In previous installments of this series we have talked about methods for helping our children cultivate healthy and passionate reading habits. With some support on our end, it shouldn’t be too hard to teach our kids to love and value reading, and to make it a regular part of their daily lives. Yet sometimes those little nods and pushes aren’t enough. For some kids, obstacles stand in the way of their appreciation of reading. If the actual process of reading is difficult for a child, it can be difficult to inspire a kid to stick with it. In the next three installments, we are going to address the three biggest areas that lead to a struggling reader, and the steps we can take towards fixing them.
Your child hates reading. They find it boring and pointless, and the very act of picking up a book and spending any time with it is increasingly frustrating. Even when you do get them to read, five minutes later they can’t tell you a single thing that happened in the book, or recall a single fact. If these are the symptoms you are seeing, it is very possible that your child could have a comprehension issue.
When strong readers read, something amazing happens. As their eyes scan the words, their brains process their meanings, and in the mind’s eye being developing a bit of a ‘movie’. Thinking about my own reading, typically I will really see the words for the first few sentences, and then the movie begins. While my eyes see words, I am much more focused on the images taking place in the mind’s eye. The words on the page translate to imagined images, sounds, and sensations.
This is important because our ability to memorize things is highly based on the visual. Think of a favorite moment from your life. The first thing you pulled up was probably an image. One popular memorization technique involves creating a mental image in which elements of the image connect to information that needs to be remembered. An individual with comprehension issues isn’t dumb. An individual with comprehension issues is having a hard time developing those mental images of what the book says. All they are seeing are words on a page, and for some reason looking at those words just isn’t getting that mental movie projector going.
Now that you know what the problem is, the question becomes, how do we fix it?
There are a number of things you can start doing at home to help your child to develop their picture making skills. Below are just a few exercises you can work on at home to help your child’s comprehension abilities.
Exercise #1: The Picture Game
Find a bunch of colorful, interesting pictures. You can find these easily in a National Geographic Magazine or other resources. Coloring books could work for this too. Have your child take the picture and hold is so you cannot see it. Have them describe the image. They should focus on elements of color, size, shape, movement, the direction things are facing, its position in the image and other such factors. Ask your little one questions to help them make their descriptions more clear and specific. Once they are done, you will explain the image you made in their mind based on their description.
Once you finish your description, reveal the picture and discuss how your mental image fit the picture, and where you got it wrong. Then it is time to switch. It is your job to describe the picture, and for them to make the mental image. You will want to pick really simple pictures at first, because you will be challenging them to do something their brains might not be wired to do yet.
To avoid frustration, don’t exceed more than a round or two a day.
Exercise #2: Breaking Down Books
Once you have the habit of describing pictures to each other, and developing those mental pictures, it is time to take it to the streets. Start a similar process using text. You can start with something as simple as a sentence. Read the sentence with your child, and have the develop and describe the image they are able to create from that sentence. As you move from sentence to sentence, it is your job to ask good descriptive details, and help your child maintain a consistent image from sentence to sentence. After you get through a paragraph, have your kiddo go back and walk you through the images they have created, allowing them to summarize what happened in the paragraph.
To avoid frustration, don’t work this for more than fifteen to twenty minutes a day.
Exercise #3: Develop Your Child’s Vocabulary
As you work with your child on reading, pay attention to the words they struggle with, or cannot picture. Sometimes a lack of vocabulary can be the culprit for not understanding things. Use a notecard to study vocabulary. On one side, write the word. On the reverse, write the definition. Work together to develop a sentence that uses the word. Discuss an image to go with the word, and add that to the card as well.
You can review your collection of note cards once a day. Once your child demonstrates that they really understand the word, and are able to give you examples beyond the one from your note card, you can move it out of the pile.
Exercise #4: Employ Graphic Organizers
If you child is school aged, as your teachers for extra copies of the graphic organizers they use in school. They are excellent tools that help students record information, and to do so in a way that is visually stimulating. One of the reasons graphic organizers work, is that it allows you to record information, organize information, and develop an easy to remember image that you can associate with the content.
If getting these organizers from a teacher isn’t working, go online. There is an absurd amount of free teaching resources all over the internet. A graphic organizer for just about any situation, find the ones that will work best for you and put them to use. If you are having a hard time finding the right tool for the right situation, feel free to contact me and I’ll set you up the best I can.
Exercise #5: Continue to Develop Conversations about Reading.
One of the things I talk with my students, is the need for them to have a mental dialogue with the text. I will have students illustrate moments and concepts from the text to support metal imaging. I will have my students ask questions about what they are reading to fill the gaps where comprehension falls short. If possible, I steer them towards finding the answers to their own questions themselves. I ask my students to make predictions about what they think will happen next, as well as justify those predictions. I also ask my students to find ways to connect what they are reading currently with other things that know. Have they experienced something similar to what the characters are going through? Have they seen something similar in a television show, or learned about it in another subject of school? As a parent, you can ask these types of questions and have these sorts of conversations with your kid. Each of these elements touches a different part of the brain, and helps make their ability to comprehend and understand what they are reading a bit stronger.
The most important thing to remember about all of this, is to be patient. What all of these exercises aim to do, is slowly rewire your child’s brain into a reading machine. As frustrating as it might get as a parent trying to help your kid, imagine how much more challenging it must be for them.
To read the first installments in this series on How to Build a Bookworm, click HERE.