Chapter 39: Practice, Practice, Practice

Learning takes practice

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Every child who struggles with reading is an individual, with her own, individual combination of reasons behind that struggle. But, the one thing that helps every child with reading, no matter what else is going on, is practice. After all, every skill a child learns – from walking to talking, to riding a bike – takes practice to master. Plain and simple. And learning to read is no exception. Without book-in-hand practice, no child is going to make progress with reading, no matter what else her parents and teachers do.

And, that practice must be regular. If you’ve ever played a musical instrument, you know that if you go just a few days without picking it up, you will see some of your hard-earned skills start to slip. The same is true for reading. If your child goes days without picking up a book, some of the progress she has made will be lost.

Move reading practice to the top of the list

We all know how hard it can be to get children to do what’s good for them. “Brush your teeth,” we say each night. “Call your grandmother.” “Practice your times tables.” “Wash your hands.” The list of things we must get our children to do regularly is nearly endless. So, what if you could make reading practice just a little bit more enticing? Maybe your child would be willing to practice – at least some of the time – without being nagged.

Here are some fun ideas and easy projects that can make your child eager to spend more “face time” with her books:

  • Play a part – There are some great plays written just for children out there. Sit down with your child at the kitchen table and read through some of them. Divide the parts up between the two of you – or even assign roles to other family members. Encourage your child to use different voices as she reads for the different characters and to change her inflection to show emotions – this can really help if she’s working on her fluency. Be sure to choose fun, engaging plays with surprising twists or silly endings, and to match your child’s reading level, as well. For even more engagement, you can help your child write some plays of her own. There’s nothing quite as motivating to a child as the prospect of getting to –  literally! – put words into her parents’ mouths.
  • Give her an audience – While some struggling readers shy away from reading out loud, if you have a budding actress on your hands, having an attentive audience may simply be too exciting to resist. Have your child read a short book aloud to you. Let her stand while you sit in a chair or on the couch. This will add to the illusion of a stage performance. Encourage her to use loud, scary or silly voices for the different characters and to move around to show the action taking place. Be sure to clap at the end of her performance – nothing encourages artists and actors as much as an appreciative crowd.
  • Get her out of the chair – Some kids see reading as something they have to do while sitting sedately in a chair. If they’re naturally little wiggle worms, then they may not simply be avoiding reading practice, they may be avoiding sitting still for so long. If your child is a wiggle worm, let her know that reading doesn’t have to involve a chair. She can move around the room while she reads, swing a hula hoop around her hips, race away on an exercise bike, or even bounce up and down on a giant beach ball.
  • Make some “books on tape” – If your child is a real beginner, let her choose a book for you to read and record. She can help out by saying any of the words she recognizes and by adding sound effects. Once the story is recorded, she can read along with it over and over. An older child can do the whole project herself. Knowing that her efforts will be recorded will inspire her to read accurately and with emotion. To avoid stage fright, let her practice the story a few times before you try to record it. Also, reassure her that if she makes a mistake, she can erase it and start over.
  • Let her be a little naughty – Some young kids love gross-outs – probably simply because it bugs their parents. But, if it gets them reading, so what? Let your child choose books about boogers, if she wants to, or vampires or man-eating lions. As long as the books are age-appropriate and written for children, there’s no harm done. Get her a bedtime book light, as well, the kind that attaches to a book and shines light straight down on the pages, or, even more cool, one she can wear on her forehead like a miner’s head lamp. If reading under the covers is the one time she gets to break the rules and stay up a little bit past bedtime, then reading will seem a little bit naughty and, therefore, really, really fun.