Parental Involvement and Children Reading

The Only Successful Combination

by Richard D. Tomko, Ph.D.

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Learning to read is arguably the most important skill one must utilize in everyday, modern society.  Reading serves not just as the major foundational skill for nearly all school-based learning, but someone’s reading “ability” is strongly related to the opportunities available when considering both academic and vocational success.  Current educational and developmental research indicates that there is a direct correlation between student graduation/drop out rates and ability to read by the end of grade three.  Nationwide, drop out rates prior to graduation continue to rise and district school leaders are no longer blaming statewide assessments as the reasoning behind these students leaving high school prior to receiving a diploma.  In fact, according to a recent longitudinal analysis of grade three students in Chicago[1], third-grade reading level was shown to be a significant predictor of a student’s eighth-grade reading level; ninth-grade course performance; rate of high school graduation; and college attendance, even when demographic characteristics were included throughout the study as controls.

For children, a critical transition occurs directly in the middle of elementary school. Until the end of third grade, most students are learning to read. By definition, these are students who are being taught how to utilize the tenets of phonics, diction, and related strategies to sound out words and advance through the written language.  Beginning in fourth grade, however, students begin what is known as reading to learn[2].   Here, the complexities of comprehension, retention, thematic summaries, and overall analysis come into play.  Therefore, students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade begin having difficulty comprehending the written material that is a central part of the educational process in the grades that follow. The increased demands on the non-reading child cause him/her to fall deeper into an educational “pit” and unable to “catch up.”

As school district leaders and teachers work together to identify the needs of struggling learners in classrooms and remediate reading issues, parents must also continue to reiterate the importance of independent reading at home in consideration of the ability of their own children.  Reading with your child on a daily basis and encouraging independent reading for your son/daughter by helping him/her select books that are both interesting and challenging will further add to his/her ability to comprehend words, use more mature diction, and analyze themes.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, the relationship between parent involvement and reading comprehension outcomes for children is obvious.  The data show that where parent involvement is low, a classroom mean average reading score is 46 points below the national average.  Additionally, where parent involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average reading score, a noticeable differential of 74 points[3].  A parent’s commitment to being a partner in the mission of reading literacy for all students is essential to student performance in school and success throughout life.

Children read to by parents at home have a higher success rate in school, and these children enjoy an educational advantage over children who do not have parental involvement[4].  As a father of four, I have found that taking time to read “with” or “to” your child is not only a rewarding experience for your child, but for you as well.  At times, however, parents lack the “know-how” to keep their child interested in reading.  I’m not going to write and tell you it was always easy for me, but here are several tested strategies to help you encourage your child to actively participate in your reading sessions at home from this day forward:

  • First, turn off the iPads, video games, and satellite TV.  Set aside some quiet time every evening to read.
  • Make sure that what your child is reading is at an appropriate grade/age level.  It is always easier to start at a lower level and work one’s way up.
  • For early readers, take turns reading pages together.  For example, parent reads page one, child page two, parent page three, etc.
  • Use your local, public library.  Have your child pick out books or even magazines that include themes and topics that interest him/her – not you.  Do not turn away comic books, sports magazines, etc.
  • When your child stumbles on a particular word or does not recognize a word, supply the word by sounding it out aloud with him/her.  Never correct a child abruptly.
  • If you have other children, invite them to the session and ask your child to read aloud to them as well.
  • After an excerpt, chapter, page, or section of a reading ask your child, “What did you think about that?” and “What do you think is going to happen?”  This will allow you to assess where your child is in considering story/thematic comprehension and his/her ability to foreshadow and predict future patterns of events.
  • Be sure to always use positive reinforcement.
  • Don’t stop!  Keep your schedule of reading aloud to help grow your child’s love of reading.

The academic outcome of your child wholly rests with their exit skills in consideration of reading and your involvement as a parent.  Your dedication and persistence early on will only make the road to scholarship an easier path throughout your child’s future.

[1] Lesnick, J., Goerge, R., Smithgall, C., & Gwynne J. (2010). Lesnick, J., Goerge, R., Smithgall, C., & Gwynne J. (2010). Reading on GradeLevel in Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment? Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Chicago

[2] Highlighted in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2010 Kids Count Special Report: Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.

[3] U.S. Department of Education. 1996. Reading Literacy in the United States: Findings From the IEA Reading Literacy Study.

[4] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2000.