In the car, at the dinner table or in any other family space, take turns talking about what you’ve been reading – books, magazines, newspapers, content for work. If it’s your turn to share, talk about whether you like or dislike what you’re reading and explain why. Once sharers have finished, ask follow-up questions and make comments that offer connections between what they’ve read and other texts.
The Whole Story
It’s easy to think of reading and writing with your child as the only components of helping them become better readers and writers. While these are both tremendously powerful tools for helping them develop key skills and identities, they aren’t the only tools. By making time to talk about what you and your child are reading, and modeling what it sounds like for engaged readers to express their ideas, you’re adding another layer to family literacy.
When thinking about where these conversations might be helpful, consider one of the historically-dreaded conversations between families and their school-going students:
Family: How was school?
F: What did you do?
(Family member makes frustrated face.)
The goal with family reading conversations is to avoid the headache above, get to know what your child is doing in school, and help them learn to talk about their learning in productive ways.
- Model. Expecting your child to know how to talk about their thoughts and feelings about a text they’re reading without having any model to base it off of is dooming the conversation from the start. Consider the following steps:
- State a specific fact or opinion about something/anything you’ve read.
- Follow up with some piece of evidence or a memorable quotation from the reading to illustrate your point.
- Ask what your child thinks about the idea or opinion.
- Ask a specific question. Your child’s day likely includes no fewer than lessons on 5 separate subjects, all of them asking for retention of new material. Asking, “What did you do/learn about?” can very well bring back a flood of ideas that might be overwhelming to attempt to recount all at once. Thus, “Nothing.” Asking, “What is something you read today?” and then following up with, “What did you think about it?” or “Who was a character you liked/hated?” gives a more pointed line of thinking and can help your child organize their thinking for expression.
- Share. If you read a news article that’s particularly interesting, share it with your child. If they have a text they’ve read they enjoyed, ask to borrow it. By showing interest and treating reading as peer activity, you’re inviting your child to be part of a community of readers.
If you’re worried your child will have trouble remembering what they’ve read, send a quick note to their teacher asking questions like, “What are you reading in class right now?” “What’s it about?” “Who are some main characters or what are some big ideas we could talk about at home?” These details can jump start conversation and show your child you’re willing to invest time in their learning too.