The most important thing to increase your kid’s success in school

17 Aug

You know how important it is for your child to read. Everything the experts say tells you that our kids who like to read simply have more success in school.  Not only that, but they are more successful later in life. But your child refuses to pick up a book. He rolls his eyes every time you recommend it and then runs away to stare blankly at the computer screen again.

Success in school from Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad



Or maybe you don’t have a child who is addicted to the computer, but simply will find any other excuse under the sun to procrastinate from reading.


What does this mean for your child? Will he or she lose out on success in school and in life, just because he refuses to read?


No, there are things you can do to help.


The worst thing you can do to kill the love of reading


One of the biggest complaints kids have about reading is that they don’t like what their teacher tells them they have to read. This means that they often end up with a negative association for reading. If your child isn’t getting enough choice in school-related reading materials, then he likely won’t have a lot of enthusiasm for selecting his own books. He begins to think of reading as drudgery, instead of something that brings joy and self-fulfillment.


Yes, there are valuable lessons that students must learn by reading the same book as others in their classes. And it would be ludicrous to think that already-overworked teachers could start reading the same book selected by every student in their class.


But if your child NEVER gets to select their own reading material at school, then this definitely contributes to a negative association with reading. Ask your school administrators to find a way to implement Stephen Krashen’s Free Voluntary Reading program. It has made a huge difference at many schools and for many kids (see 81 Generalizations about Free Voluntary Reading).


Drug-induced stories?


Before computer games, people read books to escape from their daily lives. They didn’t have electricity, so they read stories at night by the light of a candle or lantern. Eventually, radio entered the picture, and suddenly people were able to hear – in real time – what was going on outside their little place in the world. Some of the most popular radio shows were stories.


After radio, people gathered around another box that told stories and brought people from around the world into their living rooms: the television. Another big story-telling medium that became popular at about the same time and still is: the movie. Going to the movies became a social event where lots of people can gather together to share an experience of a story. After seeing the movie, they all have a common vocabulary and something that bonds them together.


Can you guess the next big story-telling medium? Yes, computer games. People inhabit computer games like they live inside a book. There are good guys, bad guys, special powers, politics, quests… And even more exciting than books, you get to choose your own character. It is difficult to compete with this type of not just story-telling, but story-creation. We all have a natural inclination to use our imaginations. These types of games are like story-telling on crack!


7 means to reading and school success


The fact remains that being a reader – of actual letters, not just pictures – has a huge impact on student success. So what can you do? What can possibly compete with the story-creation opportunities kids have in computer games? Below is a list of things that WILL make a difference.


1) All reading “counts”. Really. Anything your child reads is important for developing vocabulary and fluency. This includes instruction manuals (yes, even for computer games), comic books, graphic novels, online forums about products they are researching, non-fiction, fiction, newspapers (if one still comes to your house), online news, magazines… Reading is reading is reading. Let your child know that she is already reading a lot. Adding a book to the reading list isn’t that big a deal. And the book could be paper or on a kindle, or whatever. It all counts. So help change your child’s view of reading in general, by honoring and recognizing all the reading she is already doing.


2) Read a book with your child. That doesn’t mean sitting on the couch side-by-side like when they were 6 years old (although that can be fun too!), but let your child select a book that they want to read, and you get another copy of it for yourself. Discuss as you read through it. This creates a great bond! Even better, look online to see if there are any discussion guides available. Read them (sneak them, if you think that will work better), then bring up some of those ideas and suggested topics when you and your child discuss that book.


As an aside, be careful not to do what I did! When she was younger, my daughter was reading a certain vampire series and wanted to share it with me. I made my way through the first book and was singularly unimpressed both with the writing and with the main character, who I thought was a terrible role model for my daughter. When she asked me what I thought, I was trying to be diplomatic when I said, “Well, it’s OK, but it’s not as well-written as I was hoping. And I think that Bella doesn’t show much gumption.” Clearly, I was not diplomatic enough, because she became very defensive and refused to talk to me about it anymore! So, fudge your answer more than I did, if you want to keep this door open! (Fortunately, my daughter read a lot anyway, so that wasn’t my concern; repairing our relationship became my concern!)


3) Have a family reading time a least a couple of times a week. Put it into the family calendar and keep to it faithfully. Then, READ during that time! Don’t do email. Put your phone in another room. And read. It can be anything you want! Newspapers, magazines, print books. If you can’t read online without getting distracted, then don’t read online.


4) Model that you read every day. At dinner, discuss what you read in the news. Talk about a funny anecdote in a novel you are reading. Talk about an author’s point of view in a non-fiction article or book that you just read. Show your children that reading is a part of your everyday life. Demonstrate that this is how people learn new things and are exposed to new ideas when they are no longer in school!


5) Get audio books. Many adults “read” books on their commute – or while working out or walking the dog – by listening to them. It is so much fun to learn new ideas, and be introduced to new worlds through audio books! Kids who don’t like to read print letters still love stories. Help your child get used to the idea of reading through audio books. When my kids were too little to read the early Harry Potter books, we listened to them every time we got in the car. When they were old enough (and mature enough for the later books), they were ready to read them on their own and it was an entirely different experience!


6) Ask the parents of some of your child’s best friends if they want to start a parent/child book club. Make sure the kids in the club have similar reading interests so you can all read the same book. Then meet either bi-weekly or monthly to talk about the book. Leave time at the meetings to discuss other things you are all reading as well. Make sure you provide ice cream or some other great treat at every meeting! If you make it a party to talk about reading, the positive associations will build up.


7) Make sure you keep your child’s eye exams up to date. He may not realize that he doesn’t like to read because he can’t see the book clearly! Also, if he works hard at reading and still struggles, it may be worth getting a processing assessment. Plenty of kids switch words or letters, or just can’t process well from what they see to what they think. If you have tried many of the above tactics and your child still has issues, advocate for him! Don’t let him slip through the cracks.


Have you tried any of these activities with your child, or any other activities? What do you do to ensure your kids success in school?

Deborah Owen is a high school library teacher in Massachusetts. She is especially interested in helping students develop self-motivation, and in helping teachers and parents present self-motivating ideas to students! She loves reading, research and writing, and sharing that enthusiasm with kids. Deborah blogs at Convergence in the Commons, and can be found on Twitter.  She has published articles in the journals Library Media Connection.

17 Responses to “The most important thing to increase your kid’s success in school”

  1. Emmy July 14, 2016 at 11:04 AM #

    These are great tips! It was an audio book of Charlie and the Chocolate factory that helped turn my oldest into a reader. He loves reading now, but it was listening to that book (and following along) that got him hooked.

  2. Anne Campbell August 24, 2015 at 10:30 PM #

    My boys and I read together every day. We still have nightly read aloud time where we all gather on the couch, and I read to them. Even my oldest high schooler loves this special time. I think if kids are surrounded by books and reading, they grow up with the idea that it is a natural part of life. When I was teaching in the school system, it was so sad to learn how many kids didn’t even have books at home. This list is a wonderful resource, and I’m pinning it to share.

  3. Nicky August 24, 2015 at 2:06 PM #

    These are all great tips. We do a read- a loud everyday before school officially starts and then again later in the day. My older two children learned to read quickly, but I youngest struggled. I put off teaching him until he was 7. It was the best thing I could of done. Rather than teach him to hate reading, we waited until he was ready. Now you’d never know he struggled.

  4. L. E. Mastilock August 24, 2015 at 1:28 AM #

    I think demonstrating reading as part of life is important from the time your kids are little. If you do most of your reading on a screen, now, your child can’t tell what you are doing. Make a point to pick up an actual physical book and read that way at east some of the time.

  5. Jill August 23, 2015 at 9:18 PM #

    Great reminder as we get ready to start school – tomorrow! Eek!

  6. Sharisse August 23, 2015 at 1:43 AM #

    These are all really great tips. I especially love the one about having a family reading time. I love to read, but I’m having a hard time fitting it into my daily routine, as much as I want to, with a toddler. I will definitely do this when he’s older though so we can set aside time for ALL of us to read! 🙂

  7. Lena August 22, 2015 at 4:02 PM #

    find the most puzzling and annoying with my daughter. She loves to read and she can read for hours, but if I tell her to read I get such resistance. The confuses me so much!

  8. Michelle August 22, 2015 at 1:25 PM #

    These are great tips. Reading is so important for all people. And I really need to have all of my kids get new eye exams. It’s been a long time. Thanks for the reminder. <3

  9. Scarlet August 22, 2015 at 11:13 AM #

    My kids LOVE to read and I think it was your #2 and #3 tips that made that happen. We all love a good story and it is a great way to spend family time.

  10. Candace September 13, 2013 at 12:48 PM #

    These are all excellent tips! Fostering a love of reading is so very important. I do think it is necessary to sometimes wade through classics you may or may not love (I generally love any well-written book but have never been a fan of Mark Twain) but in general, you should be able to choose what you read! Teachers can have children select from books that touch on similar themes and then group them by the book they selected for classroom projects and discussions. As my eldest becomes more and more independent of a reader, I do try to read along with her (although if I have to read one more Daisy Meadows Fairy book, I might put my head through a wall)…and I love hearing her thoughts on the book. I think the most diplomatic way to broach disagreements is to ask, “Well, what did YOU think of the writing/character development/themes, etc.?”

  11. Stephanie September 8, 2013 at 10:42 AM #

    The two things I loved the most on here were 1) parent/child reading group and 2) getting their eyes checked. My son has a lazy eye and poor vision in one eye, but it was enough to get by and we had no idea until he tried to target shoot with his stepdad one day. I had no idea that could be without me knowing but it did. He was 6. The reading club is a great idea, I never thought of such a thing.

    My son LOVES books, adores them, loves to hear them, but he struggles with actual reading (he’s almost 8 now) so we just try and try again and make it as low-stress and fun as possible. Thanks for these tips!

    • Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad September 8, 2013 at 11:08 AM #

      Thank you so much for stressing the importance of vision checks. I think you’re right-we often don’t notice the little things and assume that the school checks are sufficient. Often times they aren’t. Glad to hear that he’s now back to hitting those targets! (My yard has a target set up too and my daughter loves to practice!) I figure a few of those photos on Facebook will keep the teenage boys away!

      Thanks for the comment. Heading to your Star Wars post right now.

    • Deborah Owen September 11, 2013 at 1:10 PM #

      Well I hope you are able to find some like-minded parents to try a parent/child reading group. And I’m very glad you were able to help your child with his vision issues! It always pays to stay on top of these things! Thanks for reading!

  12. Kim September 7, 2013 at 1:44 AM #

    Hello, I found through the Harvest of Friends Weekend Blog Hop.
    Love your blog! Have a great weekend!

    • Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad September 7, 2013 at 11:46 AM #

      Thank you so much for visiting my site. You landed on my guest poster’s article and she did a great job. Please take a moment to subscribe via the popup and you’ll get all of our posts in a weekly summary.

    • Deborah Owen September 8, 2013 at 6:54 AM #

      Glad you were able to stop by and enjoy the post!

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