As parents, we’re always wondering how to help our children who are learning to read in school. Are there ways to effectively support them at home?
We recently spoke with MK Mutzbauer, a former teacher who taught at the 3rd and 4th grade level for 23 years. She holds a masters degree in special education and currently works in the Book Fairs Division at Literati!
Read on for our Q&A with MK, as she answers questions about how to engage your elementary schoolers in reading—whether or not they’re currently struggling—and help support their learning at home.
Thanks for speaking with us, MK! You’ve said that literacy is the foundation for the rest of education. Given your diverse background in teaching, what are your tips for parents who might be struggling to keep their kid interested in reading? What can they do at home, especially when they’re up against screens, video games, and other things right now?
First of all, reading should never be a punishment, as in “go to your room and read.” Try to make it more of an activity, like “Hey, let’s go read together! It’s a nice day out, so let’s grab a blanket and go read under a tree.” Grab something to eat or drink and just go sit somewhere and read a few chapters or a little bit of a book together.
What are some of the fun places you’ve read with your students to get them excited about reading?
In the classroom, we’d have DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or Pop-a-Top Friday, where students could bring in a drink of choice, and they could read anywhere in the classroom. It was always a big fight to get under the teacher’s desk!
And I sat and read with them—I didn’t grade papers, I didn’t read emails—I read. Mom and Dad can do this the same way: they have to read as well, because kids notice and learn from them. Find a room, or anywhere, and read. Maybe outside, maybe in a playroom, maybe at night in a tent in the yard—wherever your kids have the most fun, bring a book and read together there. Make reading fun!
Also, while you’re cooking or doing something around the house, you can have your kid read to you. Say something like, “I just want to hear a little bit about that story that you’re reading” or “why don’t you read a chapter to me so I can understand it,” and let them read to you.
Are there situations to avoid because they might cause a child to have a negative association with reading?
Reading shouldn’t be used as a prize or as a punishment—it should just be “we’re reading” or “let’s read.” So it should never be a negative; it should always be positive and fun. Pop popcorn or make some hot chocolate, grab a few good books, and read together. If kids understand that this is fun—it’s not a punishment, as in “you have to read 30 pages” or “you have to read this”—they should want to.
Or, sometimes a child has a book that Mom and Dad expect them to read, but it’s too hard. Maybe they’re a 4th-grader trying to read a 6th-grade book, and they’re just not ready for that. They need to read at their interest level and age level, or lower, for them to really comprehend that book.
That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with our new system of reading levels: not only find books that match a kid’s interests, but that also match their skill set.
At this age level, they’re starting to have strong opinions, comprehend books, and really think critically about them. Do you see a big impact when a kid has the opportunity to choose books for themselves?
Oh yeah, they are 100% invested in the book if it’s something they’re interested in, and they’re going to want any and all information they can get about that topic, whether it’s dinosaurs, sports, or anything else. I would say their interest level is the main thing for getting them interested in reading.
For more information on Literati Book Clubs and Reading Levels, visit literati.com.