"Reading" Skills for Reluctant Readers
Updated: Apr 22, 2022
Reading gives kids an opportunity to work on so many important language skills beyond just basic comprehension: summarizing, inferencing, predicting, synthesizing information, making connections, developing empathy...
If you're lucky and your child is a voracious reader, they can make learning those skills seem effortless. If, on the other hand, your child is struggling with reading, I have some suggestions for how to work on these skills in ways that feel less like work and more like play.
First of all, try watching their favorite TV shows with them. Any high quality program will have plenty of opportunities to make inferences and predictions. Before you start the episode, ask them to catch you up on what has already happened (summarizing!); pause throughout to ask them why the characters are taking these actions or making those choices (inferencing!) and end the episode by making bets on what happens next (predicting!). My kids recently ran through DC's Super Hero Girls over the course of a couple of weeks - the short episodes gave us lots of places to practice predictions.
My favorite way to increase the difficulty, without making the activity tedious, is to take away visual support. Audiobooks/podcast stories can be a fun way to challenge your kids to think a little more deeply. I stayed away from the emotional heavy-hitters and stuck with the exciting, spooky or just plain silly. Here are some of our favorite action-packed listens:
(Because I'm a fan of affordable kid entertainment, I've provided links to listen to the podcasts online free whenever available and I highly recommend searching your local library for audiobooks.)
This absolute gem of a book, by an author I already knew and loved for my own reading fun (the fabulous Neil Gaiman), is a slightly unusual length for a read-aloud. At just under an hour long, it can be a bit long for one stitting, but there are no chapters or easy breaking points. My kids were enthralled for the whole hour, but you might want to pick some good stopping points if your kids will need more breaks.
Think of a fantasy element, this story has it all - pirates, aliens, dinosaurs who fly floaty ball person carriers... It's a father telling an increasingly outlandish story to his children about his trip home from the store with the milk. I highly recommend having the physical book (with illustrations!) to follow along to the audiobook (read by the author himself)
Willy Wonka meets Night at the Museum in this story of a group of kids who have to solve a number of literary puzzles to win a prize. Older, puzzle-inclined kids might be able to solve the riddles along with the characters, but the book does a good job of talking you through the solutions if it's too hard (it was for us!).
This story has a couple of good examples of perception of characters changing over the course of the book, especially Andrew Peckleman and Haley Daley. Ask your kids what they think of the characters when they're first introduced. What words does the author use to make us feel that way? How does that change by the end?
This was the first foray into podcast stories for my kids and - wow! The short episodes (it's in the name, after all), always ending in a cliff-hanger, left my kids clamoring for more. This story is told through dialogue (with a full cast!) and sound effects, which leaves lots of built in opportunities to practice inferencing - we know what the character said, what did they do?
The story starts with a family finding a girl who doesn't remember her own name drifting in the ocean. From there, it's a wild mystery that leaves you with more questions each time you think you've finally found answers. It does eventually wrap up all of the loose ends, but with two seasons of around 100 episodes each, there is a lot of fun and adventure to be had before the end.
Another awesome mystery/adventure podcast available on KidListen. As the discription notes, "think Goonies, meets Spy Kids, meets Stranger things for 8-12 year olds". Younger kids may absolutely also enjoy the action, but might need a little more support. Like with the previous podcast, it is a full-cast audio with dialogue and sound effects, without narration.
There are only 30 episodes, but each one lasts around 15 minutes, for a total listening time of over 10 hours. Most episodes also include a fictional ad or announcement, which can be a great jumping off point to discuss how to interpret marketing in real life. Who is making this announcement, and what is their intention?
The Nature-verse: 'Becoming Mother Nature' and 'Cupid & the Reaper'
Another fantastic show by the producers of the previous two podcasts. The Nature-verse shows the stories of 3 different kids gaining the powers of mythological beings, with all of the chaos and shenanigans that ensue. I enjoyed talking to my kids about the character arcs for our 3 main heroes: what did you think of them at the beginning of the story and how/why did that change by the end?
A re-telling of the original tales from the Brothers Grimm, with all the weird and possibly gruesome bits. The author helpfully rates each story on a scale from Grimm to Grimmer to Grimmest, with advice to turn down the volume and count to 5 if things feel a little too scary. For my 7- and 8-year old, even the Grimmest tales were deemed more exciting than really scary.
The story is being told to an audience, with pauses to ask what they think will happen next. It's fun to pause, add your own prediction, and hear some other suggestions. I particularly love when the narrator asks a question he doesn't actually know the answer to - it is a great way to model that it is fun to think about things without there needing to be a right or wrong answer.
I've given some ideas for questions to ask, but it's also worthwhile to just enjoy the stories. You know how much you can ask your kids before it starts to feel like work.
Remember to have fun!