Grandma, as I am sure you already know, reading is important… it is a vital part of your grandchild’s development.
I spent 17 years as an elementary school teacher and always, always, always, my most engaged and capable students were competent readers. A child’s reading ability touches every other subject in school. Reading skills are part of encouraging a strong imagination and an interest in learning. Reading with grandma should be a shared experience which produces a love of books from an early age. As a grandparent you can have a profound influence in raising a reader.
Let’s look at 16 ideas for you to try with your little (or big) bookworm, to help them become a better reader:
1. Be a Reader Yourself
It is important that your grandchild sees you reading, and it can be anything from newspapers to books to magazines to articles on the internet.
2. Be library lovers
Libraries are magical places, filled with free books,
movies, magazines, music, and sometimes toys to take home and enjoy. Visit the library regularly and let your grandchild choose the books that interest them. Also, sign them up for the free programs that the library may offer, such as baby reading time, science clubs, or summer reading programs. Bonus – taking care of and returning the library’s books teaches children responsibility.
3. Have special grandma reading places
Create spots in your home that are special to reading with grandma. Maybe when they are visiting, you always read to your grandkids before they go to bed at night, and they all pile into Grandma’s Reading Bed. Maybe you spend some quiet time after lunch each day on the porch in the Story Hammock or you have big pillows on the living room floor to lay on.
4. Books everywhere
Have books placed strategically in your house … beside their bed, in the bathroom, at the breakfast table, so there is always a book to catch their eye and their interest. Have a variety of of reading materials to choose from … books, magazines, graphic novels, comics, and include different genres, anything from science fiction to poetry. Some you may want to own, others can be borrowed from the library.
5. Bring books along with you
When you are going out with your grandchild, have books in the car to read, and carry a couple in your tote-bag to pull out when waiting in the doctor’s office, or when a little sister is waiting for her big sister’s dance class to end. You can listen to books on CD in the car as you drive to the park.
6. Introduce them to the classics
Growing up we knew the stories of The Little Princess, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Pippi Longstocking, and Swiss Family Robinson. As a teacher it always made me a little sad that the children I taught did not seem to be familiar with these stories. I always made sure to read an abridged version of Treasure Island each year (the language in the original versions are often too difficult for children, so I find good abridged versions to read together). Then we would watch the crazy movie Muppet Treasure Island together. What classics are you dying to share?
7. Try hallway reading
When my four young children were sleeping in three different bedrooms, they would get tucked into their beds at night and we would open their doors. I would sit in the lit hallway where they all could hear me. I would read whatever book we were currently reading out loud, and they would listen, getting drowsy, and I would stop when one or more of them had drifted off to asleep. I can’t tell you what fond memories my kids have of this shared nightly reading. I even occasionally resurrected the practice when they were teenagers and would read books such as To Kill a Mockingbird to them from the hallway.
8. Choose “just right” books
As an elementary school teacher, I discovered that many parents thought that if their child read difficult books, it would somehow make them better readers. Sorry parents, but when children read books that are too hard for them, they usually get frustrated. They have to stop constantly to try and decode words and they can’t always follow what is happening in the plot. If they read books that are too easy, they become bored. So gung ho grandma, what you are looking for is a book at the right level for your grandchild to read by themselves … a just right book.
One way to find out if a book is right for a child is to do the five finger test. Have them read a page to you and count on your fingers each time they don’t know a word. One or two fingers … maybe it is a little too easy for them. Three or four fingers… probably a good fit. Five fingers … too difficult. A just right book is also one they are interested in (remember how I suggested you let them select the books at the library, themselves?) and one in which they can follow the plot and understand what is happening. If you are reading out loud to them, the book can be more difficult, since you will be there to help them understand.
9. Give books as gifts
Getting a book on a special occasion gives your grandchild the sense that books are important and special. I know a grandma who gives each of her grandchildren the book Richard Scary’s Mother Goose book when they turn one year old. That book was each of my children’s favorite book when they were little. It is how my kids still know all those nursery rhymes … some famous and some rather obscure.
10. Encourage Making Mind movies
When a child reads a book, she should be creating a movie in her mind of what is taking place … she should see it in her imagination. This skill will help her with understanding what is happening in the book. One way to help develop this skill is to discuss with her what she is seeing in her mind movie and share what you are seeing in yours. Having her draw what is happening in the story also helps.
11. Making connections
Children better understand what they are reading when they can make connections with the stories:
- To something in their own lives (“My cousin is in a wheelchair, just like the girl in the story. They both still go to school, though.”)
- To something else they have read or seen on TV/a movie (“The boy talking to a stranger in the story is just like Little Red Riding Hood talking to the wolf in the forest.”)
- To things they know about the world (“There was an earthquake in the book, and I saw on TV that there are earthquakes in Japan.”)
Ask them about which of these three kinds of connections they can make as you read together, and share the connections you are making with them.
12. Make predictions
Making predictions is an important skill in reading. You have to use the facts you already know and make a prediction that makes sense. If you are reading a story about a boy who loves to play basketball, it wouldn’t fit if your grandson predicted he would be flying into space in a rocketship next.
You can start by showing your grandchild just the front cover and the title of a book they’ve never read before and ask them to predict what they think the story will be about. Then, occasionally as you read together, stop and ask them what they think will happen next. Let them give you proof from the story for their thinking (“I think he will get scared when the lights went out because he said before in the story that he was scared of the dark.”).
13. Background experiences
Enjoy sharing real-life experiences with your grandchild that will help provide background and vocabulary to a book you will read together, or are reading.
Go the Sherlock Holmes exhibit (there is one right now in my city) before you start reading an abridged version of one of Sherlock’s mysteries (tip for you- when reading mysteries together, keep track of clues and suspects and together make your prediction of who you think did the dastardly deed).
If you are going to start a book set on a farm, then visit a friend’s farm to see and hear and smell the animals and try doing something new, like milking a cow (which is trickier than it looks). These experiences give kids new related vocabulary (so that is what a silo is!) and ways to make connections with what they are reading (remember #11?).
14. Ask questions
There are children who are great at decoding and can read all the words of a story very fluently, but if you asked them what happened in the story, they can’t tell you. It is not only important how they read out loud, but also how well they understand what they have read. One way to check for understanding is by asking questions as they read (but please don’t bombard them with TOO many questions… just a few will do).
- Don’t only ask questions on a basic level, such as, “What is the main character’s name?” or “What did the girl buy at the store?” Ask some questions that begin with how and why … “How do you think the mom will solve her problem?” or “Why do you think the giant did that?” Then you can follow with another excellent question: “What makes you think that?”
- If a your grandchild seems a bit confused over something they have just read, stop right away and ask, “Did that makes sense to you?” or “What do you think the author is saying right there? Can you put it in your own words?”
15. Retell the story
When you have finished reading together, have your grandchild retell the story to you. It should have a beginning, middle, and end and the events should be in the right order.
16. Read the book, watch the movie
After you have read a book together, be sure to snuggle up and share in watching the movie (if there is one). Make it a special event. For instance, after reading Charlotte’s Web, you could watch the movie on a couch lined with stuffed farm animals waiting to watch the show with you (you can buy stuffed animals for about 50 cents each at a thrift store). Afterwards, enjoy cupcakes that have gummie spiders on top.
If you read Pippi Longstocking together, watch the movie while eating pancakes and wearing orange Halloween wigs that you have taught your granddaughter how to braid into Pippi’s two pigtails.
Make after watching the movie, make sure to discuss what things were the same as in the book, and what things they changed. Ask your grandchild if they were to make a movie of the book, how they would change the ending.
17. Work reading into everyday activities
Reading is EVERYWHERE in our lives. Read a recipe and cook something yummy together. Go to the grocery store and have your grandchild read you the shopping list. Have them read you a review of the movie you are planning to watch that night together with a big bowl of popcorn. They can read aloud the signs on the displays at the museum. An older grandchild can be in charge of reading the subtitles out loud to a foreign film. They can read the addresses to you from the classified section of the newspaper as you go to garage sales on a Saturday morning. There are so many possibilities …
So gung ho grandma, choose a few of these reading ideas and try them with your kiddo. And it can start when they are very young … my daughter started reading with her baby at about 2 or 3 months old… the baby enjoyed the bright pictures on the pages and hearing her mother’s animated voice.
Let’s help raise readers who understand the magic of the written word.
As a grandma, how have you helped your grandchild become a better reader? I would love to hear, so leave a comment below …
And if you like the idea of helping to raise readers, please share this blog with your friends!