Managing at home reading expectations

How to help a struggling reader at home

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Does your school have reading logs? Journal assignments? Charts? Graphs? Do you have to swear a blood oath that your child read books this week? If your family is struggling with managing at home reading expectations, here are some tips for how to get your child to read better and how to manage the school’s reading homework assignments for your family.

Create Reading Habits

A lifelong habit of reading will give your child the opportunity to move into careers, hobbies, and community opportunities that make their lives better. The power of fluent, wide, eager reading cannot be overestimated. Ultimately, if you’re trying to figure out “What can help my child read better?” you’re probably taking a shorter-term view, trying to get this week’s assignment done and end the argument about reading. Here are some ideas to take the pain out of at-home reading assignments and begin to bring the joy of books to your household.

Choose the right books

How to help a struggling reader at home
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Teachers are big on reading levels. Those letters or numbers on stickers on the book cover, or inside the front cover, are there to help teachers choose the right books for their classroom, but they are often misused for gate-keeping purposes. Teachers will enforce a rule that kids have to have “just right” books and that the book can be neither too easy, nor too hard, and use the book’s level as a way to decide. 

Reading levels have their place. One use is that they help you find other similar books to try. If you ask your child’s teacher what his “instructional reading level” is, you will likely get a Guided Reading level (a letter) or a Lexile (a number) that tells you the difficulty of text they are reading at school. You can find plenty of books online organized by level. Flip through one and get a feel for it. How many sentences are on a page? How many paragraphs? How often are there pictures? Use those clues to help you find other books that your child might find comfortable. 

But beyond that, the sky is the limit. For example, I worked with a second grader reading books about Minecraft at the fourth or fifth grade level because it is his favorite game, and a tenth grader struggling with non-fiction at an eighth grade level because he didn’t have a lot of background knowledge about American history. If there is a topic your child is passionate about, don’t be surprised if he can read books that are “above his level.” 

On the other hand, if your child is struggling with reading the books that come home, try decodable books like the Simple Words series or Bob Books that match the words they have learned to sound out. Core Knowledge Language Arts also offers free “Skills” units that have great decodable readers you can print. Flyleaf Publishing is a great source of decodable books, which are offered for free online (through the end of the 2021-2022 school year).

Choose the time and place

There are good times to schedule reading time for your child, and then there are times that don’t work as well.

Times not to fit in reading:

  • While the rest of the family is watching TV
  • Right before dinner
  • In the car on the way to school

Times that work better:

  • After a snack
  • While younger siblings are napping or not home yet
  • At a “family reading time,” where every available person in the house sits down with a book – maybe in the hour before bed or after lunch on the weekend.
  • In the waiting room at dance class or in the bleachers at a sibling’s practice – if the environment is quiet

Finding the right place for reading homework

Some kids love to curl up in a quiet corner of the house and read until you make them stop. Those aren’t the kids you are reading this for, I don’t think. Kids who are struggling or who avoid reading need the support and attention of a whole adult (or responsible older child) while they work through their reading. 

This is easiest to accomplish when you sit beside your child, at the table or on the couch, or in bed if no one is too sleepy. Have good lighting, a comfy seat, and minimal background noise. 

Looking for fun ways to fit more reading into your family’s life? Check out our free Winter Reading Bingo Board!


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Make it a habit

In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg breaks down all habits into three parts: a trigger (he calls them “anchor moments”), a habit, and a reward. If getting your child to read every day sounds totally out of reach for you and your family right now, try these tiny steps towards your goal.

  1. Pick a trigger – “We will take out a book right after the table is clear from dinner.” or “As soon as her big sister starts basketball practice, we’ll sit in the bleachers and read.”
  2. Set a tiny reading goal – A page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word. It might seem ridiculously small, but start with the next step – one more increment of reading than you’re doing now. If reading at home right now just isn’t happening, the only way to get started is to start, so start tiny!
  3. Decide on a reward – BJ Fogg makes a very important distinction between the reward we get for something we do successfully (I cook breakfast so I get to eat a delicious English muffin) and the long-term payoff (if I go to work all week, I get a paycheck on the 15th). We’re looking for those tiny, in the moment rewards for reaching our first reading goals. How will you and your child celebrate the success of sitting down with a book together? A hug? A little dance? A high five?

And Don’t Worry!

Be patient with yourself and with your child. A teacher has literally no idea what your family situation is, in most cases, and you have to decide what success looks like for your family. Even if teachers have some control over assignments like reading homework, they are planning for a whole class and not taking into account that in your house, the adults work different shifts or the baby wakes up a couple of times a night or the babysitter doesn’t read fluent English or each kid is on a different schedule for sports practice. So while the school’s expectation may be what brought you here, keep the big picture in mind. You are raising your children to be happy, whole people, thoughtful and well-educated. The long game of teaching them to love reading and to look to books for inspiration, knowledge, and comfort, counts for a lot more than the number of pages in their reading log. 

Managing at-home reading expectations
Reading is a homework assignment for many kids, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. Here’s how to build routines to get your child reading more at home.
Grab your FREE Winter Reading Bingo Board here.


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