How Teachers Can Help Parents with Reading in the Home Without Really Doing Anything At All

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Since the early introduction of “ABCmouse.com,” parents have been given a handful of digital tools to help their children become early readers so that the adjustment to pre-k, t-k or kindergarten is a painless process for the newly schooled student. Various apps allow parents to have reading instruction instantly available on their phones for the perfect car ride or restaurant distraction. This seems like it is a great way for a child to independently engage in phonics and word study in a manner that is both convenient and cost-effective.

But could this screen time actually be doing more harm than good in terms of supporting parents at home with reading instruction and literacy development tools?  Is something better than nothing? What happens when children transition to the school setting and they begin using the various apps in classrooms and computer labs. Is this complimentary to parents’ digital support? Is it overkill? Is it teaching and reinforcing reading instruction at all? Real reading, with real books, is the best thing a parent can do to support any age of reading instruction.

Kindle VS Print

Teachers need to truly encourage parents to continue the reading of handheld books. This means handheld, paper-print books with pictures, words, and pages. Kindles are great for travel, and they do serve a purpose for students who need a different engagement strategy for reading, but when it comes to home reading practice, print books open up a different world for children. Many children need to feel the sense of actually turning the page as they read, it acts as a visual motivator when a child starts with one page and moves through a chapter or even an entire book. Print books also teach children to care for something. They understand how a book is bound and the importance and significance of the pieces that make up a book, ie, cover page, title page, glossary, spine, and actual binding.  

Print Books Encourage Reading Together

When a child holds a Kindle or IPad and works on various reading apps, they are doing it completely independently. A conversation between parent and child during this time usually involves a technology issue, and after the parent scrolls, clicks and corrects, the interaction ceases. Occasionally, a child may ask for help with a word if the app doesn’t have a pronunciation tool, but this interaction leads to a parent reading the word and the student continuing with his/her game. Print books are held together and parents can actually use tracking or tracing as they read, or have their child track/trace during oral reading. Reading is slowed down and true fluency can be identified as a parent can hear a child word for word as they work through the pages together.

When a parent sits with a child, it opens the child up to naturally asking questions about a story. Children want to know “why?” when it comes to things that fairy tale characters do or say and even if a parent doesn’t know the answer, a conversation about pictures, words, and story elements boosts a child’s overall engagement and understanding of a book.

Giving Parents Books to Do the Work

Parents of all socioeconomic statuses, races, and geographic areas want the same thing in terms of reading: they want their children to be good readers. If an app is convenient and available, then the parent will give it to their child because they believe it is helping do some of the leg work to support reading. What parents need to understand is that reading aloud with their mom or dad, by itself is more than any digital tool can give their child. Sending home weekly books that are easy, short and simple is the first thing that teachers can do. The only homework assignment is to read (or if your child can read to you) and talk about the books. This interaction opens up questions, conversations and a positive relationship between families and reading. If teachers want to add a bookmark with some talking stems, they can do this only to support but not regulate the “reading with each other” movement.

Age is Only a Number

This idea of reading together doesn’t have to end when a child hits novels or middle school-and it shouldn’t. One of the easiest ways to connect to an over-emotional preteen is to do an activity that is completely neutral, like reading. Having a child sit and take turns reading a non-fiction book that they are into, or a new graphic novel can build quality moments and minutes with no pressure. This is not a homework activity. This is a family activity. Both parties leave their phones for 20 minutes and read something together. It can be a cookbook, a manual, a sports magazine. The idea is print, language, and discussion.  

Teachers already have so many things on their to-do list, asking parents to help with reading and reading strategies don’t have to be one of those things. It is a simple as sending the message that parents can also be reading teachers if they read with their children and talk about what they are reading. Children will bring home the strategies that they use in class, they have plenty of questions that aren’t answered in class and they truly want that one-on-one time with an adult. A book is a bridge that a digital device can’t always provide. The book is the magic in the parent-child reading. The parent only needs to know this and they will be great reading support for the education system and the race to make sure that all of our children become great readers.