How to take your child’s reading abilities to the next level.

To read is to have the power to learn regardless of the school one attends or the teacher who teaches.  But what books should I encourage my children to read and how?

Coming from non-English speaking background, I rely on school or friends to advice some tittles. However, schools often say that as long as a child is reading, it does not matter what she/he reads.  I took it as given and followed that instruction, letting my children read whatever they choose.

However, I noticed, despite reading quite a lot, both of them struggle with comprehension tests and that made me wonder. Looking for some help, I came across this book that turned my perception of reading upside down. Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy Instruction.

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In a nutshell, it does matter what children read. It makes a difference also how children read. And it is very important to discuss with your children (orally and in written) what they are reading to give them a framework to build an independent ability to analyse. If you are interested to learn more, I put together the main highlights from the book below.


What to focus on when choosing a book:

Either you are choosing a book for your toddler or for your 11 years old, you are not only reading the story, expanding the knowledge and passing some values. You are also helping your child to develop the skills to read more complex and interesting books as they grow. So when you are choosing a book think about these five elements:

1)      Prepare for archaic text: being able to read archaic text is necessary for a full education, but it is unrealistic to think that a young child can start straight away with Charles Dickens. However, one can start reading older text and increase complexity gradually. As an example, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Wind in the Willows, Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz will lay a ground to Charles Dickens stories.

2)     Teach to follow nonlinear time sequence: we are talking not only about movement in time but also speed of the story to delivery a different message. Even pre-school children can have a taste of nonlinear sequence (e.g. Bigmama’s by Donald Crews) progressing to harder texts gradually like Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and Holes by Louis Sachar.

3)      Complexity of narrator: the story can have multiple narrators (like in Wonder by R J Palacio), non-human narrators, unreliable or even deceitful narrators. Something can be happening literally or figuratively. The ideas are complex, but there are books even for young children that introduce these ideas such as Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz .

4)      Complexity of Story (plot and symbolism) – unpacking symbolism and complexity is a skill which comes with practice.  For a child to notice symbolism, an adult should be helping out at the beginning. However, not all schools discuss books in a group. When I choose a book for my children to read, I look at the symbolism and then discuss it with them (e.g. reading C.S. Lewis’s Narnia help the child to see that Aslan, the lion and creator of Narnia, represents Jesus and White Witch, represents Satan).

5)      Resistant Text: some texts are much harder to read (like poems), and one has to equip a child with techniques to decode harder texts. For example, when a child reads a poem, parents should suggest to read it three time: 1) for the mood/tone, 2) for the meaning and 3) to pick any literary techniques the author uses.

I also found these four more tips on increasing comprehension techniques useful:

1)    Non-fiction:  to improve children’s comprehension, parents should expose children to non-fiction texts relative to the fiction story they are reading. For example, if you are reading Paddington at the Palace by Michael Bond, you can read an article on Buckingham Palace (or as we are lucky to be in London, why not to visit the museum with your child).  If your older child reads Animal Farm by George Orwell, why not to read an article about Russian Revolution.

2)      Reading and discussion together: choose a particular area of the book you would like your child to understand (e.g. what words author chooses to pass the mood of the main character in this scene).  It will strengthen his/her comprehension and develop skills to analyse the text on his/her own. If you need a bit of help to develop a discussion topic for a particular book, there are few sites that are good resources to help such as and

3)      Teach your child to make notes with a pencil while reading (main ideas, new words or beautiful sentences, unclear parts). My children read more and more on Kindle to be able to look up unknown words faster, but I am still teaching them to highlight and make notes on the screen.

4)      Equip your children with a vocabulary to analyse texts. Reading is like maths, terminology makes your thinking more structural. Do not be afraid to explain to your child what is metaphor, irony, motif, etc.

Investing your time to guide your child through books and building these skills will make a difference for their education even at the university level. It is an effort that is worth our time.

If you would like to share quality reading titles you found for your children, please comment below.

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