Reading Comprehension Made SIMPLE

Reading comprehension is one of those skills which can cause gray hairs!

Many parents struggle to teach, reinforce and foster this skill. 

Just as many children struggle with the skill, too!

We are not alone. We are all in this together. 

Over my almost thirty years of working with children, my own and others, I've rejoiced in light bulb moments when a strategy works. And, I've helped parents find alternative solutions, often individualizing teaching methods.

What has worked?

Some families find one strategy works. Others need more than one option. Still others cycle in and out of several. The key is to use what works for YOUR family!

Find something the child enjoys. Every child (yes, every child!) has an interest. Something engaging. Something the child will not put down. Grasshoppers? Recipes? Catapults? Military strategy? There is always an interest though it may take a bit of effort to find it. When it's found? GLORY!

Read together. I know a mom who instituted an "everybody reads at 10:30 am" policy. In other words, at 10:30 each person found something they enjoyed, found a comfy place, and read. Starting with 15 minutes, she gradually increased the time. Why? Because the children asked for the time to be increased. You know the "Mom, I want to keep reading!" exhortation. To get to that moment she had to allow the kids' cookbook, the Boy's Life catalog and the recent subscription to Highlights to come to reading time. And, mom? She enjoyed her current read. Reading time quickly became a favorite time time of day. All reading, all together. 

Draw a picture. Creative children love to create. Why not try building reading comprehension with the innate desire to create. Suggestions to draw a picture of a character, the setting or an exciting event in the chapter is an open invitation to design and color something visually pleasing. Draw a picture might also mean choosing reading material which fosters creativity, perhaps a how-to book, for example, how-to sketch barns. The child logs his or her reading time by learning sketching techniques and then applies what was read (comprehension and application) to create a piece of art. 

Read aloud. I know this takes time (I'm a mom of full days, too) however, the time and effort of reading something engaging (perhaps slightly above the child's ability) can build vocabulary and knowledge of language structure. Even a short time each day can pay off great dividends. 

Some of our favorite family read alouds are:

  • A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • Helen Keller's Teacher by Margaret Davidson (as well as her other amazing titles)
  • George Cohan: Boy Theater Genius by Gertrude Hecker Winders (and other Childhood of Famous American titles)

Take turns. Mix it up. You read a sentence, I read a sentence builds to I read a paragraph, you read a paragraph. Then one day, the learner takes of and reads the whole chapter, independently. This is an important strategy for emerging readers building fluency. We have found Step-up books and Discovery Biographies by Garrard Publishing  are perfect for this purpose. 

Give content. Often, today's book content is shallow, less engaging than the choices of days gone by. When we began purchasing vintage books, books penned in the 1950s and 1960s, our children read more often and more widely. Why? Real-life dilemmas and adventures--generally of lesser known people and events--intrigued my readers. There were problems to solve. History-changing events in which to be invited. For example, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Captain Ted W. Larson (Doolittle Raid pilot) from the Landmark book series pulled my readers into the plot almost immediately. We were with the fliers in training, incident and aftermath of the raid. Yes, there was mention of injuries, blood and bombing but courage, perseverance, real-life challenge (not fabricated and artificial) enveloped every page. 

NOTE: This book is one of the more graphic of the Landmark series and we chose wait until late middle school to introduce the content. Parents should read the content prior to making the decision to offer this book to their children. Not all Landmark books are as graphic. 

Practice and apply comprehension strategies. There are six components to comprehension: connection, visualization, question, inference, analysis and synthesis. All play an important role in the ability to comprehend written material and as such children must be given the opportunity to use, apply and master each component. 

What if my child just doesn't like to read?

Some don't. Although most will with something of interest. If there is a continuous aversion to reading, even with something of interest, consider whether a physical reason may be causing a learning challenge. For example, if the eyes don't converge on a page of written material, reading will be difficult and hence not enjoyable--because it's hard, if not impossible. Learning challenges are not always obvious and should be considered a possibility when children have an aversion to reading. 

Reading comprehension can be as SIMPLE as enjoying a read aloud and discussing what was heard. On the other hand, several methods might be needed. Whatever the situation, building reading comprehension doesn't have to bring fit-induced gray hairs and is worth the effort.