7 Free Strategies for Selecting Reading Books for Kids

Posted by Erica Warren on

This week I have a guest post by Nancy Platt Dauwd. Nancy is an early literacy specialist, educational therapist and executive functioning coach in Ossining, NY. Nancy is passionate about multisensory and play-based education. Currently residing in Westchester, NY, Nancy is furthering her expertise in language acquisition and bilingual education.

Happy kids reading books

Each year as schools close their doors for summer vacation, a familiar scene plays out. Students joyously, rapturously careen into vacation mode without a thought to the summer reading lists and “enrichment packets” that likely made their way home in the final days of the school year. The ten weeks that make up most schools summer break is a deceptively dangerous time academically for many kids, as studies have shown that during this relatively short break, students lose significant ground and forget crucial skills learned throughout the school year – at least a month of reading gains, on average. Teachers report that they spend the first month (or two) of the academic year helping students return to where they were the previous spring. Commonly referred to as the “summer slide”, this achievement loss is more commonly found among students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and among students who are reluctant or struggling readers.

Fortunately, as educators know, it’s not hard to stave off the dangers of the summer slide. Reading just four to six books over the course of summer vacation can help students maintain their cognitive footing, and reading more can lead to gains in overall reading ability.

In an effort to help assuage this loss, assigned summer reading has been the course of action for most schools - but what can you do if your child is a reluctant or struggling reader to begin with? How can you get them to read when it’s something they dread, or even help them decide which of the choices on their recommended book list are right for them? It might be easier than you think to help engage these kids and get them reading, without complaining (or at least, without too much complaining!)

three kids with dyslexia happily reading

The trick to getting a child to read is often as simple as letting them choose what they want to read. Children given the ability to select their own books have been shown to read more than those who were told what to read. As it turns out, giving kids ownership of what they read makes a big difference, even if it’s letting them read Captain Underpants.

One of the best ways to light a fire under a reluctant/struggling reader is just by taking them to the children’s section of a good public library or bookstore. Browsing the curated and well-crafted displays that showcase new, popular or “hot” titles can lead to a whole bag full of reading possibilities.

However, most schools send home recommended reading lists from a wide range of genres for the children to choose from. The problem isn’t the books on theses lists, it’s often just the fact that there are lists to begin with. As mentioned, free choice tends to lead to more reading, which improves reading abilities, vocabulary, concentration – a whole host of positive outcomes. I’ll step off the soapbox and get back to the fact that you probably have a list. Don’t worry! These lists usually include realistic fiction, fantasy/adventure, mystery, comic books or graphic novels (Yes, these absolutely count as reading!), informational books such as biographies, and regular non-fiction. Most lists also include the recent award winners and hot or popular titles and some even include annotations or brief descriptions of the books. They are designed to offer a little bit of something for everyone.

If your child or student is really stuck, here are some things you can ask to get them thinking about what it is that will make them want to open a book and keep turning the pages.

1) What’s your favorite book?

Often, with reluctant or struggling readers, they don’t read for pleasure because it’s not a fun experience. Without reading practice, the student doesn’t improve and the cycle of frustration continues. Sometimes, the student’s favorite book was read years earlier or was read aloud to them. No matter, forge on.

2) What was the last good book you read?

This question can often be met with a blank stare, but give it a minute or two and your student/child might come up with some good information about what engaged them.

3) Why?

What did your child/student like about the book – did they identify with or relate to a character? Did they love the plot or genre? Here, the more specific they can be, the better. Again, this book may have been read years earlier, but no matter.

make learning fun at good sensory learning

You can piggyback on a favorite tale by giving your reader something similar to a book that they already like and feel safe with. Use this as a springboard book, and have follow-up stories waiting. Find read-alikes based on books that kids have already read here: http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com

Often, younger readers or reluctant readers won’t know what they liked about the book, they just felt like it was a good book. See if you can dig a little deeper to find out about the feeling that the book evoked: silly, happy, excited, scared, sad? Use that information to guide you.

4) What do you like to do in your free time?

5) What are your favorite games, television shows, or movies?

I love asking kids these questions, because you can literally see them light up talking about what they love to do. Reluctant readers or kids for whom reading is a challenge often come to their independent reading with a whole host of negative feelings that don’t serve them. Even if a child says they “hate” reading, I challenge it, because I’ve never met a kid that didn’t like stories, whether it came in the form of books, video games, television shows, or movies. Many popular family films are adaptations of popular children’s books, which are readily available. Kids who play sports might love to read sports books – either fiction or non-fiction. Minecraft lovers might be drawn to adventure or fantasy stories. Ask your kids what they like and be prepared to listen and help them make a connection to something they will want to read.

If you’re working with a list that has annotations or brief descriptions…or even if it doesn’t…

6) Read through the annotations and see if any of the descriptions pique your child’s curiosity. 

If they’re on the fence, or you don’t have annotations, search the child’s/student’s selected options on Amazon.com. Kids love to write book reviews – go figure, they have opinions about what they read!! A lot of the reviews are written by kids, for kids and they’re remarkably honest. Sometimes, kids just need to hear it from another kid.

7) Audiobooks, audiobooks, audiobooks…yes, this is reading!

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, if your child or student is struggling, is reluctant, can’t sit down to read, won’t sit down to read, and is an unhappy reader – please start listening to audiobooks with them. If you spend time in the car, it’s ideal. If not, as little as 20-30 minutes a day can get them (and you) hooked. Even if they are reading a slightly more difficult book than is really comfortable, pairing the actual book with the audio and having them follow along with their finger is a great way to help a child “read up”. If you’re worried that it’s not really reading, don’t, because your brain thinks it is. I refer to them as a gateway drug for reluctant readers. It’s a little gift that you can give your child and yourself. 

I hope you enjoyed Nancy's guest post.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

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