny” books like How to Eat Fried Worms if you can stand to read them out loud.

Fourth Grade
Ask your library for recommendations and you’re liable to get books like Shiloh, and Harry Potter. Read one chapter at breakfast every morning and keep the television turned off. The kids are liable to pick up where you left off, but whatever you do, don’t stop reading every morning (even if they are sneaking a peek at what comes next)!

Fifth Grade
Keep reading a chapter every morning to them but also take them into longer listening by indulging in Listening Library’s fabulous selection of books-on-tape. Start with Whalesong by Robert Seigel and Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. If you’re driving them to school, put the tapes in the car stereo.

Middle Schoolers
Take a gaggle of kids to the bookstore and help them get a book discussion group started. Redwall or Harry Potter or Xanth are all great series for this age. Talk to the bookstore manager beforehand and help other parents conspire to keep kids reading by giving them all bookcards and money to hang out in the café. Help make reading cool and fashionable for them.

High School
All grown up and no time to read? Plant books and magazines in the car, in the bathroom, in the kitchen on the microwave for the busy, print-hungry high schooler and you might just find them reading and talking on the phone.

Remember: television is not there to tell you stories—it’s there to sell you stuff you don’t need. It is not conducive to reading, so you have to be sneaky in subverting its powerful influence. Put books in front of the television and read during the commercials! Happy reading!

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Gwynne Spencer is the author of “Recipes for Reading” which combines cooking and picture books with hundreds of recipes; she has been a children’s bookseller and promoter for over twenty years and invites your comments at