Ideas to improve your child’s daily independent reading time
Do your kids need some help staying on track during their daily reading routine? Perhaps you have new readers who are practicing each day, or your kids have reading homework to do for school. As a bilingual teacher turned full-time mom of three, I know that it can be a challenge to get kids to want to read independently!
Yet, we know that daily reading time is essential for developing reading skills. Reading independently outside of school has consistently been found to improve vocabulary, verbal fluency, reading comprehension, and general content knowledge. Children who read independently become better readers, and are more likely to develop a lifelong love of reading.
Daily reading time also gives us quality time with our child in the midst of busy daily schedules. Carve out special reading time together each day and use these tips to make the most of it.
These 10 tips will help you improve your child’s daily reading routine – whether in English, in Spanish, or any language! They also work whether you are fluent in the language your child is reading in or not (I’m thinking of monolingual parents of my bilingual students). Take a look to see which ones would work best for your child, and pin or share to try another one next time.
1. Set a time and place
In order to minimize pushback from your child, make daily reading time an established routine your kids come to expect. Set a time and a place for daily reading, and make it a habit you prioritize! Perhaps at 4:30 each day you say, “Let’s grab our books!” or “Reading time!” and snuggle up on the couch together. Keep a basket of appropriate books for your reader in the spot, as well as any other tools you might need (keep reading for some suggestions). Be flexible if you need to – reading together while you watch sister’s soccer practice, reading in the car, or changing up the time to before school happens sometimes. Just keep protecting that daily reading routine!
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2. Keep reading strategies on hand
Beginning readers may get tripped up on tricky words. Keeping a chart with reading strategies they’ve learned can help kids know how to solve a word and continue reading. If you’re listening to your child read, you can help them try a few strategies to decode the challenging word. Try asking them to decode by saying and blending together each sound, separating the word into syllables, or looking for a known word part. Ask your child’s teacher about a reading strategy chart or bookmark to keep at home.
3. Use a visual timer
A visual timer can help kids who are concerned about how much reading time they have left (especially if they have to read so many minutes for school). My second grader has been one of those kids – often stopping to ask me “How many more minutes?” Getting a visual timer has let him stay more focused on his reading. He can glance up to see how we’re doing and then get lost in his book again without interrupting the rest of us. We have and recommend this visual timer – it comes in 7 colors!
4. Read alongside your child
As your child gains independence as a reader, continue prioritizing daily family reading time! It’s easy to want to start dinner or check something else off our to-do list, but reading together is time well-spent. Let your children see you reading for pleasure alongside them. Model the love of reading that you want them to develop. In our home, my three kids and I all sit down to read together. If you joined us, you’d see all of us reading independently (even my toddler looking at books), me reading to the toddler while the older two read alone, or me listening to one of the older two kids.
5. Incorporate choice
Free choice lets your child discover the pleasure and adventure in reading! It is important to provide books appropriate for their independent reading level – not too easy or too hard. However, choosing books that are interesting to your child maximizes engagement. In fact, a 2017 study showed that students who selected their own books had significantly higher reading comprehension levels. Think about the last book that really captivated your child’s interest and how excited they were to read. If you need more options at home for your child to choose from, take advantage of checking out books from your local library. I have excellent bilingual picks for early readers to get you started!
6. Add an element of fun
Think about what would make reading time more enjoyable for your child. There are so many ways to add in some fun to our daily reading routine! Your child could read to someone… a stuffed animal, a pet, or a grandparent over the phone. They could read in a special place… inside a fort, snuggled up in bed, outside under a tree, on a beach towel in the middle of the dining room. Or, they could read using a tool… a popsicle stick, finger pointer, or witch finger to point to each word, a highlighting ruler to point out where they are on the page, or a toy microphone or whisper phone to practice expressive voices.
7. Find the right series
When your child doesn’t seem interested in reading, do some searching to find a new book series that they’ll love and want to read! Sometimes all it takes is finding the right book series to motivate kids to be passionate about reading – and not want to stop! For my kids, these have been the Mo Willems’ “Elephant and Piggie” books (available in English and Spanish), and the Branches series from Scholastic like “Dragon Masters” in English or “Diario de una lechuza” in Spanish.
8. Set reading goals
Think about what needs to improve during your reading time and set a goal to work on it. Perhaps you’d like to slowly increase your reading time. Your goal might be to read 20 minutes each night this week, and then 25 minutes next week. Or you might focus on reading the whole time without playing or talking. Free choice and finding the right motivating books will help in this area! Feel free to add in some positive words of affirmation (I’ve got 50 in English/Spanish for you!) as you make progress towards your goal. You might also reward achieving the goal with a weekend trip to the library to get new books or for a fun event! The key here is setting goals and making reading an enjoyable experience.
9. Learn new words together
As your child is reading, look up unknown vocabulary words in either language together. You could look in a dictionary, use Google translate, or ask Alexa. Independent reading time has been shown to significantly improve vocabulary learning! Jot new words down on a sticky note somewhere you’ll see them or add them to a “New Words” chart on your fridge – you can practice them all week together!
Related post: Top 10 Spanish-English Dictionaries for Kids
10. On especially hard nights, read it together
Some days it’s beautiful outside and our kids just want to go out and play! Sometimes a friend is coming over and they just want to rush through reading time. On nights when nothing else works, choose a strategy to read the book together. Focusing on your child and preserving your relationship is better than demanding reading minutes. On hard nights at our house, we do “I read a page, you read a page.” Yes, they’re reading half the book, but we’re still reading it all together. You might also choose to alternate reading individual sentences, or each read a certain character’s dialogue.
Improving independent reading one day at a time
As you work to incorporate some of these ideas in your home, my hope is that you’ll see less pushback and a more impactful reading time. As your child progresses through elementary, I hope you’ll remember to continue reading aloud to your child daily as well. Reading aloud is an excellent opportunity to develop a positive relationship with your child, to develop vocabulary, as well as a lifelong love of reading. Find more reading tips available in multiple languages available here from Reading Rockets (birth to third grade).
Explore additional helpful reading posts:
I hope these ten ideas will help improve the daily reading routine in your home! If you’re a teacher, I’d love it if you passed along these tips to help the families of your students. Sometimes it helps to have a few new tricks in our parenting bag – especially on the hard nights!
Let’s connect! You can find Bilingual Balance (and hear about my latests posts) on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What other ideas have been helpful to get your child to want to read independently each day? Let me know in the comments!