Read, read, read and then read some more.
I have an oft repeated mantra my children and students know well, "You need to read and read and read and then I have some reading for you to do. When you're done with that, there's something I want you to read and then you need to read." We joke about it, but they know I'm very serious. Good readers practice reading just like good piano players practice playing the piano and good swimmers practice swimming. Just like there is conditioning in sports and scales to practice in music, reading takes work and repetitive practice to do well. I know all the moves chess pieces make, but I'd never call myself a chess player. It's much more than the basics and that applies to reading as well. Kids need to be able to read all types of text from instruction manuals to novels and most importantly, read everything for meaning. How often have you gotten to the end of a page and realized you have no idea what it said? Looking at every word doesn't mean you read it. Students can get away with this as they are too often spoon fed content and comprehension is handed to them gift wrapped on a silver platter with fill-in-the-blank questions worded exactly like the text that make me want to scream. You don't even need to speak the language to be able to answer questions like these. I recently helped a student doing her Mandarin Chinese homework. It was fill in the blank and though I don't know a lick of Mandarin and can't even remotely comprehend the characters, I was able to help her. All I had to do was match the characters and figure out which one was missing. That's what kids do all the time. So what can parents do?
When you consider reading with your kids, don't limit it to books. We spend a great deal of time in our cars and this is a great time take advantage of your captive audience. Help them to understand double meanings and inferences in text. Billboards are a perfect way to practice this. When kids are very small, just recognizing letters on a billboard is a great start. When my kids were toddlers, we'd have "L" days where we'd look for words that started with "L." This is also great for sight words that can't be sounded out phonetically like through, the, and would. Turning reading into a game makes it fun and the repetition of looking for the same word over and over written in different fonts helps to stamp it permanently in their minds.
Driving is also an excellent time to point out abbreviations: Rd., St., Pkwy., Ave., etc. You can often see abbreviations for your city and state names too. Point out to them which words are capitalized and offer a bonus if they find incorrect spelling and punctuation. I offered a quarter and they were never allowed to use the same sign twice. Alternatively, I'd sometimes have them search for pronouns (he, she, they, we, you, etc.) or proper nouns (Mary, Balboa Park, Dr. Smith, etc.) and offer a penny each to the first one who got to 25. As toddlers, this helped with counting too! You've never seen kids so eager to read every sign that came along.
Though all my kids are teenagers now, we still play the alphabet game on long drives. You search for a word that begins with the letter A, then B, then C, etc. and the first person to complete the alphabet wins (with X, our rule is it just has to be somewhere in the word). No two people can use the same word and the driver always wins a tie. Sometimes I pay out a dollar to the winner. Once we had an extra doughnut and as that's a rare treat, we had a particularly fierce game!
MAKE READING A VALUED TRADITION
Our nighttime routine included each child choosing his own book which I'd read. We always read them in alphabetical order, each boy taking turns putting the books in order providing more language practice. This is the time we'd curl up in bed and cuddle as I read. To make reading a cherished event, you have to sell it. When you read to your child, read with expression. This not only helps children understand punctuation and voice, but makes reading much more interesting. If you use a different voice for each character, your kids are more likely to be engaged and explaining words or nuances they might not understand is also important. My sons loved my nightly reads so much, the threat of not reading to them that night was enough to elicit good behavior. They instantly complied if they thought they might miss out on me reading to them. We had this routine since they were babies, so don't expect to start it when they're ten and get the same response. Reading to your kids and doing it from day one is critical to their academic success, but better late than never. In fact, "parental involvement in their child’s literacy practices [how much, how often, modeling, and other reading habits] is a more powerful force than other family background variables, such as social class, family size and level of parental education" (Clark, 2007).
PAPER VS PLASTIC
There have been multiple studies of late on comprehension when reading traditional books versus e-readers. Though there have been mixed results, most studies show reading on paper to be at least marginally better for comprehension. These tests, however, don't include the practical disadvantage inherent in reading on a device—the temptation to click out of the book to a game, website, video, etc. That's why I suggest having children read traditional books, especially at bedtime when the light from devices can also inhibit sleep. Though I teach in the computer lab at our school and at least 80% of what I teach is computer based, I'm a firm believer in going offline. My kids have "no screen" days when they aren't allowed access to anything with a screen. Sometimes homework must be done on a computer and we allow it with strict time limits, but our no screen days are often some of my kids' most memorable. When they were smaller, they'd have imaginative in-depth play, dressing themselves as pirates and creating ships from cardboard boxes and swords from aluminum foil. Now that they're older, they play board games, go for hikes, and bake (one of my fourteen-year-old twins has become quite a good ice cream maker). My husband and I try to forgo screens on these days too, as much as possible, but we often have work to do that can't be avoided and my kids know it. They've learned the distinction between work and play online.
COURT THEIR INTERESTS
Kids are far more likely to read what they enjoy so let them choose their own reading material (within limits). The two most important factors in motivating children to read and for comprehending what they've read are access to many choices of books and getting to choose what they read (Guthrie, Wigfield, and Klauda, 2012). For example, my oldest son is a sports fanatic so he gets a subscription to Sports Illustrated magazine. Second-hand stores are a great resource for books. Our local Salvation Army store offers 50% off on Tuesdays so we go there and each boy is given a few dollars to spend. Paperbacks are typically 50¢, so on Tuesdays they can be had for 25¢. They can get eight books $2! My only rule is that the books can't be about a movie, cartoon, or video game (the book had to come first) since I'm trying to encourage reading literature. I also encourage them to look for nonfiction books. So much of what we read as adults is nonfiction and the skills to read it are different from fiction. Begin early and read it often with this genre. Enjoying what they read is important to students' academic success, not just reading success. "Reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socioeconomic status" (Clark, 2007).