12 Steps for Parents to Improve Kids' Literacy Skills

Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator
Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator

During the course of my life, I met a young man who had experienced learning disabilities that were diagnosed when he was in elementary school.

Unfortunately, his father believed that the schools in California would provide the extra tutoring the son needed. Well, if you know anything about the public school system in California you know that they are horribly underfunded. I’m certain this is the case elsewhere in the United States as well.

By the time the boy reached high school, he couldn’t write himself out of a bag, as the saying goes. He didn’t know how to compose a complete sentence and although he and his parents were native Californians, as were his grandparents, his English was grammatically insufficient.

By the time he was in high school, he would say things such as, “That was the most funnest I had.” Obviously, the correct version of that sentiment would be, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Perhaps as a defensive strategy, he would tell people that high school didn’t matter. If he didn’t do well at his community college, well, that wouldn’t be disastrous either. But where he would need to focus his energy and time would be at a state college.

As you know, that wasn’t true. Our kids learn and learn to study at a very early age. By the time they graduate from high school, they should be well prepared for college, provided they don’t want to pursue the trades or a career in public safety.

Needless to say, the young man had to take his high school exit exam for English two or three times. The same was true for his math exit exam. When he arrived on the steps of his community college, administrators required him to take remedial English and math. He’s been in the community college system for five years and is still barred from entry into a state college until he can pass additional classes.

So he’s stuck, frustrated, and depressed. He wants to pursue a business career and perhaps get into graphic design but without a proper degree, he knows that his prospects are dim.

Do I blame the father? Of course not. As a single father, he did the best he could commuting to his job and caring for his son. By the time the father returned home at night from work and cooked dinner, he was exhausted.

Follow These Steps to Boost Your Child's Literacy Skills

So as I approach this topic of how parents can support their kids’ efforts to improve their reading skills, I understand that your time is restricted. You have the house and garden to care for, travel to and from work, and must attend to responsibilities for your parents. And you must spend time making sure your kids are properly bathed, clothed, and cared for. Just thinking about all of your responsibilities makes me tired.

But if you can, spend a few minutes here and there helping to improve your kids’ literacy skills. Here are some tips for you:

  1. Start as early as possible. As Timothy Shanahan explains in his post, he began reading to his children the day they were born. Now that might be a tad extreme but the point it to start early.
  2. Singto your children. It won’t matter to them if you sing off key. Well, it will matter to them once they reach their teen years, but before then it won’t matter. Help them to enrich their vocabularies by incorporating new words and helping them to understand unfamiliar phrases.
  3. Modelgood reading habits. Let your kids observe you reading the newspaper, cookbooks, and books. Take them to the library when you pick up new books to read.
  4. Take your kids to story hour at your local library.
  5. Teach your kids to read roadway signs.
  6. Run your finger under the line of text in a story you’re reading to your children. This simple act will help your kids begin to recognize certain words.
  7. Are you baking cookies? Incorporate your child into this activity as you read the recipe and prepare the cookie dough.
  8. Each week, turn off the TV for an entire day. That evening, everyone in your household should spend time after dinner reading.
  9. Once your child can write, prepare reminder notes for your kid and encourage your child to write a reply.
  10. Buy comic books and graphic novels for your children to read.
  11. Purchase joke books, such as knock-knock books for kids. There are numerous books of this type on Amazon. Here’s a page devoted to them. 
  12. Do you subscribe to Scholastic? You can pay for a subscription or ask your doctor or dentist’s office to give you the back copies instead of tossing them into the trash. You’ll find other books on this website as well. http://classroommagazines.scholastic.com

How are you helping your children improve their literacy skills?

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free and download a Free coloring book here

Keep Kids Reading All Summer Long

Several years ago, the Utah Center for Reading and Literacy at the University of Utah conducted a study and discovered that reading skills tend to drop during the summer months.

Specifically, here are some of the report's findings:

  1. In those schools where students received the fewest number of books, a drop in the reading level was greatest.
  2. Parental support for reading improves reading skills. (No surprise!)
  3. There’s a negative association between the amount of time spent reading and those children who watch television or play video games.

It is common for a child’s reading skills to drop during the summer months when there is less reading time structured into the day.

Keep Kids Reading this Summer

However, parents can combat this degradation by enrolling their children in reading programs. Here are some for you to consider:

Summer Reading with Barnes and Noble

With this program, children can earn a free book. All they need to do is read any eight books and record them in the Reading Journal. Then take the journal to a local store and choose a free book.

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

This is a free online reading program for children. The challenge begins on May 4 and ends on September 4. Schools with the most minutes read win visits to their schools by Michael Northrop or Varian Johnson. When I last checked the website, participants had already read a total of nearly 15,000,000 minutes – and the summer months haven't even begun.

Sylvan Reading Book Adventure

This program bills itself as more than a summer reading program. It lasts all year long and motivates children to read by offering prizes. Once a child participates in the Book Adventure, they take quizzes and can exchange their points for prizes. This seems like a good program to encourage reading year-round.

Government-Sponsored Summer Reading Programs

It's always a good idea to check with your local library. Libraries undoubtedly have reading programs, storytelling hours, and other programs to encourage reading in youngsters.

Showcase Cinema's Bookworm Wednesdays 

Now this is a fun program. Between July 8 and July 29, Showcase Cinema provides free tickets to a movie each week for each book a child reads. It can be a great incentive to keep your child reading this summer.

Book It! 

Pizza Hut is a sponsor of this summer reading challenge that kicks off on June 22. The program motivates children to read by rewarding reading accomplishments with praise, recognition and – what every child loves – pizza! The program was created in 1984 and currently reaches more than 14 million students in 38,000 elementary schools annually. It also runs a school-year program between October and March.

Chuck E. Cheese 

The restaurant famous for children's birthday parties also sponsors a summer reading program where kids can earn ten tokens for reading each day for two weeks.

Books-A-Million Summer Reading Program

This reading program is sponsored by BAM!, which sells books, e-books, magazines, and electronics. To join the reading program, select four books from the Summer Quest Section, record them in a journal, and then turn your paperwork into a local store.

Of course, you can always access my books on my website for free. Feel free to read them to your toddlers from your desktop or laptop computers or use the books to help your youngsters learn to read. 

If you discover additional summer reading programs, be sure to let me know.

Girl and caterpillars

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.