Q: How can I get my son to read on his own and enjoy it?
A: The very first thing you can do is to make time as a family for quiet pleasure reading. The key is for your child to see you as a model, enjoying your own good book or catching up on current events with your newspaper. The second important element is that everyone gets to choose what he wants to read. This is not the time to force a particular book upon your child, nor should he do any reading associated with homework. It is a time during which pleasure reading can be shared, with your child reading to you, another parent, or a sibling, or even someone reading to him.
While it is likely impossible to have a family reading session that meets these criteria every night, try to set up some sort of regular routine once or twice a week. Consider a weekend morning after breakfast, a Sunday night before the work and school week begins all over again, or one night during the week when your family's schedule of activities is relatively light.
Bedtime reading: If a family reading session is not possible, try to keep up the bedtime-story ritual. As children progress through their elementary-school years, this tradition tends to wane, despite the fact that it continues to be a great benefit.
Just as you probably did when your child was a toddler, begin by reading a favorite story to him. Now you can read exciting books that he is not yet ready to read on his own — one chapter at a time. In this way, he will experience the pleasure of a good book, read bit by bit over time, without the stress of struggling through it on his own.
Then kiss him goodnight, leaving him just one option for staying up later: continued reading on his own. To make this half of pleasure reading successful, surround your child with short books that he can read quickly and easily. This is critically important for your child to gain confidence and control over his reading power.
Reading for enjoyment comes naturally for some, but not for others. But if your family is a reading-for-fun family, it may be harder to reject what gives everyone else a good time.
Q: What is the best way to help my 10-year-old daughter to write better and enjoy it?
A: Writing and reading go hand in hand and are important to student success in all areas of the curriculum. Writing better and more often will help your daughter clarify her thinking and demonstrate understanding of what she reads. Try these strategies:
- Keep a writer's notebook. Ten-year-olds like journals and diaries. Encourage her to write something every day in a special place. She can keep track of important news, funny family stories, or meaningful events in family life. When she files these "reports," remind her to answer who, what, when, where and why questions about the event she is covering. For a variation of this activity, write a family history together. On one page, you write a recollection about your school, a trip, a party, or a historical event. Then your daughter can also do the same thing on the opposite page. You will be creating a keepsake and encouraging a writer.
- Send a letter. Letter-writing provides a purpose for writing. Encourage your daughter to share her opinions. For example, if she has a strong feeling about a civic situation, she can contact City Hall, the local newspaper, or even The White House to let her thoughts be known. It is also important for her to master the art of thank you notes. Have her send them not just for gifts but also for special times shared.
- Make a hamburger. Many kids have trouble getting started on writing tasks. It sometimes helps to have an organizer. Many teachers use a "hamburger organizer." Here's how it works: The top of the bun is for the topic sentence — the one that states an opinion or tells what the writer will be describing. The filling — the burger, the lettuce, tomato, and onion — represents the supporting details. The more details, the more "delicious" the paragraph will be. The bottom section of the bun represents the concluding sentence. Have your daughter sketch a picture of the hamburger and write her draft on the picture so she will have a fun way to organize her writing.
- Look for writing opportunities everywhere. This is the time when your daughter will start to take notes in school. Have her get used to writing lists and notes to serve as reminders. These brief activities help to develop writing fluency or the ability to get ideas down quickly, correctly, and thoughtfully.
- Copy the masters. Another way to develop writing fluency is to copy text. This helps students get the feel of text. One possibility: have your daughter select, copy, and present a poem as a gift for a special occasion.
- Use the computer. The computer helps kids to do the one part of writing they like the least: rewriting. In fact, writing experts say that you need to rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again. When students can use a word processor, they work harder at revising and getting it right.
- Check work carefully. Have your daughter get into the habit of rereading her work. Remind her that when sending a letter or even using e-mail, she should check her work for correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
All of these activities are best accomplished in the context of having your daughter set a purpose for writing and for identifying the audience. These activities also encourage her to use the major types of writing: narrative, to tell a story; persuasive, to state an opinion, influence others, and solve a problem; and expressive, for poetry.
While you are encouraging your daughter to write, compose letters and notes to her and share stories and poems that you think are well written. She'll know that you appreciate good writing and will be inspired by your interest.
Q: My son is above grade level in math and reading, but below level in writing. His stories are well developed but his handwriting and spelling are poor. How do I get him to re-focus and take pride in his work?
A: Poor spelling and sloppy writing are common concerns that parents express when seeking advice about the quality of their children's school performance. It is quite natural to wonder whether these behaviors are symptoms of laziness or an ambivalent attitude towards learning and school.
In some cases, this very well may be true. But I would caution that in the majority of cases there are other factors that potentially lie behind the less-than-expected writing performance. Your description of your son makes me think that there may be more going on. His strong performance in reading and math shows not only his intelligence but also a desire to learn. Additionally, it appears that his expressive language skills are also good, as he is able to craft stories with depth and meaning.
So what could be the problem? Your son has learned many skills in the past few years, including how to identify and sound out words on increasingly higher levels. Additionally, he has been picking up new vocabulary through reading and has been learning to comprehend more complex sentences and longer reading passages.
It may be that these graduating demands are placing a burden on what we call his grapho-motor skills. It is not unusual for an intelligent and verbal child to have a specific weakness in coordinating the intense memory and cognitive demands that writing requires with the fine-motor demands necessary for forming legible letters and accurate spelling. This can be quite frustrating, as his thoughts may be racing far ahead of his fingers.
To prevent a downward motivational spiral, encourage him to do some writing on the computer. For some children using the keyboard makes an enormous difference. Second, explain that many good writers must make a rough and a final draft. This way they can get their wonderful ideas out without having to worry about what it looks like. Then they go back and "edit" their work by rewriting it in good form. Third, observe your child closely when he writes. Does he grip the pencil very hard? Does he bend close to the page as if to gain control over what his fingers are doing? If you suspect a problem with grapho-motor dysfunction (which can exist despite good eyesight and fine-motor coordination), seek professional assistance.