Tips for parents of budding readers

2009 December 14
by Evan Lenz

Following on my last post’s more theoretical bent, this post contains some practical advice for parents of kids who are learning to read. Most of these tips would classify as common sense if it were not for the silly psychological complexes we’ve built up as a society around how we’ll ever get kids to learn.

Read to them

Read to your kids, at least occasionally. If you want to enjoy a wealth of children’s literature (as I do), do it a lot. (But don’t beat yourself up if you only do it occasionally. It’s not as if they won’t encounter written language if you don’t read to them constantly.) Share the joy of reading with them. Don’t burden yourself with theories of reading pedagogy. Likewise, don’t assume you actually know how people learn to read. None of us really do, no matter how many letters we have after our name.

Try not to get too giddy

Seeing your kids choose to read and start making sense of things is so much fun. Soak in it and enjoy it, just as you enjoyed your baby’s first steps and their first words. But don’t praise them too much. Let it be, for them, their own enjoyable experience of reading, and not primarily a way of pleasing Mommy or Daddy.

Be a helpful resource

If your child asks you what a particular word is, simply tell them. Don’t ignore their request and instead tell them to “sound it out” (unless they’re actually asking “Can you help me sound it out?”). If you ignore their request and instead make your own demands, you’re hijacking their experience for your own purposes. Aim instead to facilitate the flow. The more they flow, the more they’ll pick up. The more you frustrate them, the less they’ll want to do it.

Let mistakes slide

The fear of letting children make mistakes while learning to read is laughable. We learn from mistakes, and it’s no less true in reading. Don’t overly concern yourself with perfection. Let words slide here and there. Again, try not to interrupt the flow experience. They’ll work out the details in the long run.

Fight your tendency to control the learning process

(As if you had the power.) Here’s an exercise for you. This is for your own good, not your kid’s (though they’ll be just fine, I promise you.) The next time they read a word incorrectly and keep going, let them do it. See how many times you can let them go without correcting them. You may have to fight with all your might that internal perfectionist, but it will be good for you. You’re giving yourself a wider range of behaviors to choose from, rather than just kneejerk reactions. The next time you correct them, it will be because you chose to, not because you were compelled to.


When your kids are reading to you, give them what they ask for, and try not to interrupt them. In short, relax and be courteous.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Pippa permalink
    March 6, 2010

    Thanks. Nice to be reminded of these basics all in one place. Should put this up on the wall.

    • Evan Lenz permalink*
      March 6, 2010

      I’m glad you found it useful! Thanks for reading.

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