Reading While At Home: Five Things Parents Should Know
How long should children spend reading each day? What if your child doesn’t like to read? Education professor Emily Solari offers tips and strategies for parents while children are learning at home.
Reading is a central part of every student’s education, and with so many American students now learning at home, parents and caregivers are taking the reins and engaging in reading activities with their children.
“Reading is a foundational skill for all other academic learning,” said Emily Solari, professor and reading education program coordinator at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. “When children and adolescents can read proficiently, they can more easily access the other content they are learning in school, much of which relies heavily on written text, especially as they progress through grades.”
When considering how to keep children and adolescents engaged with reading while at home, Solari offered five tips for parents and caregivers to keep in mind.
1. Remember Reading Exposes Students to New Words and Ideas
Solari: Engaging with books and other written texts allows for important language development opportunities for children and adolescents. When children engage with written text, they are often exposed to vocabulary and language that they don’t normally hear in spoken language. The language in books tends to be more complex and children are exposed to unique words that they may not hear in oral speech. Research has shown that sentence structure is more complex in children’s books than the language that they hear and speak orally, and they also encounter more novel words. So, engaging with written text can have a positive impact on language development.
Reading can be an adventure for children and adolescents, providing them opportunities to learn about people and culture that they are not exposed to in everyday life. Encourage children to read about content that interests them, and also maybe some content that is new or unfamiliar to them. Keep in mind that kids should not be limited to just reading books; appropriate online content can be a good resource. If families have internet capabilities at home, many libraries are allowing patrons to sign up from home, allowing them to access online content. This is a good way for children to be able to explore a variety of texts and genres.
2. Aim for 20-30 Minutes a Day and Utilize Online Resources
Solari: For children who are proficient readers, encouraging them to read for 20 to 30 minutes a day is sufficient. Some children will very happily read for much longer, which is great. For younger kids, reading children’s books in a read-aloud context can be both a fun and beneficial activity.
There are also some good online resources such as Storyline Online and Romper that feature adults and children reading storybooks. All three of my boys like these sites – even the two older ones who are proficient readers. They enjoy listening to other people read stories.
Some children who are learning from home are just learning how to read and need instruction and support in foundational reading skills, or the early skills that are required for successful reading acquisition. Right now, there are a few high-quality online resources that children can use for free. One of my favorites is FlyLeaf Publishing, which has made all of their early decodable texts available for free. Additionally, the National Center for Improving Literacy has free content online that addresses foundational reading skills. Amplify also has some ideas for at-home activities for younger students to develop foundational skills.
3. But Don't Push Too Hard
Solari: Some kids are voracious and precocious readers, and some are not. It is important for parents and guardians to recognize this, especially during times when many things are out of the ordinary. With this in mind, reading should not become an extra source of stress for adults and the children and adolescents in their home. I would not recommend that parents force children to read every day if they are resistant. Often children who resist reading do so because it is not easy for them.
Also remember that many children are missing critical reading instruction and interventions right now with schools going to all online/distance-based learning. For these children and adolescents, forcing them to read will not necessarily improve their reading, nor will it magically improve their relationship with reading.
This does not mean that reading should be ignored. Adults can have a strong influence on children’s engagement with text and there are ways to be strategic with children about how and when they engage with books and other written text. Adults can help encourage children and adolescents to read by helping them to search for topical areas that interest them and spending time reading with them.
4. Family Reading Time Isn't Only for Young Children
Solari: A lot of kids, of all ages, enjoy reading with their parents. There are many benefits of adult-child shared book reading. With young children, research has shown that reading books together allows for opportunities for rich language exchange between adults and children. Studies have shown that early vocabulary and language are related to later reading achievement and reading comprehension; reading with children can provide multiple opportunities to develop language.
Research has also shown that quality of the book-sharing experiences is more important that quantity. The quality of the interaction impacts what children take away from the experience. Shared book reading should not be a passive experience for children; when we are reading books to children, we want them to be actively engaged. Shared book reading provides opportunities for exposure to novel words that children may not encounter in spoken language. Read-alouds with young children allow for parents to have rich language interactions with kids. For example, adults can talk with children about new and unknown words, and this can be an opportunity to develop vocabulary and language. There are also natural chances to ask the child questions about the text, to expand of the topics covered, and ask children about their understanding of the text.
We often think that shared reading with kids is an activity that is reserved for younger children who can’t read yet, but it is not. For example, in my house, it is common for my husband to read with my two older boys at night. The way that they share reading is by switching readers by page: My husband will read a page and then one of the boys will read the next. Sometimes, with our older boys, they are just tired at the end of the day and a nice way to unwind is for one of us to read to them from whatever chapter book they may be reading at the time.
I would encourage adults to engage in these interactions with kids. It allows for conversations with our kids around book characters, events and feelings that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to cover.
5. Mix it up with Audiobooks and Podcasts
Solari: Some children like to engage with audiobooks that have the words available for them to read along. For younger students, it is not a bad idea to have them follow along with the words, but don’t mistake this for reading instruction. It is not.
For children who can already read, following along with the words can reinforce the knowledge they already have about reading words. But for kids who are just learning to read words or may be older and having difficulties with learning to read, they need much more explicit and systematic instruction in foundational skills to be taught to read.
In addition to audiobooks, podcasts are a great way for children to learn new things. Some of my favorites include “Book Club for Kids,” “Story Time,” “Brains On,” “Forever Ago,” “Smash Boom Best,” “But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids,” and “The Past & The Curious.”
Recap of Resources
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated.