Making the Most of 20 Minutes: 6 things to do with your child before reading

Many children come home from school with the same homework every night: “Read for 20 minutes.”  Not sure how else to go about the homework assignment, parents simply give their child a book while he sits at the kitchen counter, and after 20 minutes, it’s onto the next thing. This three-part blog series is designed to give parents ideas on how to make those 20 minutes more meaningful, without excessive work or elaborate materials.

This time spent with a book at home can be the most valuable literacy experience your child has and can make a world of difference in their reading progress in school. What I hear most often from parents is that they don’t know how to help and are just not sure what else to do other than putting a book in front of their child. However, as a parent, there is so much more you can do to make the most of those often-dreaded “20 minutes.” The reading process begins even before the book is opened!

Here are six things you can do before reading has begun:

  1. Make reading a part of every day and night: Routine is conceivably the most important piece of the puzzle. Reading should be a part of every single day – not just on weeknights, not just on those “20 minute” days, but every day. The research says it all: students who read more, read better. Making reading an enjoyable part of family time every single day is the first step to making the most of your child’s literacy experience. Make reading fun!
  2. Create a comfortable, print rich environment: A print rich environment simply means that there are words! Signs, lists, books, newspapers, magazines and letter magnets are all a part of an environment that is conducive to literacy development. Give your child a place they want to go to read, such as a bean bag, a special chair, their bed, or even a little blanket cave. Children are more likely to enjoy reading when it is a comfortable part of the daily routine.
  3. Choose the right books: Our children lose interests when books are too easy or too difficult. A helpful trick is the “Five Finger Rule.” Simply open a book that your child has chosen and have him read the first or second page. Put up a finger for every word he does not know or struggles significantly with. If you put up more than five fingers, the book is too hard. If you put up 0-1 fingers, the book is too easy. A page with 2-4 difficult words signifies a book that is the perfect level.  For those kids who just HAVE to read a book that is too hard, suggest reading it together or trying to find an easier book by the same author.  Read more about the five finger rule here.
  4. Keep their interest: Help your child find books about topics they like and enjoy reading more about. If your child is a soccer fanatic, find lots of fiction and nonfiction books about soccer and soccer players. Just like adults, children are more reluctant to read when they are disinterested in whatever they are reading about.
  5. Use your resources: Head to the public library to search for books together. Most libraries allow you to renew books, so check out several books that catch your child’s interest to save yourself a trip. Resources such as this vetted book list offer the most popular, tried and true children’s books. Your child’s teacher or school librarian is also an invaluable source for information about children’s literature, your child’s reading level, and literacy activities in the community.
  6. Carve out five minutes: Reading for twenty minutes may seem like an activity that requires very little management on your part, but carving out just five minutes to participate in your child’s reading time can provide them with the support they need. Have a discussion with your child, read to them, or listen to them read to you!

Stay tuned for the second part of this series, Making the Most of 20 Minutes, for more information on how you can actively participate in your child’s reading time.  There is much more to it than being a listening ear!

Jennifer Mazzola is an elementary reading specialist in Lynn, MA and has a master’s degree in K-12 Reading and Literacy.