If there is one thing I’ve learned from supporting beginning readers as well as helping my own children learn to read it’s that, as cliche as it may sound, it is kind of like riding a bike. I don’t mean to use that analogy in the traditional sense, meaning that practice makes perfect, but instead as a way to look at providing independence and resources to help support their growth.
When my kids first learned to ride a bike, that’s all they wanted to do. They were so excited to master their new skill that they often requested to go riding multiple times per day, often times either alone or with friends.
The independence that they felt when they could finally ride by themselves was a huge motivator for them to continue to improve. As a parent, my job turned from helping them to learn how to ride to giving them the opportunities and resources to continue to master their skill. The positive outcomes they experienced during this time of exploration directly led to them being motivated and willing to take risks
I feel that the process of learning to read is similar to this. Once they start to get the hang of it, there is a window of time where they are super motivated to use their new found skill. They also feel as though they are ready to venture off on their own and start reading books by themselves, which I can only assume is very liberating after having relied for so long on others to read for them.
This period of time, I believe, is crucial for them to develop a love for reading because they are getting the opportunity to experience the payoff of reading for the very first time. If this experience is a positive one, the results can be great as they will want to continue to improve and work towards even greater rewards. If they lose interest in the subject matter or are not given adequate time to consume their chosen content, they may start to lose a bit of the motivation they had when they first started independently reading.
The key to all of this is providing materials that they are excited to read, while at the same time continuing to allow enough time for them to take it all in. I don’t think anyone actively decides to take away reading time at home, but I do know that once kids start reading on their own, it’s easy to assume that the hard part is over.
I would argue that once kids have acquired to the skill, it is even more important to dedicate time to reading to ensure that they have the time and opportunity to achieve the positive outcomes of reading. In terms of materials, it is even more important to make sure that beginning readers have access to books that mesh with their interests and personality.
The content they consume at an early age contributes so much to their initial love of reading that it is definitely worth our time to find the right books and materials for them.
As both of my kids are at different stages of their reading skill acquisition, I have often found it difficult and, at times, overwhelming when helping them find appropriate and relevant materials for them to read.
My 9 year old son is at a place in his reading that once he finds something that he enjoys, I just need to get out of his way and he will consume books in an astonishingly short period of time. If he doesn’t enjoy the material, or somehow doesn’t connect with the characters or themes, he will lose interest and he will stop reading. As he is only 9, he doesn’t have the wherewithal to actively seek out alternative options, so it falls on us to be able to recognize when he needs a new book and then help him to find something that he is excited about.
The problem comes when we go to the bookstore and go looking through the young readers sections. These sections, oftentimes vaguely named “5-7” or “9-12”, have to be the most vast and confusing collection of products in any store – ever. Imagine trying to buy clothes where there is no indication of size, fit, or material and you will know what it’s like trying to find something for your child to read in the dreaded 9-12 section.
After some hits and many misses, the following books/series are ones that have really connected with a 9 year old boy who is ready to experiment with some higher level material but is still motivated primarily by content.
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan
Written by the same author (Rick Riordan) who wrote the famed Percy Jackson series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is a series of books that absolutely hit home with my son. While I don’t doubt that the theme of norse mythology was a big contributor to his enjoyment, I found that the humour that was infused into the series is what kept him coming back. He enjoyed these books so much that he burned through the entire 3 book series in just under 3 weeks.
Once he was finished, he tried Riordan’s other series The Trials of Apollo, and even though he liked it, it didn’t have the same impact on him as the Asgard series did. While I’m sure that the The Trials of Apollo series is just as good of a series, his excitement about The Gods of Asgard goes to show that content and theme play such a huge role in a child’s motivation to read.
Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. by Jennifer Li Shotz
This book, along with 3 others, helps make up a collection written by Jennifer Li Shotz that explores the relationships and connections humans have with dogs.
Set in situations that often include acts of heroism and courage, these stories really dive into the powerful impact that animals can have on the lives of people who are experiencing difficulty or loss. I really like that my son found this particular book because it allowed him to read about a topic he loves (dogs) while at the same time exploring themes that are a little more mature.
The book doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that people go through when they experience the loss of a loved one or are dealing with a challenging relationship. I was really impressed with the conversations that came from this particular story, and I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts about the other books in the series.
Choose Your Own Adventure by R.A. Montgomery
These are classics for a reason. There’s just something about having agency within a story that creates a enhanced sense of immersion and engagement for the reader.
Often times, books that we read as kids don’t seem as relevant in today’s climate, but seeing as though the author reworked some of the content for a 2005/06 release, it’s probably safe to say that there is still a lot to be enjoyed from this iconic series. While the stories themselves pale in comparison to choices above, the ability to choose different paths and experience their outcomes provides a lot of re-readability.
The reading level of these books are also a little easier than some other books your child may be interested in, but the option to have a say in the story is what still makes these books so special.