10 ways to make your child a better reader

Well, these aren’t “proven” or anything, but they worked for Jack. He started actually reading at 3. Lots and lots of words and some short sentences. He was fully able to read when he was 4. And by fully, I mean, pick up an age-appropriate book and sound out the words until he could read the whole story. I’m sure some of the stuff I talk about is pretty standard, but I’m sure there are other tips that are uniquely ours. All I can say is that today, Jack told me I was being cynical, and he used it correctly in context. Oh boy…


10. Use reading as a form of “time out”.
Instead of using the bottom step or sending your child to his/her bedroom, simply tell them to go read for 10 minutes until they cool off. Jack would always go along with this. And then we’d both be happier when he was done.

me: You may excuse yourself up to your room. No playing with toys. You can read or just lay there.

Jack: Fine!

me: This is because you can’t behave yourself. Come down when you can control yourself.

Jack: Okay! (he’s acting mad, but I know he’s okay with this)

me: (later) You can come down now Jack.

Jack: Nahh, I’m still reading…


9. Keep a book bin in your car.
I use a hard plastic tote bag, sort of like the kind you’d take to the beach. Nothing makes Jack happier than to pull out a good book on a long drive. No car sickness if you start em young.

Jack: Got any snacks? (sees my warning look) Please?

me: I do. Here. (I hand back a baggie of goldfish)

Jack: Thanks! (He starts munching and flipping pages, totally content for at least 60 minutes.)


8. Freshen up the books in your car from time to time.
Keeps things interesting. Then you won’t develop carpal tunnel trying to help your child find something interesting to read while you hurtle down the highway.

me: (driving with my arm bent behind me in the backseat trying to lift books out of the book bin) How about this one?

Jack: Nope. Read it.

me: (stretch grab) This one?

Jack: No.

me: This???

Jack: NO.

me: You’re taking this one, I don’t care what it is. Here.

Jack: Ohhh but it’s the menu from the Chinese restaurant!

me: Hm, how did that get in there?


7. Give in to the occasional need to read with a meal.
I choose breakfast. Nothing made me happier as a kid than to sit and eat cereal and read the back of that box. Then I graduated on to books or a magazine or the Times. Jack LOVES to read and eat cereal. I originally wouldn’t let him eat with any meals, only snacks, but I gave in.

Jack: Can I have my book?

me: Not with breakfast. You can read after.

Jack: But why?? I LIKE to read and eat.

me: Because its rude to eat your meals with someone and have your face buried in a book. Let’s talk instead.

Jack: Not gonna work! You say no talking with food in your mouth!

me: (He’s got me there)


6. Read with your child every single night.
Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. And even if it’s the same book you’ve read a thousand times. Just the sound of your voice can teach your child about speech patterns and the cadence of a good story. Especially one that has dialogue. Using the correct inflection when reading will then come more naturally to a child that’s been read to in that way.

Jack: Can I have 3 stories tonight?

me: Sorry, but we only have time for one.

Jack: That won’t work for me. I’m picking out 3.

me: I said one. OR you can choose none. Either way.

Jack: FiNE! Here’s one book. (he pulls out the 92-page Star Wars book)

me: And no. We’ll read like 5 pages of that.

Jack: Awwww!!!


5. Get your child to love libraries and book sales.
What’s better than spending a few hours in the library pouring over dusty volumes of Shackleton books. (I say!) Jack will sometimes bring a book from home on a trip to the library and then go find a comfy secluded spot and read while I browse. Ahhh, peace.

me: Jack, where’d you go?

Jack: Come find me! (giggles as he sneaks around)

me: (harsh whisper) Jack! Come here! Now!

Jack: Hee hee.

me: Get over here! I thought you were reading! (I forget to whisper and then I get lots of dirty looks…)

Jack: Sheesh, see what a grump she is??


4. Start to take turns reading common words with your child.
Schools call these “sight” words. Words that kids should know just by looking at them. “And. The. In. Out.” And so on. So, every time Jack and I would read a book, I would stop reading and leave my finger on a word that I knew that he knew. Like “Woof” or “The”, etc. Sometimes Jack lost his patience with this method. Even when he was only 3.

me: Then Biscuit said… (I point)

Jack: Woof.

me: (I point again)

Jack: Yeah Yeah it says woof twice. I KNOW! Can’t you just read it to me? I’m tired!


3. Point to words in the book as you read them.
I started doing this when Jack was about 2. Or 2 and a half. I’ll admit, this will make your books waaayyyyy longer than they normally are. Try reading this sentence while pointing to every word and enunciating while making sure your child is following along.

me: Then. Buster. said. Woof. Woof.

Jack: Too fast!

me: Buster…   ran …  all … the … way … to …

Jack: What was that word? Go back.

me: you mean “the?” (Sigh…)


2. Stick with a daily time limit for TV/Video watching…for older kids.
We would dole out video time to Jack in 15-minute chunks. When he was done, we said he could go read for a while. Worked like a charm. We didn’t have cable when Jack was finally old enough to watch TV. Still don’t. So, he doesn’t know ALL of the current shows that are out there. It’s only mildly uncomfortable when we go to get his hair cut.

hairdresser: Hi sweetie, what show would you like to watch while I cut your hair?

Jack: Uh, cartoons?

hairdresser: Do you like Kick Buttowski?

Jack: Uhh… (looks at me)

me: I don’t think he knows what that is.

hairdresser: (raised eyebrow) Does he want the Disney Channel?

Jack: I guess?? OH! You just flipped by SpongeBob. I’ll take that.

hairdresser: Hmmph, at least he knows what that is. Heh heh…


1. Try to maintain the rule of little or no TV until your child turns 3.
Yeah I know that’s a hard one. We never had the TV on in our house, so it was a bit easier for us. Our daycare provider didn’t have TV in her house either. So, after a full day working, the last thing we wanted to do was bring Jack home and plop him in front of the TV. We wanted to spend the last hours of the day with him doing something fun and productive.  I also read to Jack when he was in my tummy, and every night when he was an infant. I’ll never forget how, at a few months old, Jack learned to flip the pages of the books I read. He knew when it was time just by the sound of my voice. As Jack got older, he helped us cook dinner, and learned to read the cookbook…including measurements and fractions. And now he also loves to cook!

Jack: 3 or 4 cups of sugar next.

me: What? Gimme that. It says 3/4. Remember? When there’s a slash like that it’s just a part of a whole cup. Anytime you see a 4 on the bottom, you say quarter(s).

Jack: Uh oh, maybe we should check the other stuff I just gave you to dump in.

me: Sigh.