The need for parent engagement and involvement in education is a hot topic these days. Building a strong home-to-school connection is important for students’ academic and social-emotional growth. Research also indicates that this need for parent engagement is very relevant when it comes to building a lifelong love of reading for fun.
So, what does that look like? Many of us took on the job of “chief book sharer” before our kids headed off to elementary school, but what is our role now that they are being taught reading as a subject in school by professionals? What can we actually do as parents of school-age children to engage them as readers beyond signing off on their nightly reading log? It’s wonderful if you have the time and passion to participate in a parent/child book club. Or if you can read all the same books as your kid and compare ideas. But this isn’t realistic for many parents.
A simple and effective thing you can do is ask your kid about what they are reading. This could be what they are reading for a school assignment, what their teacher is reading to them, or any book they are reading on their own. Asking questions will help them know you are interested in their reading life and help them go deeper in their comprehension and analysis. From my experience, what you ask, when you ask, and how you ask matters.
What to Ask
Merely asking, “What are you reading?” or “How’s your book?” doesn’t always lead to a meaningful conversation. If you’ve ever excitedly asked, “What did you learn at school today?” the second your child walks off the school bus and received the frustrating answer of, “Nothing.” you know what I mean. Finding the right questions and the right moments to ask about their reading matters.
Here are some questions I use with my own kids and the 3rd – 7th grade students in the Bookopolis book clubs.
Setting & Plot
- Where does this story take place? If the story had taken place in a different country/planet/setting, how would it be different?
- What’s the main problem or conflict in the story?
- Which, if any, characters would you be friends with in real life? Why?
- What are the qualities that the main character uses to overcome the problem or conflict in the story?
Themes & Morals
- What do you think is the overall theme or moral of the book? How does it relate to your life today?
- What big questions or ideas did this story make you curious about?
Big Picture Questions
- What was your favorite (or least favorite) part of this book? Why?
- What inspired you about this book?
When to Ask
Timing matters. My kids are annoyed if I interrupt their pre-bedtime reading to ask them about their book. Asking them over dinner, breakfast, or while we’re in the car is more effective. Play around with different times of day to see when your kids are more likely to tell you about their reading.
How to Ask
You don’t want your child to feel like they’re being graded on a book report or are part of an inquisition. Genuinely being interested in why they like (or don’t like) a book shows you value their thoughts and opinions. The goal is to spark a conversation through thought-provoking questions rather than going down a checklist of comprehension topics. Just asking, “What’s your favorite part about the story” or “What do you like about the main character” might be enough to get them talking.
Want other ways to engage your growing reader at home? Here are some of my tried-and-true tips:
- Read aloud to them — yes, even older readers. It could be a picture book or longer books that span multiple days or weeks.
- Encourage them to choose their own books. Take frequent trips to the library or local bookstore to browse books.
- Create a family book club or a community book club with your kids’ friends and their parents.
- Schedule ‘reading time’ for your kids every day just like you would set aside time for soccer practice or music lessons.
- Model reading by picking up a real book (not just an iPad) and then tell your kid about your book.
Getting kids to love reading takes a village. It’s the work of students, parents, teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, book publishers, bookstore employees, and anyone who exposes young people to the world of books.
What else do you do to engage your young reader? Share in the comments below.